When the Celtics’ season ended just two wins short of an NBA championship last month, there were questions about how much retooling would be needed for a team that did not need to climb much higher.
In recent weeks, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said he hoped to add some bench scoring, but he cautioned it would be important not to disturb a core that created uncommon chemistry as it transformed into the NBA’s most dominant team over the second half of the regular season.
When free agency opened Thursday, after Kevin Durant’s trade request to the Nets sent shockwaves through the NBA, the Celtics remained quiet as the competition began to gobble up eligible free agents. But on Friday, they struck.
First, according to multiple league sources, veteran forward Danilo Gallinari indicated that he intends to sign a two-year deal with the Celtics after he is waived by the Spurs in the coming days. Later, sources said, the Celtics agreed to acquire veteran point guard Malcolm Brogdon from the Pacers in exchange for center Daniel Theis, guard Aaron Nesmith, guard Nik Stauskas, guard Malik Fitts, and forward Juwan Morgan, and a 2023 first-round pick.
The Celtics believe that both Brogdon and Gallinari have versatile skill-sets that will allow them to play with any lineup.
Brogdon, 29, averaged 19.1 points, 5.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds for Indiana last year and will give the Celtics another playmaker and strong defender. He signed a two-year, $45 million extension last fall and is under contract for the next three seasons, further solidifying a core that is in place for years to come.
Brogdon’s only issue has been durability. Since being named NBA Rookie of the Year in 2016-17, he has yet to play more than 64 games in a season. Last year he was limited to 36 games, primarily because of a right Achilles injury. But the price to acquire him would have been substantially higher without that history, and the Celtics’ depth will ensure he will not be overworked.
In recent months Celtics point guard Marcus Smart has bristled at the suggestion that the Celtics needed to add a true floor general, and on Tuesday he pointed out that after all the stars that filled the position here before him, he was the first to help this team to the Finals.
“I think that right there says enough,” Smart said.
A team source stressed Friday Smart remains the Celtics’unquestioned starting point guard, and that the team was simply looking to add depth. Brogdon and Gallinari both had starring roles, but they’re willing to step back in order to pursue championships.
Gallinari, who turns 34 next month, is a career 38.2-percent 3-point shooter and last year averaged 11.7 points over just 25.3 minutes per game for Atlanta. The Hawks traded him to the Spurs on Wednesday in the deal that sent All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray to Hawks, and Gallinari is expected to be waived once Murray completes his physical exam.
Gallinari received interest from other teams with more money available, but according to a source close to the veteran forward, the chance to win a championship with the Celtics will be too good to pass up.
There have been questions in recent years about Celtics ownership’s willingness to cross the luxury tax threshold, but the team was already in position to be a tax team next year, and the addition of Brogdon, who is slated to make $22.6 million next season, will likely end up creating a hefty tax bill once the roster is finalized. These looming moves will push Boston about $15 million over the tax line, and there are now vacancies to fill after the departures of Theis, Nesmith, Fitts, Morgan and Stauskas. Boston is likely looking at a tax bill of about $50 million next season.
The Celtics still have other assets at their disposal, as their $17.1 million trade exception that expires July 18 was not used in the Brogdon deal. But a league source said the team is now unlikely to use that to acquire another substantial piece. The source said the Celtics had actively pursued trades involving the exception over the past two weeks, but ultimately the deal involving Brogdon, whose salary was too large to fit into the exception, turned out to be the best option.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Smart, Robert Williams, Derrick White, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard are all under contract for next season, and the additions of Brogdon and Gallinari will push that core group to 10. The Celtics last week declined their $1.6 million option on second-year forward Sam Hauser, and league sources said the team will likely sign the sharpshooter to a longer-term deal soon.
This is the third consecutive season in which Stevens has parted with a first-round pick. He traded the 2021 choice, along with Kemba Walker, to acquire Horford. And in February he sent this year’s selection to the Spurs in the deal that brought White to Boston.
The Boston tenure of Nesmith, meanwhile, ends quietly. The 14th overall pick of the 2020 draft showed promise with his hustle and defense near the end of his rookie season, but was unable to carve out a spot in the rotation this past season despite plenty of opportunities created by injuries and illnesses. He appeared in 52 games and connected on just 27 percent of his 3-point attempts.