By CBSBoston.com Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — Brad Stevens has been the Celtics’ president of basketball ops. for less than three weeks, but he’s been one busy man. He made his first trade last Friday, and it was a difficult one for the former head coach.

Stevens’ first move in Danny Ainge’s old seat was trading away Kemba Walker, sending the point guard and Boston’s 2021 first-round pick (No. 16 overall) to Oklahoma City for veteran big man Al Horford and young big Moses Brown. Stevens discussed the move Monday morning over Zoom, and said it was not an easy decision to trade away such a likeable player in Walker.

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But it was a decision that had to be made, and one that Stevens feels sets the team up best to succeed in both the short term and the long term.

“We felt like it was the right move in the big picture for our organization. Sometimes you have to make those tough ones,” said Stevens. “I just didn’t anticipate it being this soon.”

Despite reports that Walker and Stevens clashed during Boston’s difficult 2021 season, Stevens said Monday that he holds the utmost respect for the 31-year-old, calling Walker a “super likeable person” and someone he’ll always admire. But moving on from the $73 million that Walker was due over the next two seasons gives the Celtics a newfound financial flexibility that the team wouldn’t have had with Walker in tow.

It also helped that the Celtics were able to bring back Horford, whom Stevens feels will be an important piece to Boston returning to the mix in the Eastern Conference.

“It was the best deal that we thought with regard to returning players. The opportunity to add Al, who makes significantly less money and has corporate knowledge of this environment,” said Stevens. “He’s happy to be back in Boston, has a feel with playing with our guys and has also made them better. His ability to pass, his ability to play a couple of positions and stretch the floor against bigs.”

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Horford put up modest numbers in his two seasons in Boston in 2017-18 and 2018-19, but Stevens said that his ability to make those around him better is much more important for this current group of Celtics.

“His impact on others and ability to lift others is a great strength,” said Stevens. “To get that back — and financial flexibility moving forward — the cost was a person you really, really like and one first-round pick.”

In making the trade now, instead of waiting for the end of the postseason and for the next NBA year to begin, the Celtics could trade next year’s first-round pick, which adds to that flexibility that Stevens was talking about. The other factor, of course, was clearing Walker’s contract off Boston’s ledger.

Stevens is hoping this is just the start of Boston’s return to the conversation in the Eastern Conference. He knows his job won’t get any easier, especially as he looks for the team’s next head coach, and tries to find the best mix to put around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

“We have a really good foundation and very talented young players. That’s a good place to be,” he said. “And then it’s about finding the right fit. There are near-term decisions to help you improve, and long-term decisions that help you be in the mix. We want to be in the mix.

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“There is a lot to consider and every decision we make has to be about improving and getting into the mix in the very near future,” Stevens added.

CBSBoston.com Staff