During yesterday's end of season press conference, Brad Stevens made it pretty clear about where he thinks his team is as they enter one of the most important offseasons in recent history
Now whether you agree or not with his evaluation is a different discussion. Barring Jaylen turning down an extension, it seems as though that anyone screaming for dramatic changes to the roster will most likely be disappointed once October rolls around. So instead of debating that thought process, I instead wanted to see what
"getting a little bit better"
even means. Sure some of that might be internal improvement from guys on the roster, but what does it mean in terms of looking at the market and finding pieces to help you get there? What do the Celts even have to work with? What is the position/skillset of need?
Anyone can say the Celts need to do something, but whenever we go down this road I always think it's important to look at the actual names that are on the market, both in terms of free agents and players around the league that match similar money to what the Celts would be needing to move. That helps you put some realistic names to this exercise and not just some idea of a player that might help but isn't actually possible.
The first step is understanding what Brad has to work with this summer. For this, timing is important. July 1st is the official start to the 2023-24 season. That means anything that happens prior to July 1st uses 2022-23 money. Anything after that date uses 2023-24 money. Here's what that looks like
The only drastic difference as you can see is the Al Horford money. Before July 1st, any deal involving Horford uses his $26M number, whereas after July 1st you're looking at $10M. Other than that, things are mostly the same before and after the new league year.
I also think we can assume that Gallo is picking up his $6.8M player option and the team guarantees Muscala's $3.5M option. We also know that Payton Pritchard has made it pretty damn clear he'd like to be moved
In terms of other assets, the 2023-24 Celts will have the Taxpayer mid level ($5M) if they dont keep Grant. If they somehow get under the tax apron, they'll have the ability to use the Bi-Annual exception ($4.4M), but that seems unlikely. They own their 1st round picks in 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027, and then the SA pick swap in 2028.
The question now becomes, what does Brad mean when he says "small tweaks" or "getting a little bit better"? I suppose it depends on what might be possible. For example, if there's an Al Horford trade out there that you could get with his big salary number that finds his replacement, does Brad do it? He mentioned believing in the core, so does that mean he could be looking to sell high on Malcolm Brogdon to use his $22.5M to find a position of need? Does this just mean lower moves with the end of bench guys?
In terms of position of need, based on how the roster looks now and with Grant's potential departure, I think most will agree frontcourt help is something that needs to be looked at. Let's break this up into guys that are close Al/Brogdon's money and then some lower salaried guys who you could see potentially be moved.
Once you see the names and who is realistically available, it's certainly interesting. I'll list all the players who match the money and then we'll talk about who might even be available without peeling off core pieces (as Brad suggested wasn't about to happen)
Big Money bigs
- Kristaps Porzingis ($33M)
- Draymond Green ($25M)
- John Collins ($23M)
- Nikola Vucevic ($22M)
- Jerami Grant ($20M)
- Jusurf Nurkic ($15M)
- Christian Wood ($14M)
- Marvin Bagley ($12M)
- Kelly Olynyk ($12M)
- Richaun Holmes ($11M)
- Larry Nance Jr ($9M)
- Kyle Anderson ($9M)
As you can see, if the Celts are going to be looking to potentially find Al's replacement while using his big money salary in the 2022-23 league year, the options aren't great. Of this list, how many are truly available? I don't get the sense the Wizards are looking to get out of the Porzingis business. There are rumblings that a Vucevic extension might be coming. The Blazers are interested in adding not subtracting, so my guess is Jerami Grant is not an option. I'm pretty certain the Hawks would not trade Collins for Horford, despite Al being a Hawks legend. Draymond has a player option for $27M next season, and I don't know if even swapping Al for Draymond is the right play. There are nice names like Kyle Anderson, but you can find ways to get to that $9M number with other players' contracts.
The point is, finding that big man via trade using Al's or Brogdon's 2022-23 money doesn't really appear to be an option from the outside looking in.
Big Money wings
- DeMar DeRozan ($27M)
- Buddy Hield ($21M)
- Bojan Bogdanovic ($19M)
- Caris LeVert ($18M)
- Bogdan Bogdanovic ($18M)
- OG Anunoby ($17M)
- Gary Trent Jr ($17M)
- Norman Powell ($16M)
- Luke Kennard ($13M)
Same thing here. The names aren't all that great in terms of what is actually realistic. For example, I included DeRozan in there mostly because with Lonzo maybe out for another year, maybe they'd be interested in a player like Brogdon to fill in. The Raptors might also need a point guard if they lose Fred VanVleet, but of those two guys I think Gary Trent Jr is probably the more attainable player in terms of what you have to give up. The Clippers could use some point guard depth so Powell fits, and with Ja maybe suspended for the season, maybe that opens up options for Kennard.
I think this is why Brad talked about "small tweaks" yesterday. They've looked around the league and there's no real drastic trade that on the surface looks both possible and solves the Celts issues, especially if you want to use Al's 2022-23 money. There's a chance you could still pull something off after July 1st using Brogdon's money, but I wouldn't put too much stock into that.
So now let's shift to more smaller money deals. For the sake of this blog let's say they package Pritchard's money and Gallo's money. In a trade like this, you'd want to do it after July 1st so you get a little more with Pritchard's salary increase. Let's call it $10M. What does that market look like?
Small Money bigs
- Kyle Anderson ($9M)
- Nic Claxton ($9M)
- Zach Collins ($7M)
- Khem Birch ($7M)
- Taurean Prince ($7M)
- Jalen Smith ($5M)
Same issue here as the big money guys. I do not think Claxton is available for a Gallo/Pritchard package, and other than Kyle Anderson, someone I'm not sure MIN is rushing to get rid of, it certainly doesn't look like pairing those two for big man depth that makes a difference is all that enticing. Zach Collins had an interesting year in SA (11/6/3) while shooting 51/37%), but his injury history is a disaster.
Small Money wings
- Terance Mann ($10M)
- Reggie Bullock ($10M)
- Royce O'Neale ($9M)
- Alex Caruso ($9)
- Saddiq Bey ($4.5M)
- Derrick Jones Jr ($3.3M)
I think by now you're probably noticing the trend. Given the health of Paul George and Kawhi, I can't imagine that Gallo/Pritchard package is bringing you back Terance Mann. Maybe best case scenario would be the Bulls open to Caruso? But that's a long shot in my opinion because the last thing that roster needs is a smaller point guard and a stretch big coming off an ACL.
Plus, if Grant is leaving, you sort of have to keep Gallo and hope that his minutes combined with more Hauser make up for the spacing/shooting you're losing with Grant.
So if this is the trade market, maybe the small tweaks are coming via free agency and the MLE. Here's a look at the 2023 free agent class, first by wings
If we're talking MLE money, who from that list is taking it that fits how the Celts play/are built? Seth Curry? Lonnie Walker IV? TJ Warren? A Josh Richardson reunion? As you can see, the wing MLE market doesn't exactly blow your dick off.
Now let's do bigs
A few names stick out here. The first being Naz Reid, His age fits, hit skillset hits, and while he'll probably have a market that can pay him more than the MLE, I could see that being a "small tweak" that Brad was referencing. The other guy is maybe someone like Kenyon Martin Jr, assuming the Rockets pick up his club option. He had a pretty solid season for the Rockets and is a great athlete, but he is a little undersized. I wonder about someone like Trey Lyles, but given how important he was to the Kings, if they end up being interested in keeping him I don't know why he would leave.
So when you actually look at both the trade and free agent landscape, I think you can properly set your expectations as to what Brad might be able to pull off this summer if his intention is to keep the core together. Personally, I think someone like Naz Reid is probably atop the list in terms of age/playstyle/fit/etc.
The good news is it's not as if the Celts are miles and miles away. The bad news is it's not totally clear what the tweaks could be that get them over the hump outside of just internal improvement. We've seen Brad pull of miracles before in his short tenure as the boss, and this might be another summer where he has to do it again.