Free Agency Grades: Boston Celtics
The defining moment of the Boston Celtics offseason came shortly after the draft: Following weeks of speculation, Shams Charania of the Athletic dropped the bomb.
At 6 pm Eastern Standard on November 19th, Gordon Hayward pulled the plug on his Boston Celtics career, opting out of the final year of his contract. What followed was a scramble by the president of basketball operations Danny Ainge as the C’s tried to salvage an offseason on the brink.
Ahead of a year where the Celtics were poised to make waves in a wide-open Eastern Conference, Boston was coming to terms with losing an All-Star caliber player for nothing.
The NBA rumor mill was in full swing. Ainge was said to trading Hayward to his home state of Indiana. Hayward was flirting with the Knicks and their max cap space. Ainge was just ironing out a new long-term deal to re-sign Gordon.
However, no one could prepare for Michael Jordan sweeping in, perhaps with a few too many Cognacs, and dropping a godfather offer on Hayward’s lap. Air Jordan to Hair Gordon, and $120 million later, Hayward was a Hornet.
Ainge did land a $28.5 million Traded Player Exception in the process, perhaps with the goodwill he generated last year with Charlotte and the Kemba Walker-Terry Rozier deal. By executing a sign and trade, Boston still has a few cards in its hand.
For now, though, let’s look at the Celtics’ new Plan B, and see if it is perhaps better than Plan A. Below are my grades for Celtics offseason signings; let me know if you disagree in the comments.
Jayson Tatum: Five years, $195 Million
The Celtics' most important offseason goal was obvious, to secure the long term future of the franchise by giving young superstar Jayson Tatum as much money as he wants. The max extension Taco Jay inked keeps the Duke-product in Boston until at least the 24-25 season, with a player option on the fifth year of the deal.
The Celtics' most important player will presumably be on the team for at least five more seasons (the deal doesn’t kick in until 21-22). High marks from me for the Ainge and Co. securing a title window for the foreseeable future.
If you carry your team to two Eastern Conference Finals appearances before you turn 23, you get as much money as you want in the NBA. Tatum earned every penny of this mammoth extension, and presumably, this will be the first in a long line of massive contacts for the budding superstar. Don’t screw around with max guys, pay them what they deserve.
If there is any drawback from the Celtics perspective, Tatum’s fifth-year opt-out opens the door to slight uncertainty. That said, Tatum seems happy in Boston.
The C’s have one of the best coaches in the league, a front office willing to spend, a running mate in Jalen Brown, and a talented roster across the board. Barring an unforeseen collapse, it’s hard to see a world where Tatum and the Celtics aren’t a force in the East for years to come.
This was Boston’s most important move of the offseason. And though it was obvious what the outcome would be, teams have messed situations like this up before.
Tristan Thompson: Two years, $19 million
Miami exposed Boston’s flimsy frontcourt during the Eastern Conference Finals, as Bam Adebayo tossed Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter around like ragdolls. Clearly, the Celtics needed to add some muscle in the middle.
Tristan Thompson more than fits the bill as a mobile brawny center who can add some rebounding, hard screens, and toughness to a thin front line. TT was stuck on an abysmal Cleveland team following LeBron’s departure to LA, but he still managed to shine in his role.
While Thompson is not a shooter on any level, Thomspon still has serious rim gravity and will do the dirty work for a team that needs more Marcus Smart style grinders.
Considering the market for mediocre centers this offseason (Mason Plumlee Cough Cough) the Celtics got double T on a bargain. His $19 million deal is more than a fair price to pay for an above-average starting center. And being a two-year contract, if things don’t work out, Thompson immediately becomes one of the Celtics' most movable contracts.
This deal makes sense for both sides. Boston was unwilling and uninterested in overpaying for a center, and Thompson needed to get the hell out of Cleveland.
While it’s possible the Celtics could have gone for a flashier target, Thompson fills an obvious need at a competitive price. He is probably not the same guy that he was when he won the Finals back in 2016, but for the modern NBA Thompson is an effective bruiser and a clear positional upgrade over Enes Kanter who may very likely slide into the starting lineup.
Jeff Teague: One year, CONTRACT TBD (estimated $3 Million)
With backup point guard Brad Wanamaker headed to Golden State, the Celtics needed another ball-handler on the roster. Though rookie Payton Pritchard and G-league sensation Tremont Waters will be on the roster, Ainge opted to shore up the point guard position, signing veteran guard Jeff Teague to a one year deal.
Teague is far from the All-Star player he once was, but as a low usage backup, he can defend and pass. The big concern is that Teague’s shooting has severely regressed; don’t be shocked if one of the Celtics' younger guards has pushed him out of the rotation by midseason.
The terms of the deal are not yet known. Teague isn’t worth much, but the C’s could use the bi-annual exception here, worth about $3.6 million. Perfectly fine for a perfectly meh backup.
I don’t love where Teague’s game is at but maybe he will surprise me. At the very least he’s a good locker room guy that can be a vet mentor for the Celtics young roster. And while it would have been nice to retain the rock-solid Wanamaker, his price point was likely too much for a roster that needed help in other areas.
Traded Player Exception from the Gordon Hayward sign and trade: $28.5 Million
The Celtics managed after a week of work to finesse the largest trade exception in NBA history from the Hornets, sending them two second-round picks and Hayward in exchange for their troubles.
While it is unclear how this TPE will be used (if at all), the move increases the Celtics' flexibility and offers the team a chance to bolster its roster with some veteran talent.
The Celtics bench is almost entirely made up of second-year players and rookies, so expect Ainge to put this to use, even if he has to attach future picks to do it.
Overall free agency grade: B+
With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both leaving the Celtics unceremoniously, the risk of losing another high-level free agent for nothing was a real risk for the Celtics. Instead, Danny Ainge pivoted brilliantly.
Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague might be past their primes, but they fill obvious needs for the Celtics. The Draft, meanwhile, landed some great shooting potential, and the massive Hayward TPE is intriguing. Not a bad Plan B at all.
If the Celtics draft picks can add surplus value to an already talented roster, cutting bait with the injury-prone Hayward for some vets who can stay on the floor might end up being an upgrade, especially for a club that was tantalizingly close to going all the way last year.
While there is always more work to be done for the Green, the most important part, signing Tatum to a multi-year extension, opens the path to the Celtics to a true Title run. Ultimately, everything else is just tinkering around the edges to make that happen.