Brad Stevens Has A Huge Summer Ahead, So Let's Look At His Options

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At this time last year, we all had no idea how Brad Stevens taking over for Danny Ainge and being responsible for getting the Celts into title contention would go. Despite being a basketball genius, it was a new role and something he had never done before. I also would say that running and building an NBA team isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world despite what we all think on Twitter. He then immediately traded Kemba for Al Horford and it was clear from that moment that Brad not only had a vision, but he had the guts to execute it. 

One year later, we know that Brad built a team that ended just two wins from an NBA championship. He was successful in his attempt to build a contender, but the same Finals that validated his vision also exposed the flaws in the roster that Brad built. Entering his second offseason as the boss, there are different questions surrounding Brad and what happens next. Last year, it was "can he do this job"? That's been answered. To the surprise of no one, Brad can run an NBA team. Barring some sort of trade, we will still have to wait to see how he drafts, but in terms of roster construction and flexibility, he seems to know what he's doing. This time around though, Brad is faced with a different, and I would argue more difficult question. Now it's more

"Can he solve the issues that prevented his team from winning a title?"

As soon as a season ends, we all do the same thing. We start to think of who they can add over the summer to address certain needs that you learn about once they cost you a season (and sometimes a title. Do I have to keep mentioning it? Sigh). Whenever this topic comes up, I think it's important to attach actual names to the conversation of how you can solve certain issues. In order to do that, you sort of have to see the market so you even know who the hell is an option. That's what we're going to do today. While we have no idea the status of players under contract and who might be available via the trade market, we do know the available free agent market or players that fit into a certain situations based on their years/price. That's publicly available information which are the exact same numbers someone like Brad is looking at. 

Let's say you want the Celts to address the following positions/needs this summer: Ball handler, bench scorer, reserve big

To do that the Celts have some tools available outside of just trading regular rotation players. They have TPEs and the mid level exception. Let's see who makes sense

Evan Fournier's $17.1M TPE

Brad has until July 18th to use it. As long as you go into this process accepting the fact that it'll probably go unused, anything else is gravy. If Brad does choose to use it, we could see either one guy who takes up the whole thing, or maybe a combination of lower salary players. We all talk so much about this TPE being such an awesome tool, well that all depends on who is even available to use it on. The tool is only as good as its options. 

Marcus Morris - $16.3M

Malik Beasley - $15.5M

Kevin Huerter - $14.5M

Luke Kennard - $13.7M

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - $14M

Jordan Clarkson - $13M

Kyle Kuzma - $13M

Josh Hart - $12.9M

Kelly Oubre Jr - $12.6M

Terrance Ross - $11.5M

Richaun Holmes - $11M

Alec Burks - $10M

Larry Nance Jr - $9.6M 

Nerlens Noel - $9.2M

Royce O'Neale - $9.2M

Monte Morris - $9.1M

Maxi Kleber - $9M

Seth Curry - $8.4M

Coby White - $7.4M

That's pretty much it. So right away, with your biggest salary adding tool, that's the market of "realistic" names that make sense based on their current situation and position/skill set. How do you feel about that list? Does anyone immediately jump out? If so, what's their current situation? Are they even likely to be moved? That's the additional layer you have to add to the conversation. Just because someone fits money wise does not mean they are a guaranteed option.

If the Jazz truly blow it up? I think Clarkson would be available as he enters his low 30s. My guess is Ainge isn't going to pay him after his age 32 season (next year), so you may as well get something for him if you do decide to rebuild. Someone like Luke Kennard is appealing as that proven shooter, same with Huerter if the Hawks are looking to get out of that deal. The issue with this list is there aren't too many two way guys available. That's a slight concern based on what we know from Brad/Ime and their vision. Josh Hart might be my #1 choice if the Blazers are looking for assets, but even that feels like a stretch.

There are certainly names in that list that address areas of need. For example, are we sure the Nets wouldn't flip Seth Curry for assets and lower salaried players? He's an expiring player who could leave for nothing after this season. They have zero cap space and picks for the foreseeable future. With the addition of Christian Wood, what does that mean for Maxi Kleber? Did the Bulls see enough from Coby White over the second half of the year to maybe be willing to move on unlike they were at the trade deadline? Given where the Celts are in their development, I think you have to be OK with maybe overpaying in this spot. Give up that extra 2nd round pick, do a pick swap, whatever you have to do to bring in impactful players should be the plan. 

If you want to add multiple players with that TPE, I'd start looking no higher than Terrance Ross. The takeaway is Brad just has to use it on someone. There are options on paper, there are names that solve some problems, it's just on him to close the deal.

Juancho's $6.9M TPE and Dennis Schroder's $5.8M TPE

Not only did Juancho provide us all with a few hours of entertainment in between Finals games, he's also giving Brad the ability to help his roster with a decent salary slot. I'm grouping Dennis in here as well because the market is the same for both really. Just know that anyone under $5.8M would be Schroder's and anyone over $5.8M would be Juancho's. Same positional needs, here's what that group looks like

Cam Reddish - $5.9M

Cory Joseph - $5.1M

Torrey Craig - $5.1M

Ish Smith - $4.7M

Nicolas Batum - $3.8M

For the price, another list that isn't too terrible. I'd be interested to see how available Cory Joseph is. It's the last year of his deal, he has decent size and can hold his own as a reserve guard. I like how he attacks the paint. Defensively we have some issues but it's an interesting idea. I think there's some value in Torrey Craig as your reserve win/small ball four and I can't imagine he'd be all that pricey to get. We all know the deal with Ish Smith. First ballot Celtics killer. 

So looking at what's possible with the exceptions, there are some options that I think could make sense, but there's also a reason most of these go unused. It often looks much easier on paper than it is in real life. 

Which brings us to the Celts next tool. Their tax paying mid level exception

$6.3M Mid Level Exception

Once you start dealing with free agency, everything truly is a guess. While before we knew we had a salary structure to stick to and match with, free agency is the wild wild west. To begin, here's a list of what the 2022 free agent class even looks like

With this MLE, you're basically hoping a veteran player would be looking at Boston as a destination and be willing to maybe take a pay cut to join forces. For example, is Tyus Jones going to leave the Grizzlies to be a reserve point guard for less money? I'm gonna say no fucking way. Could TJ Warren maybe be down with a prove it year deal given his injury history? Maybe that's more likely. Could the minutes potential be attractive to someone like Mo Bamba if he ends up hitting the market? I'm pretty sure we just watched Otto Porter Jr win an NBA title and I don't think it's crazy to think he hits the market and the MLE would certainly be a raise. I could see Delon Wright as a backup point guard option and someone who maybe wants to join a contending team finally.

The point is, you need to be thinking of realistic players who would be willing to take a discount when you start talking about using the MLE. When I say realistic, that doesn't mean Gary Harris. It means guys that either has flaws or are at the point in their careers where they want to start looking to join contenders. 

It's easy to talk about all the things the Celts and Brad need to address this offseason, but it's another thing to actually put names to it. What we just went through is his available path knowing what we know now. We have a general sense of what type of players are possible given the salary restrictions. When it comes to the free agent class and who could be options given the money the Celts have to work with, it's not like there is a savior in there barring something crazy. The market is what it is.

If I were to guess, I'd bet we see a player from the Fournier TPE group and one of the Juancho/Dennis TPEs. With the MLE, while part of me dreams of someone like TJ Warren/Kyle Anderson, I think it's more likely we see that be used on a reserve big like McGee/Lopez/Bamba/Bryant. Given the success this roster just had, I would be shocked if Brad traded any of the top 8-9 rotation players outside of the names we know would have to be moved in any sort of TPE deal (Pritchard/Nesmith/etc). But that's the beauty of the NBA offseason and the unpredictability of Brad. He clearly has the stones to make tough decisions, and now he's about to dive into the most important offseason of his young GM career. 

The Celtics were close to an NBA title, but close doesn't cut it. You either win or you don't. Now it's up to Brad to build a roster that can get over that final hump and win the whole thing.