Initial offseason thoughts: who stays and who goes?

Well then. I wrote exactly one paragraph before learning that Danny Ainge was stepping aside and Brad Stevens was taking his place. How much does that change things? Does it change anything at all?

Ainge traded Antoine Walker right after taking the job in 2003; could that be an omen for his successor? Front office shakeups rarely precede simply running it back, but at the same time, this isn’t a roster that needs yet another rebuild.

We won’t have any answers for a while, but… wow. What a week. Either way, I think the Celtics’ list of priorities is mostly unchanged, with the obvious added item of finding a new head coach. I don’t have very many thoughts on that, but I do hope they give Kara Lawson a shot. Let’s take a look at who this new coach could be inheriting:

Kemba Walker

It’s in the best interest of the Celtics to move off his contract. Even after resting to start the season and sitting out on one half of each back-to-back, Kemba’s body didn’t hold up for one playoff series, which is a pretty bad sign. He struggled to score against Brooklyn’s defense, which is even worse. This season probably crushes his trade value, but there are no untradeable contracts in the NBA these days. It just means the Celtics will have to attach assets if they want to pull the trigger.

Are there teams that would gamble on him? Maybe the Dallas Mavericks could consolidate some smaller contracts to get him, but if that doesn’t pan out, do they become the Celtics of the West?

Can the Oklahoma City Thunder be bribed with more draft picks? Should the Celtics kick the tires on Al Horford again in the same deal? It’s hard to justify replacing one guy who needs to be kept in bubble wrap with another, so I think that ship has sailed. Keep in mind that Horford’s last year only guarantees him $14.5 million, which could be the type of flexibility Boston wants.

Keeping Kemba also works, but puts a lot more pressure on the team to hit a home run on another peripheral move. They can’t afford another offseason like the last.

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Evan Fournier

The Celtics gave up two second round picks to turn Gordon Hayward into a massive trade exception and then paid two more seconds to use a chunk of it to acquire Evan Fournier. Maybe I’m falling into the sunk cost fallacy, but it seems like re-signing him this summer should be a top priority if that much was invested to get him. Fournier poses a challenge to creating cohesive lineups with the current roster, but this isn’t something where it’s worth letting perfect get in the way of good.

Unfortunately, playing Fournier alongside Kemba creates some serious defensive issues. Mix in Jaylen’s off-ball lapses and the occasional Robert Williams gaffe and the mistakes start to pile up pretty quickly. Even if Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith shape up defensively, it still leaves too many gaps among the core players.

Again, this means that the Celtics need to nail one of their peripheral moves. One more strong two-way player would go a long way.

Re-signing Fournier is going to bring the Celtics into the luxury tax. And if ownership isn’t willing to do that, then we’ve got far greater problems than team defense. My guess is they pay the price, likely in the range of $20 million, to make sure they have some shooting around the Jays. It feels steep, but $20 million for a top tier role player really isn’t as unusual these days as people make it out to be.

Robert Williams, Tristan Thompson, and Luke Kornet

Rob is as skilled as he is flawed, but all I care about is that the Celtics are damn good when he’s on the floor. He’s got one more year on his deal before the Celtics need to figure out the next one, and I don’t envy anyone who has to work out the numbers on that. As much as I hate framing it this way, his injury might save the Celtics some money if they don’t get outbid. He’s the best fit at center with the Jays out of anyone on the roster, so he stays.

Signing Thompson backfired spectacularly. Giving up Desmond Bane to get off Enes Kanter’s contract and downgrading at his position when the bar was incredibly low is even worse. A full offseason and training camp with the team could salvage this, but it would be a hell of a turnaround for him to be a net-positive player. The Celtics could use some help at every position possible, and making Thompson available is a no-brainer. Maybe some teams will ignore the advanced stats and look at his playoff numbers.

Luke Kornet is expiring. I think he’s a solid player, but the lack of playoff minutes kind of speaks for itself as far as his place on the roster. One can only assume he won’t be brought back.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets

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Jabari Parker, Semi Ojeleye, Carsen Edwards

The Celtics need to upgrade at least two of these roster spots. Need to. The Ojeleye Experience has run its course, capped off by one of my favorite stats of all time: an elusive zero-block regular season. 56 games played, 950 minutes, and zero blocks. Credit to Dangercart for keeping an eye on this as the season wound down:

Some of you may be high on Parker after the playoffs, but it’s not my fault James Harden decided not to play basketball whenever Parker covered him. My thoughts are unchanged, which is that his mostly one-dimensional scoring and otherwise empty skillset isn’t what the Celtics need. The roster can only afford so many spots to fringe rotation guys, and I don’t see how Parker fits into any short-term or long-term plan.

Carsen Edwards has had a handful of opportunities over the past couple seasons and didn’t capitalize on hardly any of them. His big preseason moments don’t score him any bonus points at this stage. Sixty-eight games played in the pros isn’t a whole lot, but you don’t get much leeway as a second round pick on a team lacking depth at every position. He’s also owed money next year, so he might be the one end-of-bench guy that lives to see another season wearing green.

Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith

From this group, the Celtics need at least one solid two-way player to round out their rotation. Given their tight cap situation, this is the most likely source of meaningful roster improvement from this year to the next. Here are my “most likely to become the aforementioned rotation guy” power rankings:

1) Romeo Langford. He’s a lengthy wing who can already play exceptional defense. The scoring touch isn’t there yet, but I have faith that it’ll come around. He’s too skilled to be a zero on offense.

2) Aaron Nesmith. Very erratic defense but the offense is already there. He’s sort of a mini-Fournier who can fill in the gaps on offense wherever the Jays need him to. The quickness, athleticism, and winning plays nearly guarantees him future playing time.

3) Grant Williams. There’s still a part of me that thinks he has the highest ceiling of anyone on this short list. He’s an incredibly smart player that made too many costly errors to stay in the rotation last season. He has a tendency to make the right play when it isn’t always the best play, if that makes any sense. He’ll take a foul in transition and make an extra swing pass on the perimeter when he could be more proactive, or even aggressive.

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics

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4) Payton Pritchard. A smart player and solid shooter in his own right, but his size and speed are going to hold him back no matter what. He could get quicker, but he ain’t getting taller. He’s not a perfect fit here, but perfect is hard to achieve. He’ll have a nice long NBA career as a backup guard either way.

I don’t necessarily want any of these four traded, but they’re obviously on the table if another team comes asking. It’ll be hard to sell high on any of them after such a turbulent season, so I’m not sure conjuring up trade ideas is productive. I do think all four of them are worth developing, so I hope they stick around.

Tremont Waters, Tacko Fall

Tremont Waters is a really, really slick passer. I’m not sure I can push much more Tremont propaganda beyond that. I mean, I’m convinced he’s good, but seeing other rookies come in and knock down shots right away makes Waters obsolete on this roster. He’ll get a shot somewhere, but it’s the wrong time and wrong place for him right now in Boston. I’m guessing he doesn’t stick.

Tacko Fall is vastly improved from his rookie year, and yet he’s not close to becoming an NBA player. I’m not overly concerned with how viable our two-way contract players are, but Tacko got two years to prove himself and I think we’ve seen all we’re going to see. It’s probably time to move on.

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart

Jayson Tatum will be a Celtic next season. No elaboration needed.

Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are always the two guys to get jammed into mock trades, but I’m pretty confident the team isn’t looking to move them. If the Celtics wanted a full teardown and another rebuild, they wouldn’t have kept so much of their staff around as they start a post-Danny Ainge era. They certainly wouldn’t have given Brad Stevens the job if they expected him to blow up the core of the team.

Boston Celtics Practice

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Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge

Two main thoughts here:

1) !!!!!!!

2) ???????

What am I supposed to make of this?! I think I’m happy but even several days later the surprise hasn’t worn off.

I didn’t think Brad should be fired, but I thought someone needed to set his rotations straight. The Celtics were desperate for a kick-start on offense, and I’m not sure Brad had any more tricks up his sleeve to fix that either. None of that matters now that he’s the new President of Basketball Operations, but those were my concerns.

Ainge didn’t necessarily need to go, but I’m much warmer to the idea of him leaving than the possibility of Brad getting completely ousted. The big stories with Ainge lately have involved free agents leaving and a Gordon Hayward/Myles Turner trade falling through, but the real problems stemmed from smaller transactions that left the roster feeling a little helpless. Using the 30th pick (Desmond Bane) to get off Kanter’s deal and replacing him with Tristan Thompson was rough. The Jeff Teague signing was a red flag from the start; nobody expected that one to pan out.

Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard will be fine basketball players, but it’s hard to ignore them passing on Tyrese Maxey, Xavier Tillman, and dumping Bane. I’m not a big draft guy and I admittedly base a lot of my takes on tweets from Draft Nerd Twitter, but you know what? They’re usually right. And if you look at the Memphis Grizzlies’ draft history, there’s at least one NBA team on the same wavelength.

Again, the Celtics have generally drafted pretty well and you heathens are going to come around on Grant Williams sooner or later, but some of the late first-round, early second-round misses lately have been avoidable.

Finally, Ainge’s unfortunate quote where he hasn’t “heard anything” about racism in TD Garden was a sign that he might not be tapped into the pulse of the team. To suggest you haven’t heard about racism in any city in America is disingenuous at best and obnoxiously ignorant at worst.

A complete teardown of the Celtics’ hierarchy as their core players reach their prime would be an immense risk. Keeping some voices around while making room for fresh perspectives should make everyone happy, although we won’t know how this all pans out until they hire a coach and we see how they handle the roster.