2016/17 Record: 53 – 29 (Eastern Conference Finals)
2017/18 Salaries: $111,505,141 (Over The Cap Team) – full BOS cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: LAL ’18 1st (2-5), LAC ’19 1st (15-30), MEM ’19 1st (9-30).
Outgoing Draft Picks: OKC ’18 2nd (56-60), MEM ’19 2nd (56-60)
Over the last few seasons, Boston Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge has seemingly been on the brink of making some League shattering moves, with the wealth of assets at his disposal. After the Celtics were annihilated by King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, this had to be the offseason where Ainge stopped collecting chips, and instead cashed them all in. Ainge did that at an unprecedented level, becoming The Dealmaker and bringing in 11 players during the offseason.
Despite being a catalyst for the moves that Ainge made this offseason, the Conference Finals humiliation cannot be forgotten. For it is within that Conference Finals loss that the signposts for this next generation of Celtics players to find their way back to the promised land of the NBA Finals are contained. The Celtics of the home and away season were remarkably different from the Celtics of the Eastern Conference Finals, both offensively and defensively.
Reg Season – ORtg: 111.2 / DRtg: 108.4
Con Finals – ORtg: 107.0 / DRtg: 128.4
Comparing the Cavs and the Celts in the Conference Finals at an individual team level, the Cavs swept them away from an offensive efficiency standpoint.
Points: 100.4 FGA: 86.0 FTA: 17.6 FG%: 43.5% 3PT%: 35.5% FT%: 78.4%
Points: 120.4 FGA: 79.0 FTA: 27.0 FG%: 53.4% 3PT%: 43.6% FT%: 77.8%
To outscore a team by 20 points per contest on seven less Field Goal attempts is the epitome of a dominant and efficient offensive performance, and raises questions about Boston defensively. This has been Danny Ainge’s mission this offseason, recruit and trade for players that will hopefully see the scales of Conference supremacy tip back towards Boston.
Thus far it is mission accomplished.
Deal # 1 – Trading the First Overall Pick
The offseason started as best as it possibly could for Ainge. The Celtics won the Markelle Fultz sweepstakes when it landed the number one overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by way of Brooklyn. Yet, Ainge was higher on Duke Freshman Jayson Tatum, and swung a deal with the Sixers before draft night which netted him the player he coveted and another first round pick in 2018. Tatum is a very Danny Ainge-type pick, and Ainge has admitted should Boston have retained the first overall, Tatum would have been the selection.
It’s not hard to see why. Tatum is the most offensively gifted player in the ’17 Draft class, and can score effectively from all three phases; the paint, the post and the perimeter. At 6’8, Tatum is capable of playing multiple roles in multiple line-ups, which he again demonstrated in the Vegas Summer League. Ultimately finishing with 18.2ppg, 8.8rpg, 1.5apg, 1.7spg at 44.6% FG and 33.3% 3PT across the Salt Lake and Vegas Summer Leagues.
That versatility will no doubt be utilised by Coach Stevens, who will likely give Tatum a role off the bench. It’ll be an important role with the Celtics finishing 22nd in the League for bench points at 32.6 in 16/17, with the loss of Kelly Olynyk (9.8ppg) and Gerald Green (5.6ppg), and one of Jaylen Brown (6.6ppg) or Marcus Smart (10.6ppg) likely starting at the Shooting Guard position, bench scoring is surely needed for Boston this season.
Deal # 2 – Signing Gordon Hayward.
The modern era of NBA basketball is synonymous with the era of the big three. To truly compete, teams need to have at the very least three star players on the roster – and the Warriors may be pushing this requirement to four. When Ainge was able to convince Gordon Hayward to pair with his old College coach in Boston, the Celtics had assembled their triage core with Hayward joining Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford.
Gordon Hayward as an All Star, will automatically enhance the potency of the Celtics for this season and beyond, and additional potency is what the Celtics required. Isaiah Thomas was 5th in the NBA last season for usage at 34%. The next highest usage from a player who played meaningful minutes is Avery Bradley, who had a usage rate of 21.9%. Bradley’s PER was slightly below average, and the seventh best on the team. This is where Hayward’s impact will be best felt, a second star that is used to high usage, and has proven to perform with that responsibility. In his final season at Utah, Hayward was used 28.5% of the time at a PER of 20.7. Comparatively, that output would be second to the 16/17 Boston Celtics.
Ainge will also be hoping that his former Coach can continue to bring his efficiency closer towards his College career, and in effect, take Hayward’s game to the next level.
Career at Butler
33.1mpg, 14.4ppg 47.0 FG%, 56.9% 2FG, 36.9 3PT%, 82.4 FT%, 7.4rpg, 1.8apg, 1.3spg, 0.9bpg, 2.0tov
Career at Utah
31.3mpg, 15.7ppg, 44.4 FG%, 47.7 2FG%, 36.8 3PT%, 82.0 FT%, 4.2rpg, 3.4apg, 1.0spg, 0.4bpg, 2.1tov
34.5mpg, 21.9ppg, 47.1 FG%, 50.6 2FG%, 39.8 3PT%, 84.4 FT%, 5.4rpg, 3.5apg, 1.0spg, 0.3bpg, 1.9tov.
Offensively, Hayward has improved year-on-year, breaching the 20 points per game threshold for the first time last season. At Butler, Hayward’s versatility was a major weapon for Coach Stevens, and his offensive playbook was as unique and plentiful then as it is now. Expect to see Stevens utilise Hayward in multiple ways in multiple positions. Whilst College defenses (especially in the Horizon Conference) are far less competitive than in the NBA, Coach Stevens will continue to position Hayward in ways to perform at a similarly efficient rate that he did in College.
It may seem slightly ridiculous to expect Hayward’s production to increase by sole virtue of his connection with Coach Stevens, but Kyrie Irving has already noted the unspoken language that the pair have.
Deal # 3 – Trading for Kyrie Irving
It seemed as if all of Boston’s hopes for taking that one extra step they hadn’t been able to take in 2016/17 was all reliant on Gordon Hayward. Thankfully, Kyrie Irving came to Ainge’s rescue.
It caused a shockwave through the NBA, Irving, a Championship winner, playing alongside one of the greatest players of all time – wanted out. He wanted to be the main man. He wanted to lead a team. After failing to land that third stud and missing out on Paul George and Jimmy Butler to deals he could have trumped, Ainge had to make the move. He cobbled together a wealth of assets, sending star Point Guard Isaiah Thomas, salty defender Jae Crowder, intriguing European prospect Ante Zizic, and the rights to the Brooklyn first overall pick for 2018 for Irving. The deal according to one NBA GM, would mean Irving would have to morph into a top 10 player in the League.
At Boston he has a chance to become one, for this is now unquestionably Irving’s team.
From a purely statistical point of view, Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving are very similar players. Yet, Danny Ainge is hoping that the move out of King James’ shadow will see a jump in production that sees him eclipse IT4, predicting that he will be a better play-maker under Brad Stevens.
The move made also demonstrates that Ainge is playing the long game in three major ways. The first is that Isaiah Thomas, at 29 years of age will expect (and deserves) a Brinks truck payment after being the best bang-for-buck contract in the NBA. Thus, Kyrie Irving at 25 years of age this season is a younger – and potentially cheaper – option for the Celtics.
The second is that LeBron James is every chance to opt out and head West next offseason, which will likely see an exodus of talent from Cleveland following the King. With Irving, Hayward and Horford all together passed this season, the Celtics have maneuvered themselves to be the team to beat in a post-James Eastern Conference for seasons to come.
Lastly, making Crowder part of the deal and Avery Bradley the sacrificial lamb to add Hayward, more time is freed up for former Celtic high draft picks Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, as well as the aforementioned Jayson Tatum. The shining lights in the Eastern Conference shellacking were Smart and Brown, who stepped up in the absence of Isaiah Thomas after he fell to a hip injury. The collective potential of this trio is greater than that of both Crowder and Bradley, they just need the opportunity to develop.
Danny Ainge went all in this offseason, playing the lead role in the exodus of all bar four players from the 2016/17’s Eastern Conference Finals team. It’s a bold move, but one that could finally push the Celtics past King James and his Cavs, to the NBA Finals. The scary thing for the rest of the NBA is that Ainge still has some assets up his sleeve, which raises the question, has The Dealmaker finished making deals?
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: A
2017/18 Prediction: 55-27
The result of all Ainge’s dealing is a Boston Celtics team that is extremely talented on paper but is almost an entirely new team. It should again compete for the first overall seed in the weakened East and battle it out with a reloaded Cavalier squad for a berth in the NBA Finals. It may be a little hard going early on, as so many players (and Coach) have to define roles and figure out how to play together. Yet to win an NBA Championship you need top end talent, and that is exactly what Boston brought in this offseason.
Player to watch: Jaylen Brown.
With Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley both donning new uniforms this season, a new defensive stalwart is required for the Celtics. Brad Stevens is expecting that to be Jaylen Brown. Brown has all the physical attributes to be an elite two-way player in the League at 6’7″ with high-level athleticism, and he drew rave reviews from all corners in the Eastern Conference Finals. His first season was very much a teaser of what could be, averaging 6.6 points and 2.8 boards per game in just over 17 minutes of action. Brown bumped up his input to 9 points and 3 boards in 17 minutes per night in the Eastern Conference Finals where most of his teammates failed to fire. As a former top-three pick, expectations are always going to be high. However, with the Celts’ new star-power being what it is, Brown playing an important role is paramount for any success Boston will have this season.
Four Key Questions:
1. Has Danny Ainge finished making moves?
Despite all this heavy movement, Boston still has a tonne of assets up their sleeves. Most notably, multiple First Round picks; especially in 2019. With only four players remaining from the 2016/17 season, the Celtics have a much shallower bench on paper, which could foreshadow more pressure on Ainge to continue to make moves to compliment the Celtics’ new stars if bench improvement doesn’t come from within. Ultimately, great teams require great role players, and Danny Ainge would no doubt be tempted to further cash in an asset or two to continue to put the right players around the core of Irving, Hayward and Horford.
2. Who will be the last player to make the roster?
As at the date of writing, the Celtics have 14 guaranteed contracts on the books for season 17/18. After losing Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko from last years big man rotation, then trading the most likely replacement in Ante Zizic, the depth behind Aron Baynes seems a little thin. German Daniel Theis could see some time at the Center position, but at 6’9″ he gives up some height. It would, therefore, be prudent for the last position to add depth at the 5, but the four non-guaranteed players all project as perimeter players; L.J. Peak, Andrew White, Jonathon Holmes and Devin Williams. Of that foursome, L.J. Peak is the most likely to play a role as a 3-&-D guy, and if Ainge doesn’t bring anyone from outside the current roster, Peak may find himself as the lucky last player to make the roster.
3. Is this Marcus Smart’s year to explode?
Marcus Smart is entering the last year of his Rookie deal after being the sixth overall pick in 2014. Statistically, his numbers don’t jump off the page, but under Brad Stevens, he has been used in a variety of roles, but mostly as a sixth man. He’s a sub 30% shooter from long range, and that has often been restrictive to his opportunities to live up to such a high pick. However, with Bradley and Crowder gone, Smart will likely see an increased opportunity to make his mark. Its started well, coming back to pre-season in great shape, and for the Celtics to really test the Cavs in the East, a player like Marcus Smart making the jump is sorely needed. Equally, Smart would be keen to grab ensure contract extension paperwork is provided by Boston. A jump to 15ppg whilst maintaining similar rebounds and assist numbers would seem him on par with Eric Gordon’s Sixth Man of the Year season of 16/17. The key will be to do so more efficiently, no doubt with a view of breaking the 40% FG and 33% 3PT thresholds.
4. Will the new lineup go through any teething problems?
There will no doubt be significant growing pains for such a massive roster overhaul. Teams that have made such significant changes have gone through similar. The Heat started the 2010/11 season 9-8 after LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach. The 2016/17 Warriors didn’t have such a hangover after Kevin Durant signed in Free Agency, but they still were demolished at home by 29 by San Antonio in their opening game, and lost by 20 to the lowly Lakers in the 6th game of their season. Neither the additions of the 10/11 Heat, or 16/17 Warriors match the total overhaul numbers wise, that Ainge undertook this offseason and it’ll be intriguing to see how long it takes for this Celtics team to gel.