Celtics' Biggest Winners and Losers from 2021 NBA Free Agency

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 19, 2021

Celtics' Biggest Winners and Losers from 2021 NBA Free Agency

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    Brad Stevens was busy during his first NBA offseason as the Boston Celtics president of basketball operations.

    He swapped out Kemba Walker for Al Horford, used a trade exception to add Josh Richardson, strengthened his second team offense by bringing Enes Kanter back from a one-year hiatus, inked the summer's top value contract by getting Dennis Schroder at a deep discount and extended Marcus Smart.

    Not bad work for a front office neophyte, right?

    As the dust settles on Stevens' first offseason in charge, let's spotlight two winners and a loser for the Celtics in free agency.

Winner: Marcus Smart

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    Because so much of what Smart does best doesn't always show up in the box score, he isn't always the easiest player to assess. But coaches can appreciate what he brings, so it makes sense for Stevens to see him as a $77 million talent.

    First off, the pay rate is incredible for Smart. It's tough to tell how he'd be treated on the open market, but with a career 37.6 field-goal percentage, it's very possible most teams wouldn't give him a salary this rich. That doesn't mean it's undeserved, but it wasn't promised, so good on him for getting the bag.

    Really, though, the extension is the embodiment of the trust this team has in him—not just for the player he is now, but what he can still become.

    The subtraction of Kemba Walker will put a lot more playmaking responsibility on Smart's plate, and after nearly tripling his turnovers (2.0) with assists (5.7) last season, he just might be up to the task. He not only has the chance to show his chops as a lead guard, he'll do so on a team featuring a pair of star wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. That's a pretty sweet gig.

Loser: Carsen Edwards

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    Carsen Edwards spent his first two NBA seasons waiting for an opportunity that never surfaced.

    Now down to the final guaranteed season of his contract, it's becoming increasingly likely that opportunity may never come. Not in Boston, at least.

    The Celtics briefly had a backcourt opening when Kemba Walker was traded, but Dennis Schroder stepped right into that vacancy. If Smart and Schroder claim the two starting guard spots, Payton Pritchard and Josh Richardson might fill the backup roles.

    Moving down to the third string doesn't necessarily help Edwards, because there are still potential obstacles in Kris Dunn and Romeo Langford. Not to mention the crowding that would come should Juhann Begarin force his way onto the team. Where does Edwards fit among this group? Probably not in a more prominent place than he has the last two seasons.

Winner: Al Horford

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    Al Horford is at his best when his team doesn't need a lot of scoring from him.

    He can put the ball in the basket from all over the court, but he's most comfortable (and most effective) letting his brain and his vision find scoring chances for others. Case in point: He wasn't a top-two scorer on his team during any of his five All-Star seasons.

    Upon moving back to Boston, though, it was fair to wonder whether the club might need a little more point production out of him. Between the Walker trade and Evan Fournier's departure, the Celtics had some real uncertainty with the third scorer's role.

    But the addition of Schroder and big investment in Smart signal some belief that one or both might fill some of that void, which will free up Horford to do what he does best. Considering he'll be doing that on a Celtics team with clear designs on making the playoffs and not the tanking enthusiasts known as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Horford must be thrilled with how this offseason played out.