Fireworks or Pop Rocks; The Celtics Offseason Part 3
Part 3: The Ripple Effect
The announced deal of free agent Gordon Hayward to Boston on July 4th felt like the climax Celtics fans were hoping for this summer, especially after the Paul George debacle. But what the grand finale of this roster will look like come opening night remains to be seen.
In "Fireworks or Pop rocks; The Celtics Offseason Part 2", we reflected on the Hayward addition and looked ahead at what could be coming down the road. As we inch closer to an earlier season start than in years past, October 20th, it's now time to try and dissect how this roster will take shape.
The immediate hangover from the Hayward party brought with it the realization that the Celtics would need to make some major changes to avoid blasting into the NBA's luxury tax stratosphere, something Danny Ainge and Wyc Grousbeck look to hedge against in a climate of exorbitant contracts.
The impending Hayward signing, broken down to the lowest common denominator, meant the Celtics needed to quickly move at least one of the team's starters or major rotational players. We knew that Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford were the only two fit with plush recliners, while top names like Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, sat on rickety stools in the ultimate game of musical chairs.
Just three days after Hayward announced he was coming to the East Coast via The Players Tribune website, in a letter that would have made Ralph Waldo Emerson grin, we learned that Avery Bradley was being shipped to Detroit. The top flight defender and longest tenured Celtic had been a fan favorite because of his grit and professionalism. Social media was abuzz with all the despondent trauma one could imagine, short of holding a candlelight vigil on the steps of TD Garden.
The 19th pick out of Texas in 2010 flat out worked himself into being a crucial piece in the build-up to the Celtics semi-renaissance last season. Truth is, he's heading into the final year of his team friendly deal and is poised for a major payday next summer. However, Ainge told the Boston Globe there is more than meets the eye to this aspect of the roster transformation.
With that, Bradley and a 2nd-round pick head to the Great Lakes. Enter forward Marcus Morris from Detroit in exchange. Morris is certainly no small dude at 6'9" and 235lbs, but he is also not known as a vaunted interior presence or top shelf glass cleaner. Many are still blasting the trade, but Morris' two remaining seasons at roughly 5-million-dollars per, make him a good value swap. Any smart businessman will tell you, it's not about cost, it's about value. Something Morris will have in spades for the next two seasons. When it comes to return, nothing could be more valuable than slowing down LeBron James and the Cavaliers, right? For what it's worth, Morris may be a secret weapon there.
ESPN's Tom Haberstroh broke down the glaring numbers from the 2015-16 season. For every 100 regular season possessions that Morris guarded James, he was held to 20.5 points.Against everyone else, James averaged 36.5, making Morris' number the lowest in the league. In their first round playoff match-up that season James was held to 22 points per game and just 21% from deep in four games. It was all tits on a bull as Detroit got swept, but an interesting nugget nonetheless.
It's not all good, however. There is also that pending felony aggravated assault case against Morris and his brother Markieff that could cause an issue for Boston. The twins are set for a trial late next month in Maricopa County, Arizona, stemming from the alleged beating of a man in 2015 after a youth basketball game. Time in the clink is certainly not out of the question, not to mention possible NBA sanctions. Both brothers have a relatively clean past, so most pundits expect community service and hefty fines.
That aside, Morris will likely serve as a key rotational piece and possible starter as a much needed Celtics front court upgrade this season. The seven-year vet certainly knows how to ingratiate himself to the new fan base.
The front court situation became amplified as free agent bigs Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson signed elsewhere, per the Celtics plans. We soon found out that Ainge and company weren't done beefing up with the announcement of Aron Baynes to Boston through free agency. The Celtics can now say they truly have a veteran to spell Horford at the center position this season. The former Piston and current proud Aussie is expected to ink a one-year, $4.3-milllion deal, according to multiple sources. Baynes measures up at 6'10" and although he averaged only five points and 4.4 rebounds last season, that was in limited run. Baynes can surely help the C's rebounding woes, snatching 21.6 of all defensive boards up for grabs last season. Two things Boston fans know for sure: he can replace Olynyk in the man-bun category, and dude loves to chow.
We now know about the newest additions, but how will the roster actually look after a silly amount of draft picks over the past few seasons? Summer league has certainly been fun this year for Celtics fans. Although we can't put too much stock in it, wing Jason Tatum looks like he will be a high level player in the the league for years to come. Second year athletic freak Jaylen Brown has also impressed in Utah and Las Vegas as he works to develop a consistent outside shot. Brown reportedly begged the Boston front office to let him play with the squad and is relishing the leadership role.
In fact, ESPN's Marc J. Spears wrote a story on the theundefeated.com about how the 20-year-old is spending five-grand of his own cash to throw a party for his underage colleagues in the desert. "I just want to do something," Brown told Spears. "Hang out, talk to them. Build relationships. I'm not 21. (Celtics teammate) Jayson (Tatum) is not 20. A lot of the draft picks are young. I'm going to let them bring whoever they want. Food is on me. Everything." Several well-known names were on the guest list Monday night including fellow lottery picks Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball.
Focus guys, we're getting off track! Let's take a final look at who I think, barring any more trades, will be suiting up in green this fall. As Ainge likes to break his roster down to "bigs, "wings", and "ball-handlers", I will do the same.
I see Al Horford, Morris and Baynes being the veteran guys up front. Add to the mix, rookies Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele. Both were taken in last year's first round, played across the pond in 2016, and are major wildcards. Daniel Theis is an undrafted 6'8" 25-year-old who played in Germany last year and has a good shot here because of his versatility.
Gordon Hayward leads the group of wings, who could certainly branch out to almost any spot on the floor. Crowder will likely be back because of his versatility, defensive presence and ideal contract. Brown and Jason Tatum, or 7-11 as they've been dubbed, will come off the bench. I wouldn't be surprised to even see Brown start at the two at times as he looks to take a big step forward this year. "Semi" Ojeleye, the rookie out of SMU and Duke transfer, has shown some bright flashes of promise in Summer League. He is a very strong 6'7" and looks to be an eventual threat from behind the arc.
The ball-handlers are led by Isaiah Thomas, who became sidelined during last season's playoffs by a hip injury. The latest word is that he won't need surgery, but only time will tell if his marquee quickness is affected. This is obviously one of the biggest variables staring Celtics fans in the face. Marcus Smart will return as the versatile defensive stopper, allegedly with an improved three-ball. Terry Rozier will likely see a bump in minutes this year after proving himself during the Eastern Conference Finals run last season. However, consistency will be the key if the Louisville product wants to see prolonged time in front of younger talent. The 58th overall pick last season, Abdel Nader, should get a spot by showing his innate ability to get to the basket at will.
The Celtics still owe point guard DeMetrius Jackson $650-thousand on a guaranteed deal. He's a defensive monster, but I see him being traded or bought out. Jonas Jerebko is a unrestricted free agent and will likely not be brought back, unless Celtics brass feel they need to side with veteran leadership over youth. Six rookies is a lot for a team aiming for 60-wins and an NBA Finals berth. The same veteran narrative applies to shooting guard Gerald Green, who's hot and cold shooting is legendary around these parts. Forward Jordan Mickey has shown me he is just not an NBA player. He will be waived or used as a trade piece.
Celtics fans wanted major moves this summer, and if nothing else, they are getting that. Only time will tell if the new regime is ripe for a Finals run or destined to repeat a second place finish in the East.