Celtics Need to be Aggressive in Abbreviated Offseason

This year's NBA offseason will start on Wednesday and last just two weeks (it usually stretches out for about three months). Celtics GM Danny Ainge has said that he likes his current roster and hinted that big changes may not be in store. He points out the team has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals three out of the last four seasons and that the team will get better organically by the growth of existing players (chiefly Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum). Ainge's comments seem complacent to me - the team is indeed good but also appears to have reached its ceiling. An abbreviated offseason could be the perfect opportunity to upgrade the roster quickly - I hope that Ainge's was just him playing coy and that he is aggressive over the next two weeks. Let's take a look at their current roster, their biggest needs, and some moves they could/should make.

Current Celtics Depth Chart

POINT GUARD 1. Kemba Walker
2. Carsen Edwards
3. Tremont Waters
Kemba is an All-Star when healthy, but has knee issues and is on the wrong side of 30. Both backups are unproven and undersized.
SHOOTING GUARD 1. Marcus Smart
2. Romeo Langford
Marcus Smart is an elite defender, but often tries to do too much on offensive. Langford, last year's first round pick, looked surprisingly good on defense but was inconsistent on offensive and had trouble staying healthy.
SMALL FORWARD 1. Jaylen Brown
2. Gordon Haywood
3. Javonte Green
Brown looks to be on the cusp of becoming an All-Star. Haywood probably had his best season as a Celtic but continues to struggle with injuries - he can opt out of his contract. Javonte Green is on the cut bubble.
POWER FORWARD 1. Jayson Tatum
2. Grant Williams
3. Semi Ojele
Tatum was selected to his first All-Star game and is generally regarded as the Celtic's best player. Williams had a decent rookie season but has limited upside. Ojele is on the cut bubble.
CENTER 1. Daniel Theis
2. Robert Williams
3. Enes Kanter
4. Vincent Poirier
5. Tacko Fall
Theis did an admirable job as the starting center, but was outmatched against top-end talent. William has upside but struggles with injuries and positioning. Kanter can and likely will opt out of his contract. Poirer and Tacko are on the cut bubble.

Biggest Needs Going in to 2020-2021

The teams biggest needs/opportunities for improvement are:
  1. An upgrade at center
  2. A backup point guard
  3. Better outside shooting
The Celtics have a number of means of acquiring players to fill those holes: 
  • Four picks in Wednesday's draft - #14, #26, #30 and #47
  • Tradable assets - their picks and players.
  • Five million dollars to sign free agents (could go up to nine million if Haywood opts out of his contract).

Moves They Could Make

1. Trade For Center

I don't see the Celtics finding an upgrade at center with the 14th pick or in the free agent market (given their somewhat limited budget)... So the best option here is probably a trade. One possibility would be the following trade with the Indiana Pacers:

Boston gets:
Indiana gets:
  • Gordon Haywood
  • Robert Williams
  • #14 pick in the draft

A trade like this has been suggested on other blogs for months - and for good reason, it makes sense for both teams. Boston gets their center with Turner and at the same time picks up a great shooter in McDermott and backup point guard in McConnell. Indiana gets a former All-Star in Haywood (who - unlike a lot of NBA players - would jump at the chance to play for the Pacers), a younger/cheaper replacement for Turner in Williams, and a lottery pick. For the trade to work within the NBA's financial restrictions Haywood would need to agree to a new contract or a couple other role players would need to be included. If Haywood doesn't agree to a new contract, here's an exact trade that would work:

If Indiana doesn't want to do the deal there are other options... They could trade up in Wednesday's draft and select Onyeka Okongwu (the best defensive center in the draft)... or they could check to see if Orlando would consider moving Nikola Vucevic... or perhaps call Portland about Jusuf Nurkic... an upgrade is out there, they just need to find the right trade partner.

2. Draft a Point Guard and Shooter in the Draft

While this year's draft doesn't have a lot of top end talent, there are a number of point guards and shooting specialists that would be worthy selections at picks #26, #30 or #47.

Point Guards:
Shooting Specialists

3. Fill Out the Roster with Free Agent Bargains

As mentioned above, the Celtics don't have the budget to sign a top tier free agent (for reference see ESPN's projected salaries for free agents). There are, however, a number of players within their budget that would make a lot of sense. Here are some options:
  • Bryn Forbes (Shooting Guard) - a very good shooter that can play both guard positions.
  • Pat Cannaughton (Shooting Guard) - a good all round player originally from Arlington, MA.
  • Shaquille Harrison (Guard/Forward) - one of the better players you've never heard of.
  • Alize Johnson (Forward) - has played well in the G League the last two years.
  • Harry Giles (Forwad/Center) - has struggled with injuries but may finally be healthy.
  • Jahil Okafor (Center) - former #3 pick, considered a bust but might actually be underrated. 

Possible 2021 Depth Chart

If the Celtics make some of the moves above (and trade or cut a couple of their current players) the depth chart would look something line this.

POINT GUARD1. Kemba Walker 
2. Tre Jones
3. TJ McConnell
Tre Jones is a better all round prospect than Carsen Edwards or Tremont Waters. Having TJ McConnell as a third string point guard is a nice luxury.
2. Bryn Forbes
3. Romeo Langford
4. Sam Merril*
Forbes and Merril bring elite outside shooting to go with Smart and Langford's defense.
SMALL FORWARD1. Jaylen Brown
2. Doug McDermott
3. Alize Johnson
McDermott is nowhere near as a good player as Hayward, but is a better shooter and would help space the floor. Johnson is a better prospect than Javonte Green.
POWER FORWARD1. Jayson Tatum
2. Grant Williams
3. Harry Giles
Giles provides depth here and can also play center.
CENTER1. Myles Turner
2. Daniel Theis
3. Jahill Okafor
4. Tacko Fall*
Turner is a top ten center. Theis is better suited as a backup. Okafor would be a good replacement for Kanter. Fall reprises his role as cult hero.

* Developmental Contract

Would this group fair better than the squad that ended the 2020 season? A couple key points to consider:
  • Hayward (a former All Star) would be missed but his career is trending in the wrong direction and his game is somewhat redundant with the team's other stars. His replacements (Forbes and McDermott) are elite shooters that would spread the floor and create space for Walker, Brown and Tatum to drive to the basket. 
  • Robert Williams is an intriguing prospect that could eventually be a star but could just as easily fail to put it all together and end up a bust. Turner, on the other hand, is already a legitimate starting center.
Thus the overall talent, depth, and roster composition would all be better.  Probably more importantly, with better fitting pieces around them, Brown and Tatum can both continue to develop. So to answer my question above - would this group fair better than the squad that ended the 2020 season? My answer would be YES - I hope Ainge feels the same way.