Forsberg: Bold Brad makes fashionably late and loud off-season entrance originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Ten days ago, Brad Stevens was asked if… Boston Celtics ownership had given him the OK to use a sizable trade exemption and spend in the luxury tax to bolster the roster for the 2022-23 season.
“We’re OK with doing what we need to do,” Stevens said.
And he wasn’t kidding.
The Celtics broke their checkbooks on Friday as they made a fashionably late but undeniably grand entrance into free agency. Boston dangled the entire middle-level taxpayer scoop sniper forward Danilo Gallinari of the distance wire and then turned the whole end of their bank, along with a 2023 first round pick, to Indiana in exchange for expensive point guard Malcolm Brogdon†
Boston is now about $17 million over the tax line with only 11 players signed for next season. But the two veteran additions leave Boston much deeper and more versatile than the squad that took two wins short of Banner 18 last season.
And the Celtics still haven’t hit the $17.1 million Evan Fournier-traded player exception. They may not even use most of it before July 18, but it remains an asset to the roster.
When it eventually evaporates, there should be no consternation. In making the overwhelming trade to land Brogdon, adding a big ball handler with defensive versatility, the Celtics acknowledged some gaps in last year’s roster and shouted that they expect to be back in the title mix next season. .
Vegas opportunities immediately shot them to NBA title co-favorites.
Upon Brogdon’s landing, the president of basketball operations Stevens retrieved the one fish Danny Ainge always complained of escaping. The Celtics were optimistic about Brogdon during the 2016 draft, but eventually traded some early second-round rosters for a 2019 first-round pick. Ainge would later regret not using one to make a swing on Brogdon, who went 36th to the Bucks.
Half a decade later, the Celtics’ willingness to take on Brogdon’s long-term money opened a path to acquiring him cheaply. The Celtics sent Daniel Theis, whose $8.5 million salary was too much for a third center; Aaron Nesmith, who shot 25.4 percent on all three-pointers in his second season; a bunch of pieces at the end of the bank better known for their celebrations than their playing; and a 2023 first-round pick that should project somewhere in spots 26-30.
Brogdon has a long history of injury, having played in only 61.9 percent of games in Indiana in the past three seasons. He signed a two-year, $45 million extension that will keep him on the Boston books until the 2024-25 season.
But Stevens has been willing to splurge on first-round picks to secure players who fit Boston’s style of play and who are in control over the long term. Call him Bold Brad. Securing Brogdon comes five months after Boston used a 2022 first-round pick as part of a package to land Derrick White of the San Antonio Spurs.
All this after Stevens made Oklahoma City’s first round pick in 2021 while trading Kemba Walker for Al Horford at the start of his GM term 13 months ago.
The Pacers, in rebuild mode, can give Nesmith the minutes he needs to develop, but the Celtics are essentially splitting their ninth and tenth man for a player who immediately places in an already loaded top 6.
It comes with hefty salary costs, but Boston saw the value of depth and expense as he saw the Golden State Warriors emerge into the 2022 Finals.
The Celtics still need to fill (and fill their 2-way slots) at least three empty roster spots. But the Boston depth chart right now looks like this:
BANK: Brogdon, White, Gallinari, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser
You can, if you like, quibble over the prospects of elevating Brogdon to a starting role. It’s certainly possible, but Boston had the best start 5 in the NBA last season. If this is the roster that will carry the Celtics into the new season, there’s a big chance to limit the wear and tear on the core, especially 36-year-old Horford, by taking advantage of the new depth and versatility.
Boston could still use a third string center. Brogdon should help supply another fullback to take the stress out of Tatum and Brown.
Getting Brogdon at such a discounted price based on outgoing assets made the decision to spend that much easier. So did watching rivals from the East at the dawn of free agency and the bitter taste of not being able to close last year’s storybook season.
Offensively, Brogdon is the kind of big playmaker that Smart-haters have been craving for a while. The Celtics can now have the best of both worlds, with Smart proving he can be both quarterback and attacking, but also able to share that reign with Brogdon, who can play both guard spots.
Brogdon’s injury history makes it a luxury to also have someone like White in a backup role. The depth chart has stalled a bit for Pritchard, whose role dwindled early last year when the Celtics signed Dennis Schroder, but as Ime Udoka embraces his newfound depth, there are minutes to keep the entire top 10 of Boston fresh over the course of an 82 – playing season.
When the rotation grinds into the playoffs, it seems more likely that the Celtics will lean more on Brogdon than on Gallinari. But Boston’s lack of bank violations was such a glaring weakness over this year’s run that the upcoming 34-year-old marksman could be an important depth option.
The Celtics are currently staring at a potential luxury tax of more than $35 million given the escalators based on total spend. This group needs to prove that they can be a surefire contender again all season long to justify carrying so many sizable contracts (six players north of $16.4 million).
Boston was not content to simply add a ninth or a tenth man. Getting Brogdon at such a discounted price based on outgoing assets made the decision to spend that much easier. So did watching rivals from the East at the dawn of free agency and the bitter taste of not being able to close last year’s storybook season.
The Celtics can still keep up with the Kevin Durant sweepstakes – they have the contracts and enough future picks to still get into the proceedings, although it’s more likely they’re simply trying to help the Durant move process with their TPE and expend more resources to get the process. Friday’s spending makes it harder to take on a lot of money, but not impossible.
Because on Friday, the Celtics proved they’re willing to pay to play with the aim of securing Banner 18, especially after it slipped through their fingers last month.