What’s evident through two Brad Stevens offseasons is that he doesn’t value first-round picks as much as his predecessor Danny Ainge, and he’s using those chips to upgrade a Celtics roster that needed improvement after a demoralizing loss in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
An opening day of inactivity may have left Celtics faithful discouraged, but Stevens, the team’s president of basketball operations, improved the roster and cleared out some disposable bench parts within a matter of hours Friday.
The signing of Danilo Gallinari may have been a case of Stevens being so fed up watching the Italian sharpshooter splash threes against the Celtics a few years ago he decided to bring Gallinari’s skillset to Boston.
Gallinari, who hit a career high 10 3-pointers against the Celtics on Feb. 24, 2021, while with the Atlanta Hawks, gives Boston a veteran shooter who can score immediately off the bench. Gallinari was primarily a starter during his career until his stint with the Hawks, where he became a hired gun off the bench and shot a combined 39.2 percent from beyond the arc in his two seasons in Atlanta.
He’s 33 and isn’t a good defender, but he used his 6-foot-10-inch, 233-pound frame well enough to provide resistance on defense and shoot over smaller players on offense.
The Celtics were exposed in the NBA Finals for their lack of bench scoring and Gallinari will fill that need even though he is a defensive liability.
Stevens realized Derrick White, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard weren’t enough to compete with elite teams on offense. Gallinari, who averaged 18.7 points per game just two years ago with the Oklahoma City Thunder, provides some relief for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart.
A few hours later, Stevens pulled off his most extensive deal in his tenure, sending Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Juwann Morgan, Malik Fitts and a 2023 first-round pick for the skilled Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers.
Brogdon brings a level of court maturity to the Celtics that was lacking when Smart was on the bench. And he can also play point guard while Smart moves to shooting guard in a smaller lineup.
The Celtics had Brogdon in for a draft workout several years ago and have liked him ever since. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2017 and then signed a four-year, $85 million deal as part of a sign-and-trade with the Pacers and then signed a two-year, $45 million extension last fall.
He is a pricey player but Brogdon does have the ability to score at the rim, hit the 3-pointer and distribute the ball. Brogdon wasn’t the preferred point guard Indiana coach Rick Carlisle sought, so the Pacers were eager to part with Brogdon and his salary as part of their rebuild..
Brogdon will enjoy some advantages in Boston. Despite being injury prone, Brogdon, who averaged 33.5 minutes per game in three seasons with the Pacers, will not have to log as many as many minutes playing for the Celtics on their second unit.
The Celtics certainly hope he returns to 2020-21 form when he hit 38.8 percent of his 3-point shots and dished out nearly six assists. Stevens has been an admirer of Brogdon since his days at Virginia and capitalized on Indiana’s desire to clear salary cap space.
It was a brilliant move for Stevens to acquire Brogdon without giving up one rotation player. Nesmith was an Ainge pick, and he never panned out as the pinpoint 3-point shooter he was projected to be coming out of Vanderbilt. Stevens told reporters last week Nesmith was an “exceptional” shooter, but it did not translate to games.
It was a troubling statement because Nesmith’s struggles may be psychological and it became apparent it was time for a new team. Nesmith played hard, but he shot 27 percent from the 3-point line last season, and since he couldn’t score consistently, coach Ime Udoka could not carve out meaningful minutes for him.
By trading the team’s first-round pick the past three seasons, Stevens has demonstrated he has more faith in tested veteran players. Brogdon joins Al Horford and White as veterans acquired with first-round picks. Ainge held on to his first-rounders too long, became too loyal. Stevens doesn’t have that issue.
Brogdon and Brown are buddies from their days in the National Baskeball Players Association and both are Atlanta natives. Brogdon is a total professional, understands that he’s in a championship situation and will react accordingly. It’s a move that has little risk, and it proves Boston ownership is willing to pay luxury taxes.
Using the $17.1 trade exception remains a possibility, but the Celtics have fortified their roster with today’s moves. They will fill the rest of the roster with minimum salary players and should be able to pick a contributor below market value as free agency progresses.
After watching Milwaukee and Philadelphia make a flurry of moves Thursday, Stevens geared up and jumped into the sweepstakes. The Eastern Conference will be treacherous and the Celtics gave themselves a better chance to prevail.
There are more needs: another backup center to replace Theis, another athletic wing, perhaps another shooter, but Stevens has proven he will endeavor to make the Celtics one of the league’s elite teams. Friday was a good day in Boston.
Correction: Because of a reporter’s error, the year Brogdon won the NBA Rookie of the Year award was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. He won it in 2017.