The Boston Celtics made some moves over the summer that were initially head-scratching, but now their offseason plan has worked better than most expected.
As the Celtics got bounced by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2nd round of the playoffs, the whispers of him leaving grew louder and louder. Eventually, it was inevitable that Irving would be wearing a different jersey in the upcoming campaign.
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Despite his famous speech offering his services to Boston if the fans wanted him, management was most likely preparing for life without Irving as the season came to a disappointing end. For a team that was one game short of the Finals the year before, a 2nd round exit was nearly inexcusable. Changes had to be made.
An unexpected twist formed before the official start of free agency. Fan-favorite Al Horford and the front office had unsuccessfully negotiated an extension. Thus, Boston’s two best players had nearly both feet out of the door.
If there’s one thing that Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge has done well, it’s knowing when to move on from his players, no matter the emotional burden those moves have.
Examples of those moves include the trading of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, letting Ray Allen walk, and infamously trading Isaiah Thomas. All of those moves raised eyebrows across the league, but Ainge had a plan in mind with each deal.
Therefore, Al Horford knew he would be joining Kyrie Irving as a departing member of the Boston Celtics.
Once free agency opened up, the Celtics had nearly completed their signing of All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker. In terms of statistics, Walker averaged similar numbers to Irving, as can be seen below:
As you can see, Kemba played all 82 games last season, averaged more points than Kyrie, and both of their other stats are comparable. There’s no replacing a talent like Irving, but a locker room leader like Kemba is a good option.
The problem with the team was the replacement for Al Horford. On the roster, Daniel Theis was the most likely option. Although he wasn’t the best in the 2018-19 season, he was on a cheap contract and Brad Stevens had experience coaching him.
In what would go down as a move orchestrated by Kemba Walker himself, the team signed Enes Kanter, the rebounding specialist from the Portland Trail Blazers. He put together a fantastic postseason run with the Blazers, helping them reach the Western Conference Finals.
It had been decided. The team was using a strategy famously used by the Golden State Warriors, the small-ball movement. Theis stood at 6’8″, and while Kanter was slightly taller, he did not have the same defensive presence that Al Horford had on the team. The team was ready to roll with its core of Kemba, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart, as well as Theis.
Switchability was what the Celtics were going for. Wing players and solid defenders that could switch on the pick-and-roll, offer consistent help defense when needed, and disrupt the flow of their opponents’ offense.
As we come to the home stretch of the season, the Celtics’ gamble seems to have paid off. The Celtics sit third in the league in defensive rating, third in opponent points in the paint, and top 10 in both steals and blocks (NBA.com).
Of course, their offense is there. No one was questioning their ability to score going into the season. The team’s reliance on Tatum and Brown’s improved defense was a risk, but one that paid off.
Tatum is having his time to shine, currently blossoming into a top 10 wing on both sides of the ball. Jaylen Brown complements him nearly perfectly, and Kemba Walker allows both to shine while also getting his.
Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and Daniel Theis have each contributed greatly to the team, and rookie Grant Williams has surprised after initially being a confusing draft choice. The Boston Celtics are a deep team.
The Boston Celtics had a plan in mind, and wasted no time in establishing their style of play. They are currently within striking distance of the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference, and are arguably a top 5 team in the league.
After what appeared to be a troubling offseason, Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have blown expectations out of the water, and they have the Boston Celtics competing for a Finals appearance.
Because of that, they deserve a high grade for the moves they made (and didn’t make, to a lesser extent).