A look back to determine whether each big move that the Celtics made during the off-season was either a win or a loss.
This week saw the return of former Celtics guard Avery Bradley to TD Garden. It was the first time Bradley has played in the Garden since being traded to the Pistons in the off-season. Bradley was one of the unfortunate casualties of the Gordon Hayward free agency signing, with the lower-than-expected salary cap forcing Danny Ainge to move his All-Defensive First-Team guard. This move was one of many that the reigning Eastern Conference Finalists made during the off-season, with the squad only returning four players, including only one starter, from the previous season's roster. Now that we’re a good chunk of the way through the season, I have decided to look back and determine whether each big move that the Celtics made during the off-season was either a win or a loss.
Here we go.
1a. Traded the 2017 first-round draft pick (No. 1) to Philadelphia for the 76ers' 2017 first-round draft pick (No. 3) and a conditional first-round pick in 2018 or 2019
1b. Drafted Jayson Tatum (and Semi Ojeleye)
Heading into the NBA Draft, with the #1 pick clenched firmly in their team's fists, Celtics fans spent countless hours on YouTube watching highlights of the consensus number one selection Markelle Fultz out of Washington. With an injury cloud hanging over the head of All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, Fultz seemed to be a player that could contribute to the team right away. Not only that, but he even had the potential to become the point-guard-shaped face of the Celtics future. Then, in the blink of an eye, those dreams were dashed as it was announced that the Celtics had traded the pick to the 76ers.
At the time this was announced, Celtics Twitter erupted and started questioning Danny Ainge’s decision (it wasn’t the first time Celtics fans had done this and it wouldn’t be the last). While Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson (the players that were most likely on Danny Ainge’s radar) were nice players; athletic, versatile and hungry, Fultz was the player that everyone wanted.
Fast forward five months and Danny Ainge is looking like a genius (not for the first time, and certainly not for the last time). While Markelle Fultz is sidelined with a mysterious shoulder injury that completely ruined his shooting mechanics before he even played a single game of NBA basketball, Jayson Tatum is proving to be one of the most impressive players, if not the most impressive player, of this entire draft class. After 21 games, all of which Tatum has started, the former Blue Devil is averaging 13.9 points – with a shooting line of 49-47-84 - and 5.5 rebounds per game. While these numbers may not pop off the page as much as those of Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr or Lauri Markkanen, you have to remember that Tatum is doing this for a team that currently owns the best record in the entire NBA. Not bad for a kid who wasn’t worthy of a pick downgrade.
Props also have to go to Semi Ojeleye, who fell to the Celtics at pick #37 and has become a useful 3-and-D player coming off the bench. He still hasn’t been as consistent offensively as he and the team would like, but there’s little doubt that that consistency will come in due time.
Verdict: BIG WIN
2. Traded Avery Bradley to Detroit for Marcus Morris and a 2019 second-round draft pick
After free-agent Gordon Hayward announced through his long-winded article for The Players Tribune that the Boston Celtics were his club of choice, Celtics fans were elated. They would finally have a legitimate second-scoring option to pair with Isaiah Thomas. What they didn’t realize, however, was the collateral damage that this decision – coupled with the announcement that salary cap for the 2017/18 season would be $2 million less than was expected - would cause. With a four-year contract worth $128 million on the table for Hayward, the Celtics needed to clear some cap space. Despite Bradley’s importance to the roster, his expiring $8.8 million contract made him disposable, so off he went to Detroit and in came the self-dubbed “Beantown Bully” in Marcus Morris.
Morris has already proven himself to be the quintessential Brad Stevens player; a hard-working, versatile player who can guard a number of positions at a high level and knock down the three ball. Despite Morris averaging fewer points and shooting at a worse clip than Bradley, the emergence of second-year stud Jaylen Brown has essentially made up for Bradley’s departure entirely. Brown has proven to be one of the most improved players in the league so far this season, averaging 15.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game – both good for second in the team. While his shooting is still somewhat streaky, he has quickly become one of the Celtics go-to scorers this season.
3. Acquired Gordon Hayward
Once the Bradley-Morris trade was complete, the Celtics had the necessary cap space needed to officially sign Hayward. He was the perfect match for this young up-and-coming squad. Coming off his first All-Star appearance and leading the Utah Jazz in scoring for the fourth straight year, Hayward was ready to take another step forward as he would reunite with his former college coach in Brad Stevens.
Once the season started, however, things turned dark. I’m talking “Requiem For A Dream” dark. Five minutes into his first game as a Celtic, Hayward suffered one of the most gruesome injuries you’ll see on a basketball court, shattering his ankle into what doctors approximated to be a million pieces. A few days later, it would be announced that Hayward would be out for the rest of the season.
Despite this, the team still holds a league-best 18-4 record, and Hayward still has at least three more hopefully healthy years to help this team win a championship.
The silver lining to his injury is that it has given the younger players such as Brown, Tatum and even Semi Ojeleye, an opportunity to get some serious NBA minutes. Once Hayward comes back into the line-up, the Celtics are going to be stacked and there will be a number of high caliber players coming off the bench.
Verdict: BIG WIN
4. Daniel Theis, Aron Baynes and Shane Larkin sign as Free Agents
The Celtics had struggled all last season in the rebounding department, so they were desperate to find a player who could battle on the glass and be an enforcer in the paint. Enter Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes, the international twin towers who have almost single-handedly helped the Celtics become one of the best rebounding teams in the entire league. Their length, energy, and defensive prowess have become a crucial part of the Celtics form this season.
As for Shane Larkin, he was a player that many had just assumed was brought in strictly as an extra body for training camp. But that wasn’t the case at all, as the Celtics offered him a contract and welcomed him aboard. Despite only playing roughly 10 minutes per game and averaging 2.5 points per game, Larkin’s speed and agility have really helped the second unit shut down opposing offenses. He’s never going to be a star player, but he is very productive as the ninth or 10th player off the bench.
5. Trade for Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic and a TPE
This is the big one. For months, Celtics fans had wondered what the plan was going forward with Isaiah Thomas. Here he was, an All-Star player who had one of the best offensive seasons in Boston Celtics history earning roughly $6 million per year. For the past couple of seasons, Thomas, who bled green perhaps more so than any player since Paul Peirce (and who even helped recruit Gordon Hayward to the club), would regularly mention the Brink’s Truck that the Celtics would have to back up once his contract was up. He saw how much other guys in the league were getting paid and he wanted his share. But for a team who was strapped for cap-space, was he worth it? His production over the last two seasons said yes, but his age, along with his worrisome hip, made the decision a tough one.
Then, along came the Cleveland Cavaliers, who offered Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas and a host of assets. Danny Ainge agreed and, just like what happened with what will now forever be known as the Tatum Trade, he was met with hatred and anger from the Boston faithful. Ainge didn’t care, though. He saw this as a move that would help the Celtics both now and in the future. And just as it had so many times before, Time concurred with Ainge’s plan.
Through the first 22 games of the season, Kyrie Irving is averaging a tremendous 23 points and 5.1 assists, while also playing a high caliber of defense that we seldom saw outside of perhaps the playoffs with the Cavs, and is a legitimate MVP candidate. All the while, Isaiah Thomas sits on the sidelines nursing his injury and that much anticipated Brooklyn Nets pick doesn’t seem to be quite as good as it was once thought to be. Of course, things can change. Thomas could come back and be a key cog in the Cavaliers Finals run, and Brooklyn could slip to the bottom of the East and claim the Cavs a top three pick, but the way that Kyrie Irving is currently playing, none of that matters. He has done things that Celtics fans have not seen from one of their own in a very long time. His form has single-handedly bred a new generation of “flat-earthers,” including Danny Ainge himself. If the Celtics are to make it to the NBA Finals this year, it will be due in large part to Kyrie Irving and his insane wizardry.
Verdict: GIGANTIC WIN