• Ryan Bernardoni

Post-draft Notes and Questions for the Celtics

The Boston Celtics stood pat on draft night, taking Texas A&M center Robert Williams III with the 27th pick. Not that this always means much, but Williams was immediately viewed as one of the steals of the draft; a player with lottery talent who fell due to off-court questions, injury concerns, and simple team fit in the mid-round selections.

It's not a shock that the Celtics didn't make any further moves during the day (it should never be when a specific team doesn't; status quo is usually the best bet) but it was a surprise that no NBA players across the league changed teams.

Boston was rumored to be investigated a number of trade scenarios, but that's basically always the case for Ainge & Co. The story of the day, from a trading perspective, seemed to be that teams were far more concerned with their own financial positions than their talent profiles. Every trade rumor involved a team trying to dump salaries of some type and that's not something that the C's are in a position to facilitate.

There were two major pick trades but both showed that the "trade up" price was prohibitively expensive for a team like the Celtics. Moving from 5 to 3 cost Dallas a top-5 protected 1st round pick, which is quite a lot in a vacuum. The trade involved Luka Doncic, who many people considered the top prospect in the class, so if the Mavs viewed it as really trading from 5 to 1 it's a move that makes sense for both sides. As we saw with Philadelphia and Boston last year, high lottery pick swaps are usually related to two teams having significantly different evaluations on a single player.

I think it's a decent bet that Terry Rozier and the future Kings pick end up being more productive NBA players than Trae Young and the future Mavs pick, but franchises almost always prefer the mystery box in these situations.

The more illuminating trade was Phoenix giving an unprotected 2021 Miami 1st just to jump from 16 to 10, giving Zaire Smith to get Mikal Bridges from the 76ers. That's an insane price for the Suns to pay for a move up that historically has hadn't had much value.

If that was the ransom required to get into the back end of the lottery, there's no way that Ainge was going to get involved unless someone they had very high on their board had slipped down. Had they moved Terry Rozier to get up into that late-lottery range it wouldn't have been a major reach to see them take Williams in that slot; Brad Stevens said that they started hoping he would fall to them from around the 17th pick on.

That's an example of why trading up has historically been a sucker bet. The difference in prospect level between 27 and 12 is usually more in the eye of the beholder than an actual, significant difference. The Celtics aren't suckers. However, not making any moves does leave the team with questions to answer over the next month.

How do all these guys get on the floor?

It's the best problem to have, but the Celtics have too many good players to make full use of all of them. Last season's injury problems were abnormal. With normal (or even good...) health, Boston is on track to enter the season with maybe eleven guys who would be in the top-8 of nearly every other rotation in the league.

Eight of those eleven (Irving, Hayward, Horford, Tatum, Brown, Smart, Rozier, Morris) are guys who would be taking 15+ field goal attempts per 100 possessions for at least 25 teams. Only Baynes, Theis, and Ojeleye should be true low usage players and that trio would project to play the fewest minutes of the eleven.

If the Celtics don't move any of that group there simply aren't enough minutes and shots to go around. The draft felt like an opportunity to move, in particular, Marcus Morris before his role dwindles and he leaves via free agency. There are good reasons to have not moved him, but it feels like that situation will need to be resolved at some point. He plays a position that gets paid and has never made over the league average salary, so he's not going to be happy watching his opportunities disappear in his contract year.

There are similar questions with Rozier, though that one is less clear. With Smart's situation unresolved and Kyrie a year away from being unrestricted (and with some amount of injury concerns) it would have made sense to test his market but not get desperate to ship him out. If the price of getting to the 10th pick was 16 and a premium future pick, there was likely not a good enough offer to seriously consider moving Terry. Again, though, there's a clock on this if Smart re-signs for a longer-term deal.

Is Baynes Back?

Keith Smith reported shortly after the Williams selection that Boston still hopes to bring back Aron Baynes in free agency.

That makes sense. Williams may have been a good value pick at 27 but no one should expect him to step into a major role on a title contender. If Boston were lottery-bound in 2019 you would let Baynes walk and hand those minutes to Williams so he can learn at the NBA level. The Celtics are not lottery-bound.

Baynes showed his value through last season and continues to be an ideal 15-20 minutes per game piece for Stevens to work with. If the corner three and defensive switchability he flashed in the playoffs further flourishes next season, even better.

How do the other guys develop?

Keeping Baynes, Smart, Rozier, and Morris also poses a different challenge. Williams and Guerschon Yabusele (and maybe Semi Ojeleye, Jabari Bird, and Kadeem Allen) need opportunities to develop. Those are hard to come by when there are already questions about the minutes for players the level of Rozier and Morris.

The G-League is better than nothing, but it's not the best environment for players to learn how to fill a role with the big club. None of those guys are expected to be more than role players, but for this team to sustain their title contender status over a long period of time, they need to have a pipeline of rookie deal players developing into contributors before they hit their second contract.

Unless LeBron goes to the 76ers, it seems like Boston will be a good bet for the 1-seed. If they can establish that spot, it would be great to find games where the stars can rest and the kids can take their lumps. The Spurs have been the blueprint for this, manufacturing just enough minutes for fringe players to prove that they belong, or don't.

Jabari Bird's Status

I thought that the Celtics would use their available tradable cash to buy a 2nd round pick but they didn't go that route. I didn't expect them to be targeting a Jordan Bell-type high second, but one in the back half of the round where they could lock in the 2-way player of their choice.

Kadeem Allen will fill one of those slots but Jabari Bird is a restricted free agent. That the team didn't bother picking up a second rounder could mean that they're simply comfortable with who will be hanging out on the undrafted rookie market, but I would say it's more likely at this time that they're hoping to just get Bird back on a second consecutive 2-way deal.

Tax Time?

Having not moved on from Morris or Rozier, it's feeling like the franchise is simply comfortable with becoming a tax team this year. That could still change, especially if Smart leaves or returns on the qualifying offer, but there's obviously no push to stay below the line.

That's also not a surprise. If the opportunity to stay out of the tax presents itself sometime between now and the end of the season (it's determined at the end of the year so it's not a pressing issue) it's still a reasonable decision to take it, but the talent on the team takes precedence when you're in the position that Boston is.

Moving On

The league now shifts into the new season. There still may be trades made before the calendar, and salary cap, flip to July but the draft was a relatively quiet affair.

Independent estimates are that the cap will land very near the last official estimate of $101M. Everyone around the team seems content with their current situation, excluding maybe Morris. Big pieces will start moving across the league and the Celtics will be players in a lot of those talks, but they have no reason to be desperate to do anything major.

There are decisions to be made by February, and some careful planning and politicking for the coaching staff, but the draft seemed to have been an equally calm and productive night.

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