Heading into the 2021-22 NBA season, Brad Stevens had a lot on his plate once he accepted the job to now be in charge. Nobody knew what this roster needed more than him since he just lived through coaching it, and he was tasked with the challenge of improving the roster while still maintaining potential flexibility moving forward. Now that we are 25% of the way through the season, I think that's enough of a sample to start to look at how he did. This does not mean things can't change as the year goes on, both in terms of improvement and regression, but I wanted to look at how things stand at this very moment.
As a reminder, here were his offseason moves
1. Traded Kemba + 16th pick for Al Horford & Moses Brown
2. Traded Moses Brown + used the Hayward TPE to bring in Josh Richardson. Then gave him a 1 year extension
3. Traded Tristan Thompson to the Kings as part of a 3 team deal for Kris Dunn/Bruno/2nd round pick/TPE
4. Signed Dennis Schroder to a $5M Deal
5. Got a Fournier TPE for $17M
6. Traded Kris Dunn/Carsen Edwards/2nd round pick swap for Juancho Hernangomez
7. Extended Marcus Smart
8. Extended Robert Williams
There are certain things we can look at and say that Brad successfully addressed, and at the same time, there are obvious glaring issues that none of these offseason moves have fixed just yet, in fact you could make the case things have been worse as a result. So, given what we know on November 29th, let's take a look at how Brad is doing so far in his very first year calling the shots
Maybe you heard, but Kemba is now out of the Knicks rotation. Meanwhile, Al Horford looks as good as he ever has while wearing a Celtics jersey. I can't imagine there is a single person on the planet that does not consider this trade a win for Brad. Not only has Al stepped back in like he never left while playing at a high level, but his contract isn't fully guaranteed moving forward. He's still a movable piece if the right deal presents itself. By almost every way possible I think it's OK to say that Horford has started the year off by exceeding expectations. It may not last, but that's not what this is about. This is about taking stock of things at this point in the season.
Josh Richardson Trade
Essentially, Brad did not have to give up much to bring in Richardson. We all knew the roster needed more veteran wing depth with both Romeo and Nesmith still being unknowns, and as I mentioned this morning all Richardson has done is show up with the best shooting season of his career. If you need to potentially include his $11M salary in a trade, you can. If you want to spot start him, you can. If you want him to be that first wing off the bench, you can. They had to use that Hayward money somewhere or they were going to lose it for nothing, so to bring back a rotation player that is buying into his role seems like a good decision so far.
Tristan Thompson Trade
This has basically been a nothing deal. We'll see if they ever use that TPE, but this was more about getting Thompson off the team than bringing back an actual return. Bruno hasn't played, Dunn isn't on the team and who cares about the pick. If that TPE expires and they never use it I guess you could call this trade a loss, but who really misses Tristan Thompson right now? If anything this is a wash. If they are able to bring in a low cost shooter with that TPE money, it's a win. At this moment in time though, it's whatever.
Dennis Schroder signing
On the surface, this looks great a quarter of the way through the season. Schroder is giving legit production both off the bench/as a spot starter for $5M. Hard to get better then that. In terms of fit, we haven't seen any issues come up with him and Smart in terms of accepting roles.
But it's not all positive. We're seeing what having lineups with three non shooters on the perimeter is doing for this offense, and it's not great. In fact, it kinda stinks. That was the risk Brad took with the Smart/Richardson/Schroder trio. What you might get defensively you pay the price in terms of consistent shooting. That issue isn't really going away anytime soon. But in terms of the signing and the production you are getting for that price, I'd say this has worked out for the most part.
Impossible to judge this right now, because we have no clue how Brad uses it. I will say it does look like he dodged a bullet by not paying a dude that kinda money just for him to shoot 41/39% and average 13 points a game. I'd rather have the TPE money than that production tied up long term.
If that TPE expires and he never uses it, well that's a giant loss. Same deal as the Hayward TPE. It all depends on what comes from it before we can judge it accurately.
Considering what he gave up, this is another mostly nothing trade, similar to Thompson. Juancho isn't playing, and you would think that his money is going to be used as salary filler. But that's not what this blog is. We can't predict the future, so as of now I'd say this is a fail. I know there was hope that Juancho could maybe be a stretch four on the second unit, but that has not happened in the slightest. My guess is he won't be on this team post deadline.
Extended Marcus Smart
This upset some Celtics fans. Why, I'm not so sure. There's no denying that Smart got off to a horrific start, but since November 1st he's been exactly what this team needs. His shot selection is under control, he's done a solid job as a facilitator and his defense is back to being All NBA caliber. The three point shooting percentage wise is still bad, but remember heading into the year the BIG question was if Smart could and would accept his secondary role on this team. I'm not sure how anyone could say he hasn't. We're basically not seeing him take any brutal early shot clock threes, there's less and less hero ball, and he's back to averaging 5.7 assists a night which ties his career high.
This doesn't mean that Brad won't include his salary in a future deal, but as of now I think it's OK to say that Smart has backed up why he deserved an extension. Just look at their on/off splits when Smart leaves the floor.
With that extension came a good amount of risk. It was never a talent issue with Rob, it was an availability issue. He started the year off great, both producing on the floor and being available. I think he played 13 of their first 14 games. But since then, things have been rocky. Some knee issues combined with getting sick has kept Rob sidelined. Chances are, that knee thing is an issue all year that they'll have to monitor.
But from a production standpoint? Rob is having a breakout year. He's easily the most impactful player on this roster not named Jayson Tatum. That sounds crazy but it's true. He impacts so much on both ends when he's in the game. To have that at only like $13M a year seems like pretty good value. This is one where I'm not sure we can call it an all out win for Brad because the availability is still a question. The extension was absolutely warranted given his play, but we need to see him do it over a prolonged stretch before you can truly chalk that up to a win.
In looking at these moves I think you can make the following conclusions so far. Brad did a good job of turning assets that really weren't giving his team anything for players that are making a tangible impact. Part of the reason their defense is back to being among the league best is due to those additions. But there's no getting around the fact that at the moment, he built a team that cannot shoot. While I don't think he expected Jayson Tatum to not hit any shot he takes, there are real issues when it comes to roster construction and shooting through the first quarter of the season. That's his next challenge. With the contracts he has and the TPEs available, how does he fix that? Guys like Smart/Schroder/Richardson are what they are when it comes to shooting the basketball. They aren't going to magically turn things around and be consistent threats. There is no relying on young guys like Nesmith/Pritchard to fill that void. That's not happening anytime soon it feels. Defenses are not respecting the Celts role players as shooters and as a result are packing the paint which makes it tough on Tatum/Brown. In that regard, Brad has failed and I say that because his whole point this offseason was about maximizing the Jays. I'm not sure we can say that's happened so far.
So you take a step back, and through 25% of the season I'd say he has more positive results than negative. That doesn't mean these moves haven't now created additional issues he now needs to address, but for his first offseason ever as the boss, I'd say things look OK in terms of an immediate return. Big picture, his team is 11-10 which kinda stinks. It has them right in the middle of a jumbled East. They still don't know how to close games. Shit is by no means perfect.
It'll be interesting to see how things look when they reach the halfway point, and then again as we enter the Spring, but for an offseason that many said was average at best, the early returns aren't too shabby.