Top 6 Offseason Moves for the Boston Celtics After Playoff Elimination

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 2, 2021

Top 6 Offseason Moves for the Boston Celtics After Playoff Elimination

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Three of the Boston Celtics' previous four NBA seasons ended with a trip to the conference finals.

    This one unceremoniously ended with an opening-round thud.

    At full strength, Boston would have had trouble matching up with the fully loaded Brooklyn Nets. But in the Celtics' current state—down Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Robert Williams III—they weren't in the same weight class.

    This series, which went the Nets' way by a 4-1 count, is the kind that can humble an entire organization to its core. If Celtics fans were being honest, they probably felt more pride in that lone victory (fueled by Jayson Tatum's 50-point masterpiece) than disappointment in all four losses combined.

    The Celtics didn't have the horsepower to keep up. Ideally, that will change this offseason.

    As the franchise embarks on a summer of soul-searching, the following six moves can help get it back on track.

1. Hire a Head Coach

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    Boston's first big offseason surprise came less than 24 hours after the team was bounced out of the playoffs. President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge announced his retirement, while Brad Stevens stepped out of his coaching gig and into Ainge's old role.

    The first order of business for Stevens is simple: Find his replacement.

    The newly minted executive could cast a wide net in this search. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported the Celtics are expected to consider Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd and former Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce. NBC Sports Chicago's Vincent Goodwill added Chauncey Billups to the list, while Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix said Brooklyn Nets assistant Ime Udoka should be considered as well.

    As far as speculating goes, the possibilities are endless. If Stevens wants experience, maybe he'll target Alvin Gentry or Mike D'Antoni. If Stevens wants familiarity, perhaps longtime Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga will be the choice. San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, Philadelphia 76ers assistant Sam Cassell and Golden State Warriors assistant Jarron Collins all seem ready for their shot.

    Stevens could even do what Ainge did and promote from the college ranks. Duke women's coach Kara Lawson served on Stevens' staff in 2019-20.

    The options are as numerous as Stevens could want. But he needs to get this right. The Celtics have enough talent to win big sooner than later, and this roster needs the right leader to guide it.

2. Aim Sky-High on the Trade Market

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Despite spawning stars in Tatum and Brown, the Celtics haven't developed enough in house to make up for all the talent that's escaped them in recent years. Al Horford and Gordon Hayward walked away and weren't replaced. When Kyrie Irving left, Boston settled on the older, more injury-prone Walker—and had to sacrifice the promising Terry Rozier to get him.

    It's little surprise, then, to see the Celtics now encountering a talent shortage.

    "We're not as good as we thought we were, plain and simple," Ainge, via CBS Boston. "The bottom line is our team hasn't been as consistent or healthy, and we will have to make changes."

    The Celtics should swing for the fences. More importantly, they should be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to snag an impact player. Too often, this organization is in hot pursuit of a star but can't close the deal. That cannot happen again.

    They have the assets to add a significant piece without giving up Tatum or Brown, the team's two untouchables. Marcus Smart should interest every win-now shopper on the trade market. The Celtics have all of their own first-round picks and a handful of prospects (e.g. Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard) to interest long-term rebuilders. Walker might even fit the right exchange with a team starved for scoring.

    The good news is the Celtics can cast a wide net. Because they're building around a couple of two-way wings, they can add just about anything else to the roster and make it work. An interior anchor might top the wish list with a premier playmaker right behind, but stoppers, scorers, shooters and setup artists of all sizes would more or less mesh with Brown and Tatum.

3. Talk Extension with Robert Williams III

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    No one has shown more promise in filling the Horford-sized hole on the interior than Williams. That's why the Celtics need to make his extension-eligibility a priority topic for the summer.

    When he's healthy, Williams can be a difference-maker. His length, athleticism and timing manifest in elite shot-erasing (career 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes) and explosive rim-running (career 72.0 field-goal percentage). His instincts surface with a surprisingly potent passing attack (career-high 3.4 assists per 36 minutes).

    His future is blindingly bright, and his present is already enough to qualify as Tatum's "favorite person to play with," per Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald.

    But an extension for Williams is far from clear-cut.

    He has logged fewer than 1,700 regular season minutes since being made the 27th pick of the 2018 draft. If that doesn't sound like many, that's because it isn't. He actually has fewer career minutes (1,656 to be exact) than six different players drafted this year.

    Williams always seems to be battling some kind of ailment. Turf toe on his left foot nagged him down the stretch and effectively banished him to the bench this postseason. Hip and knee injury issues have previously forced him off of the floor.

    That won't make his next contract easy to price. Maybe that gives Boston some buy-low potential. That also could expose the Celtics to owing significant money to someone who can't stay on the floor. The conversations won't be comfortable, but they need to happen, as the good, healthy version of Williams could be an indispensable part of this core.

4. Re-Sign Evan Fournier at a Reasonable Rate

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    When the Celtics needed an offensive lift this season, they looked Evan Fournier's direction. Boston brokered a deadline deal for the veteran swingman to fill some of the roles vacated by Hayward last offseason.

    "We've talked often about shooting with size. Here's a 6'7" kid who's a good shooter and a good playmaker," Ainge told reporters. "He can handle the ball; just another creator for us."

    The Celtics only caught glimpses of that player, as Fournier had a brutal bout with COVID-19 and suffered through a few cold shooting spells. It was an unfortunate turn of events, especially considering he had an opportunity to prove he could impact winning—something that was rare across six-plus seasons with the Orlando Magic.

    Still, at the time of the exchange, Ainge made it clear the club was open to the "idea he could be here potentially for a long time." Nothing that happened over the past two months should've changed that.

    That doesn't make Fournier an automatic keeper, but he's in the adjacent neighborhood. If he exits unrestricted free agency with a reasonable pay rate in hand, the Celtics should be on the other side of that arrangement.

    But if someone wants to throw silly money at Fournier—perhaps in awe of the fact he was one of 20 players to average 17 points, three assists and 2.5 three-pointers—then Boston must be ready to walk away and search for support scoring elsewhere.

5. Strengthen the Second Unit

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Payton Pritchard's rise from 26th pick of the 2020 draft to key piece of the Celtics' 2020-21 rotation was a credit to his work ethic and a feather in the cap of the club's scouting department.

    It was also an indication of just how little this bench mob actually had in place. Pritchard logged double-digit minutes in his NBA debut, reached 25 in his second outing and cleared 30 in his eighth career contest. This was a meteoric ascension compared to what you usually see from a late first-round rookie on a club with championship aspirations.

    But Boston just had no other scoring punch from the second unit. Collectively, Celtics reserves averaged 31.3 points per game. The only two benches that scored less belonged to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, who went a combined 49-95.

    Boston's back end of the roster needs a pretty dramatic makeover. The Celtics are woefully short on second-teamers who can dribble, shoot and pass. If that's the case again next season, they'll wind up asking more from their starting group than those players can provide.

    But that should never happen, since the front office can attack this shortcoming on several fronts. Between draft picks, cap exceptions and the remainder of the massive trade exception created upon Hayward's exit, the Celtics have the resources to correct one of their biggest flaws.

6. Ace the Draft

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Celtics know as well as anyone how much of a roster-building asset the draft can be.

    In back-to-back drafts, they turned a couple of No. 3 picks into Tatum and Brown. A year later, they found Williams with the 27th pick. Two years after that, they snagged Pritchard at No. 26.

    They know how to get good mileage out of the talent grab. Like any other decision-maker, Ainge's hit rate wasn't 100 percent—spending top-20 picks on Guerschon Yabusele and James Young didn't exactly pan out—but there have been many more smart selections than misfires.

    The Celtics need to keep that going. Barring any trades, they'll only get two cracks at the draft this year with the Nos. 16 and 45 picks.

    For context on what that might yield, both B/R's Jonathan Wasserman and CBS Sports' Gary Parrish have Boston getting Texas big man Kai Jones at No. 16. ESPN's Jonathan Givony has the selection delivering LSU scoring guard Cameron Thomas. As for the second pick, the 40s on Wasserman's big board include Michigan swignman Isaiah Livers, Alabama off-guard Josh Primo and Illinois combo guard Ayo Dosunmu.

    The Celtics will surely hope to hit on two rotation players, but they need to walk away with at least one. It probably won't be the most important move they make this summer, but it's the kind of thing that could give next season's roster the length and depth that this year's group lacked.


                        

    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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