What’s apparent about the Brad Stevens administration is he plans to reshape the Celtics piece by piece, minor move by minor move.
On Friday, he moved the contracts of Kris Dunn and Carsen Edwards to the Memphis Grizzlies for Juancho Hernangomez, clearing the crowded frontcourt and acquiring a stretch four the Celtics have lacked for years.
It’s not a blockbuster deal but cements the Celtics’ place in the 2022 free agent market. Hernangomez has an expiring contract and will help the team with outside shooting, but the Celtics will also be better equipped to make a bid for Bradley Beal next summer or even at the trade deadline.
The Celtics had no intention of keeping the often-injured Dunn, who will earn $5 million in the final year of his contract, and he became even more expendable when the club signed Dennis Schröder.
Edwards knew his Celtics days were numbered as he played in the summer league. He was essentially auditioning, trying to show teams he can be a capable combination guard. Perhaps he’ll get that chance in Memphis.
Hopes were high for Edwards when he was drafted in the second round (2019) but he never became a reliable scorer and was the most expendable returnee as the backcourt became crowded. The Celtics need bench scoring and Stevens could use that roster spot on a free agent who can flourish in short minutes.
There are a handful of veterans who would accept minimum contracts, such as Darren Collison, Isaiah Thomas, and Monta Ellis. Wesley Matthews, Avery Bradley, and Dante Exum are also on the market.
What Stevens wants to do is ensure that every player on the roster serves a purpose. Edwards, Semi Ojeleye, Tremont Waters, Jeff Teague, Luke Kornet, Grant Williams, and Jabari Parker had trouble gaining traction over the past couple years.
Hernangomez, Josh Richardson, Enes Kanter, Al Horford/Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, and perhaps Bruno Fernando give Boston a much-improved bench and a chance to compete in the Eastern Conference.
Stevens has put together pieces he hopes will mesh into a contender. He re-signed the core of the team — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Williams — to contract extensions and brought in Horford, Kanter, Schröder, and Richardson.
Meanwhile, the Celtics will have a slot available for a maximum salary or could use expiring contracts to make a deadline deal in February, or use the $17.1 million trade exception created by the Evan Fournier deal.
Stevens has not only improved the team but created salary flexibility and avoided the luxury tax. Stevens clamored to have more organizational power during the .500 season.
We haven’t heard much from new coach Ime Udoka or received announcements on a coaching staff, but the Celtics appear set for training camp with a dramatically different team.
Pictures of Tatum are circulating as he continues to build muscle following a successful Olympic run. Tatum playing for Team USA not only catapulted him into top-15 player status, but being around so much talent should help him become a better, more vocal leader.
Tatum barely said two words as a rookie. He was robotic after a college season under Mike Krzyzewski but has gained confidence and assertiveness over his four years in Boston and is determined to prove he’s an All-NBA player. An encouraging sign regarding the relationship between Tatum and Brown is the two hanging out just days following Tatum’s return from Tokyo and Brown donning Tatum’s gold medal.
Brown is coming off season-ending wrist surgery and there’s been little update on his condition but it appears he’ll be ready for camp. The hope is the Celtics avoid the injury and COVID-19 issues that plagued them last season.
Stevens executed a bunch of what could be considered minor trades to overhaul the roster and team chemistry. The demand was for major changes but the Celtics lacked the assets and wanted to retain flexibility to chase another max free agent.
There are many ways to retool in the NBA. Teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, as long as they have LeBron James, rely on savvy veterans who want rings and feel a sense of urgency to chase titles.
The Miami Heat seek to return to prominence with 76-year-old president Pat Riley desiring one more title. The New York Knicks added Fournier and re-signed a group of incumbents to keep their core together.
Considering the Celtics invested so much in Tatum and Brown and have the $25 million salary of Horford, they didn’t have much to spend on unrestricted free agents. Richardson was acquired with the Gordon Hayward trade exception. Schröder fell into their laps after he fell victim to the free agent market drying up.
It remains to be seen whether these moves will result in a title contender, but the Celtics filled several holes and changed the complexion of a roster that underachieved last season.
Aldridge, Rondo make their returns
The Nets are seemingly signing every aging player who hasn’t signed with the Lakers. This week, they added former Nuggets standout Paul Millsap and then surprisingly brought back LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge, who played five games with the Nets last season before he abruptly retired because of an irregular heartbeat, has been medically cleared to play. Brooklyn now has Aldridge, Millsap, James Johnson, Blake Griffin, and Nicolas Claxton in the frontcourt.
They were able to move DeAndre Jordan to the Pistons in a salary-clearing deal after making it clear to the veteran center that they planned a trade or buyout. The Nets signed Jordan as a means of attracting Kevin Durant two years ago. It was a considerable commitment because the Nets drafted Jarrett Allen to be their rim protector of the future and Jordan’s presence cut into Allen’s playing time.
The Nets eventually traded Allen to the Cavaliers, partly because they were developing Claxton and they had to include Allen to get James Harden to Brooklyn. The Pistons plan to buy out Jordan and he is expected to sign a minimum deal with the Lakers.
The Nets and Lakers are each disregarding their futures and going all-in now. The Lakers signed former Celtic Rajon Rondo for a second time this past week after he was traded by the Clippers to the Grizzlies and then waived by the Grizzlies.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Rondo was the baby of the bunch with the Celtics’ Big Three, but now he’s 35 and trying to help the Lakers win a second title in three years. His playing time is in question with the Lakers having already added Russell Westbrook and Malik Monk to join Talen Horton-Tucker in the backcourt.
“Coming here after a year, I want to do it again,” he said. “And this is a special team that could make it happen.”
What’s ironic about Rondo’s return to the Lakers is the presence of Westbrook. Not so long ago in the NBA Bubble, Westbrook got into an exchange with Rondo’s brother, William, who was sitting in the family section. William Rondo was ejected after Westbrook pointed him out and asked officials, “Who’s man is this?”
Rajon Rondo was jawing at Westbrook, then with the Rockets, from the sidelines. Rondo has made his share of adversaries in his 15 NBA seasons, but he’ll now serve as Westbrook’s primary backup.
“More excitement, more energy in practice, looking forward to a lot more competitive competitions with him and other guys on our team,” Rondo said. “It’s a hell of a team in terms of a lot of competitors and I’m looking forward to getting better in practice each day.”
Rondo, who signed a two-year deal with the Hawks before last season, was supposed to be the answer for the Clippers when he was acquired in March. But Rondo was relegated to mostly a cheerleader after the emergence of Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann in the postseason. The Clippers found their floor leader in Jackson and Rondo played just six of the 12 games in the conference semifinals and finals.
He quickly made the decision to sign with the Lakers after the Grizzlies advised him not to even come to Memphis for a physical. Rondo enjoyed a rejuvenation with the Lakers in 2019-20, playing, as has been his history, his best basketball in the postseason.
Conversations with Lakers coach Frank Vogel and familiarity with the system encouraged Rondo to return.
“It played a huge role,” he said. “Everybody wants to be wanted. Coach Frank said he missed my voice last year in the locker room which meant a lot, understanding I do have value here and wanted to be wanted. Frank was the big key. Having those old relationships and not burning those bridges in the past.”
Rondo joins a group of “seasoned” veterans on the Lakers’ roster, which has been the subject of several social media jokes about their age. Westbrook, LeBron James, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and Marc Gasol are all on the back nine of their careers.
“Wisdom is definitely a key to win the championship,” said Rondo, who won titles 12 years apart in Boston and Los Angeles. “I’m excited about not being the oldest guy on the team. You don’t have longevity in this league without discipline. I’m not worried about anything. I think it’s a great roster. I think we’ve got a great mix of guys, some who haven’t won and have a chip on their shoulder.”
Rondo said he still has something left. Last season with Atlanta and the Clippers was a lost season. He wants to reclaim that important backup role on a contending team.
“I don’t think I’ve changed much,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve declined. I still believe I can bring a lot to the game. I’m looking forward to proving people wrong. Age doesn’t make a difference.”
BUZZ IN CHARLOTTE
After leaving Green, Rozier has gotten plenty
Terry Rozier wanted to be the starting point guard in Boston and the Celtics didn’t like that idea, so they traded him to Charlotte in the deal that netted Kemba Walker. As the Celtics search for their second point guard in four years, Rozier agreed to a four-year, $97 million deal with the Hornets. At the end of this season, Rozier will have earned $154 million since leaving Boston.
It’s the type of confidence and commitment Rozier has sought since his career started. He is one of the central figures of the team’s renaissance after the club added Kelly Oubre, Ish Smith, and drafted James Bouknight to join Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, LaMelo Ball, and P.J. Washington.
“It’s going in the up position,” Rozier said. “Last year we had a foot in the door. We’re heading in the right direction and I’m glad to be a part it. It’s going to be real scary.”
Rozier initially signed a three-year, $57 million deal with the Hornets, a sum the Celtics weren’t going to come close to. He has responded with 19.3 points per game and 39.6 percent 3-point shooting in his two seasons.
“It definitely helped that Michael Jordan was the owner,” he said. “It’s them wanting to take a chance with me. With Kemba being there and the things he did for the city, that were big shoes to fill. The fans should be excited, this should be a great year. It’s going to be a great season. You can expect some great things.
“I really do feel like I found a home. Great guys in the locker room. When I first accepted my deal, Kemba was here and that’s not easy parting ways with a guy like that. It’s cool to have the hype, but it’s time to live up to it.”
The relationship between the 76ers and point guard Ben Simmons has almost disintegrated to the point where Simmons does not want to return to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Simmons said he will not report to training camp this month. The 76ers have tried all summer to trade the 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick, who played poorly during Philadelphia’s playoff run and has yet to develop a consistent jump shot or cohesive offensive game. It’s going to be a challenge for the 76ers to get a desired package for Simmons, a two-time All-Star in the middle of a max contract. General manager Daryl Morey wants multiple draft picks and an All-Star player in return, a high price for a player with such offensive deficiencies. Right now, the two sides are at a stalemate . . . The Cleveland Cavaliers added to their growing crop of big men by signing former Celtic Tacko Fall to a one-year, nonguaranteed contract. The best-case scenario for Fall is he makes the team, but the more likely plan is a two-way contract and another year of development. Fall, a fun-loving 7-foot-5-inch center, made gradual improvement with the Celtics but not enough to warrant another two-way contract or roster spot. Fall’s issue is mobility, and in today’s NBA game of small ball and multiple shooters to stretch the floor, his role would be limited at best. The Celtics still have an open two-way spot and are likely to wait for training camp cuts to fill it. Brad Stevens said he’s in no hurry to sign a second two-way player and there will be quality players available over the next few weeks . . . The Memphis Grizzlies will officially retire the franchise’s first two numbers this season: Zach Randolph’s No. 50 and Tony Allen’s No. 9. Allen signed with the Grizzlies in 2010 after six seasons with the Celtics. Boston could have retained Allen if the club had guaranteed the final year of a three-year offer. The Grizzlies guaranteed that year and Allen spent seven years in Memphis, helping enhance the franchise’s culture. It’s a well-deserved honor for Allen, one of the best defensive players of his era.