The Boston Celtics are headed into the 2020 offseason as championship contenders with a need to improve. The team fell in the Conference Finals to the Miami Heat in six games in the Orlando bubble restart. It was the team’s third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years.
While Boston has been a great team in the East for the last several seasons, it’s not good enough for a franchise with 17 NBA titles. The Celtics are very close to being championship-caliber team, and this offseason will be critical for reaching that goal.
With the NBA Draft on Nov. 18 and free agency beginning two days later, leading towards the start of the season on Dec. 22, teams will be scrambling to make their moves. Here is how the Celtics can optimize the 2020 offseason and improve for next season.
What happens with Gordon Hayward?
The biggest question looming for the Celtics since the season ended has been what happens with Gordon Hayward. Hayward played great in the regular season (17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists), and especially before missing time with a broken hand. His awful luck with injuries continued in Orlando, spraining his ankle in the team’s first playoff game, and never quite returning to full form when he came back against the Heat.
Hayward has $34 million player option this offseason, which he will likely accept. He could accept the option and stay with Boston, or he could opt-in and inform the team that he wants a trade and a fresh start elsewhere.
While Hayward’s injury proneness has led to calls by some Celtics fans to trade him, Hayward plays a valuable position in today’s NBA. He is a playmaking wing who is an efficient scorer, is unselfish, and has the size to be versatile on defense.
If possible, the best move for both Hayward and the Celtics is for Hayward to turn down his player option and re-sign for a longer term contract.
Having Hayward, who is headed into his 11th NBA season, on a four-year deal in the $100-120 million range would give the Celtics another borderline All-Star wing long-term, as well as benefit Hayward, should he get injured again this season. Most importantly, a cheaper deal for Hayward allows flexibility in the coming offseasons to improve on the margins.
Wholesale changes or improve on the margins?
A critical choice for GM Danny Ainge this offseason is wether or not to make a big move that changes the character of the team. Boston has been rumored to be interested in Pacers center Myles Turner, as well as Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday. Acquiring either would likely mean trading Hayward and other assets should he decide to opt-in.
While this may sound necessary, as the team has yet to go to the NBA Finals under coach Brad Stevens, it’s in the Celtics’ best interest to instead focus on improving around the margins. Upgrading Boston’s bench should be the top priority as far as making deals this offseason.
With a starting lineup of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, and either Hayward or Marcus Smart, Boston was one of the best teams in the NBA last season, ranking top-five in both offense and defense. Their bench, however, could use improving.
The Celtics’ bench was made up of several rookies last season. For a team with championship aspirations, that wasn’t enough. Grant Williams became a solid rotation player for the team, and even played valuable minutes in the playoffs.
Outside of him, Boston’s other rookies had virtually no impact, though Romeo Langford, the 14th pick in the 2019 Draft, missed a lot of time due to injury. Next season, Langford will need to be a key contributor off the bench.
The Celtics bench rotation also included second-year big man Robert Williams, who also missed time, but was productive much of the season, fellow center Enes Kanter, Brad Wanamaker and Semi Ojeleye. A big shakeup is needed off the bench if the Celtics want to contend for a title next season, especially as the Eastern Conference will be better. Ideal players for them to target are veterans, shooters, and two-way players.
Who should Boston target?
Luckily for the Celtics, they have three first-round picks in next week’s NBA Draft. Boston holds picks 14, 26 and 30, as well as 47. These picks could allow the team to move up in the draft, potentially trading with New York or Detroit, who could use more picks to grab potential talent as opposed to gambling on one player. Boston could then trade the higher pick.
If Hayward opts-in and signals he wants to be traded, Indiana is the natural partner, paving the way to acquire Myles Turner. Theoretically, a Hayward-Turner deal would help both teams. The Pacers would receive a veteran wing who can handle the ball and would be returning to his home state, and the Celtics would upgrade at the center position. Given Turner’s contract at $18 million per year, it would not be a straight-up trade.
There’s a good chance Hayward remains a Celtic for next season. In that case, bolstering the bench depth will be key.
While unlikely, JJ Redick of the Pelicans could be a great addition for the Celtics, should New Orleans decide to cash-in on his value while they continue to acquire young pieces. The veteran sharpshooter could be acquired for Kanter, Langford, Vincent Poirier and picks. Smart and Redick would make a fantastic backcourt off the bench for the Celtics. A similar deal could be made for Houston’s Robert Covington, should the Rockets decide to blow it up after Russell Westbrook‘s trade request.
If Boston can’t find a trade partner to acquire depth, they can use some of their mid-level exception in free agency. Dealing any combination of Kanter, Ojeleye, Wanamaker and Poirier could allow for Boston to use more of the nearly $10 million amount. The salary cap for the 2020-2021 season will stay at $109 million.
Until free agency officially begins, it’s not clear what players will be offered, especially those in restricted free agency, which the Celtics would have to match. It might best for the team to split the MLE and use it on two players to come off the bench.
For depth inside, Tristian Thompson and Derrick Favors will be two highly sought veterans. While Theis has been excellent for Boston, one of these players could be an upgrade. If they are out of Boston’s price range, Nerlens Noel or potentially Harry Giles would be a nice addition. If Kanter and Poirier are dealt, this position will need to be filled, even with the emergence of Robert Williams.
As for guards and wings, Boston should aim to acquire a player who can score effectively in limited minutes off the bench. Austin Rivers, DJ Augustin, or Justin Holiday would be good additions to the Celtics’ backcourt rotation if they can be had for smaller contracts, adding some experience among the young players.
To conclude, the Celtics shouldn’t look to overhaul their roster this offseason with big changes. Instead, focusing on using their three first-round picks to make moves and pad-out their bench, one of their biggest weaknesses in the 2019-2020 season.
If Boston can acquire one or two solid players off the bench to keep the team afloat while their excellent starting lineup rests, the Celtics should expect to have another shot of going deep into the playoffs next year, perhaps even the NBA Finals.
Featured image credited to USA Today.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.