With the start of training camp just six weeks away, league sources continue to insist that the Celtics are not close to a deal that would bring Kevin Durant to Boston, and that there have not even been any real discussions of substance.
While things can change suddenly, it appears that the roster of the defending Eastern Conference champions is almost set following another busy offseason for president of basketball operations Brad Stevens. The main rotation has been fortified with significant depth, and there will be several competitions for the final slots during training camp. Here is a breakdown:
When the Celtics acquired point guard Malcolm Brogdon from the Pacers last month, there were some questions about whether he might push Marcus Smart back to a sixth-man role. But the team quickly snuffed those out, making it clear that Smart will remain the primary floor general.
So in a league in which change is one of the few constants, the Celtics will likely open the season with the same starting lineup that ended the last one, with Smart joining Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Robert Williams.
This group is accomplished and has developed uncommon chemistry. In 34 regular-season games together last year, the unit outscored opponents by 24.6 points per 100 possessions, and the Celtics went 27-7.
Second-year coach Ime Udoka probably will be focused on ensuring that the group is preserved for the postseason. Last year Tatum averaged 35.9 minutes per game, ninth in the NBA among players who appeared in at least 40 games. By the end of the playoffs, he appeared worn down.
The bouncy and explosive Williams averaged a career-high 29.6 minutes last year and has dealt with several lower-body injuries over his first four seasons, and Horford turned 36 in June.
But the team’s depth should make Udoka more comfortable giving the starters breaks, and the Celtics are unlikely to repeat last season’s dismal start that created such urgency down the stretch.
THE ROTATION PLAYERS
The Celtics will have plenty of starter-quality options in their second unit, with Brogdon, guard Derrick White, forward Grant Williams, and newly signed veteran forward Danilo Gallinari leading the way.
White had some bumpy moments after being acquired from the Spurs last February but played well overall and should benefit from the cohesion built during the Finals run that will now be followed by a full training camp.
This will be Brogdon’s first time coming off the bench since 2017-18, when he played for the Bucks. But his career has been dented by injuries and he turns 30 in December, so he’s prepared for a slightly reduced role.
“This team already has something special,” Brogdon said. “They’ve made it to the Finals, they already have a recipe. And I want to add to that recipe, not disrupt it.”
It will not be an adjustment for the sharpshooting Gallinari, 34, who came off the bench for the Hawks the last two seasons.
“At that point in my career, it was a move that I decided to accept and do,” he said, “and I think I did a good job in those two years in Atlanta.”
But all three players will likely get opportunities to close games. Last year Udoka often altered his substitution patterns to stick with a thriving player or lineup. Stevens said he envisions deploying a skilled, 3-point shooting, five-man group that includes Brogdon and Gallinari.
“It gives us even more options in certain scenarios,” Stevens said, “certain substitution patterns.”
Last season, Grant Williams embraced a backup role that centered on defense and long-range shooting, and he will have an opportunity to do the same.
END OF THE BENCH
Payton Pritchard was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the February trades that created roster openings, and he took advantage of the larger role. He went from playing 12.3 minutes per game before the All-Star break to 18.1 after, and his 3-point shooting vaulted from 36.1 percent to 47.3.
Pritchard will likely be in a battle for minutes again, but there inevitably will be injuries, and he has shown that he will be a dependable option.
The 6-foot-8-inch Sam Hauser, a two-way contract player last season, signed an NBA deal this summer, and the Celtics believe he can step in as a sharpshooter.
The Celtics never really filled the void created by the trade of backup center Daniel Theis to Indiana, but Stevens insisted that veteran Luke Kornet will be a reliable option.
“We’ve been really high on Luke,” Stevens said. “We thought he had a terrific G League season and we think that he can step right in and be a passer and a ball-handler and a mover and a screener and a roller when need be.”
That leaves three roster spots, and the Celtics will be required to fill at least two of them. League sources said the preseason essentially will serve as a final audition for a collection of veterans seeking a new opportunity.
Rookie guard JD Davison and veteran forward Mfiondu Kabengele will be in training camp on their two-way contracts.
Veteran forwards Noah Vonleh and Bruno Caboclo were both signed to training camp deals. They could be joined by guard Brodric Thomas, who had a two-way deal with the Celtics last season, veteran forward Justin Jackson, who signed a 10-day contract last year and played for the summer league team last month, and veteran forward Denzel Valentine, who spent part of last season with the Maine Celtics.
A league source said that 2021 second-round pick Juhann Begarin, who had a strong summer league showing, is expected to return to France for another season, and guard Matt Ryan, who was on a two-way deal last year, will not be back with the team.