By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NBA just crammed in weeks of free agency into a weekend, and it was one wild frenzy for the Boston Celtics. It was like a typical weekend in college filled with a breakup, a few fallback plays, and some unwanted Kardashians news.
But now that the dust has settled and the haze from the weekend has lifted, it’s not so bad for the C’s.
Yes, losing Gordon Hayward to free agency is bad. The Celtics lost a key part of last year’s core for nothing (baring a sign-and-trade with the Hornets after the buzzer), with another max contract leaving town before their initial deal was up. That certainly hurts.
But when the weekend ends with Jayson Tatum signing his max extension with the Celtics, it’s a nice reminder that the team still has an extremely promising future, and the face of that future is here to stay for at least five more years.
As for the weekend, here’s a quick glance at Boston’s additions and subtractions over the last few days:
Losses: Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Brad Wanamaker, Vincent Poirier
Additions: Tristan Thompson, Jeff Teague, Aaron Nesmith (R), Payton Pritchard (R)
Hayward is obviously the big one, and taking him off the roster is the biggest downer of the offseason. But Danny Ainge’s other moves this weekend were exactly what Boston had to do ahead of the 2020-21 season, which is now less than a month away.
Let’s break it all down:
We’ll start with the biggest issue, and that is for the second straight offseason, the Celtics had a max player leave town and get nothing in return. Last offseason, it was both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Hayward joined that list, thanks to a truckload of money from the Charlotte Hornets.
It’s not a great look that great players are leaving town at the rate they are. It’s hard enough to get star players to Boston, and it’s pretty worrisome that they don’t want to stick around once they get here.
The departures are, at least, understandable. And really, the Celtics may be better off with them in the long run. Kyrie is Kyrie, and he flip-flopped his way home to Brooklyn. Horford, like Hayward, got a ridiculous amount of money that his agent was able to secure for him just moments after free agency opened. Hayward also got an absurd amount of money, and he’ll be a lot higher on the Charlotte pecking order than he was in Boston.
It’s just unfortunate that the departures haven’t gotten Boston anything in return. At least Horford leaving allowed Ainge cap space to sign Kemba Walker, but losing Irving and Hayward for nothing hurts.
The only way the Celtics were going to lose Hayward for nothing this offseason was if a team came along and threw some truly absurd money the forward’s way. Along came the Hornets, with a lot more money than the Celtics — or anyone else for that matter — would ever consider giving Hayward. There is no way the Celtics were going to pay Gordon Hayward $120 million for the next four seasons. And now he’s in Charlotte, and the Celtics have nothing to show for it.
There were a lot of torches and pitchforks out for Ainge over the weekend. Rumors of a potential sign-and-trade for Hayward with the Indiana Pacers swirled Friday night, with Ainge wanting more than the Pacers were willing to give up. There’s been no confirmation that the two sides were ever close and that Ainge’s persistence is what cost the Celtics big man Myles Turner, so let’s pump the brakes on that one. As we found in the end, Hayward was the only one with any leverage in this situation.
The Celtics now have to replace a very important player with a very important role, and they don’t have a max contract to offer that replacement. Instead, they’ll have to hope that multiple players can step up to help fill the void. It’s not ideal, but it’s how the Celtics managed whenever Hayward went down.
The Other Departures
Kanter and Poirier moved for salary purposes and to clear out the depth chart at center. Kanter could provide some instant offense, but his 8-points-in-6-minute stretches weren’t as good as they looked when the opposing team easily went through his revolving door on defense and scored 12 points in that span. Replacing him with Thompson gives the Celtics some more defense out of that role behind Daniel Theis. Robert Williams should also get some more playing time throughout the regular season, and Grant Williams will be able to play more power forward than fill-in center.
Thompson isn’t going to be a Joel Embiid stopper, because such a thing doesn’t exist (unless Thompson turns himself into a treadmill, the one thing Embiid will never mess with). But the Celtics have a lot more toughness at center, which is what they needed.
Brad Wanamaker was a serviceable backup point guard who knew his role with the second unit, and now Brad Stevens will turn the keys over to Jeff Teague. Wanamaker was a solid backup, but Teague is a solid replacement. The 32-year-old is an 11-year NBA vet who has averaged 12.6 points and 5.8 assists per game over his career. The Celtics also have Tremont Waters and Pritchard on their point guard depth chart.
Thompson and Teague won’t do much to replace Hayward, but swapping out Kanter and Wanamaker for Thompson and Teague is a small (very small) win for the Celtics. If nothing else, we’ll get to see Weird Celtics Twitter take down the Kardashian family.
Stay Calm, People
Yes, losing Hayward stinks. When he was healthy, he was an important piece to the puzzle. He is a great player, and it doesn’t hurt to have as many great players as possible on your squad.
But the good news for the Celtics is they still have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and those two guys are the most important players. The hope is that they’ll both continue to get better, as they have each year of their careers so far, and that will help mitigate the loss of Hayward. Asking for February Tatum for an entire season is unrealistic, but no one will be surprised if that is the Jayson Tatum we see for most of the year.
Boston will also be banking on Kemba Walker staying healthy, which could be an adventurous endeavor. The loss of Hayward really puts more on Marcus Smart, who will likely find himself in the starting lineup when the season begins in a month. Maybe Ainge will be able to find a veteran scorer willing to take a pay cut, but chances are it’ll be more of a Band-Aid than a full roster treatment.
The Celtics took a step back roster-wise with the departure of Hayward, but the hope is that the players still here will continue to take steps forward next season. Boston’s success will all depend on the continued ascension of Tatum and Brown, two players who haven’t entered their primes yet but are locked up for the near future. And Ainge is not done yet; brace yourselves for some wheeling and dealing in his quest to find another scorer.
Without Hayward, the road to Banner 18 is going to be a lot harder for the Celtics this season. But the incremental improvements that Ainge made elsewhere on the roster will help keep the Celtics in the mix, and if Tatum and Brown continue to climb towards superstardom, Boston will still be in the mix come season’s end.