The Celtics signed swingman Svi Mykhailiuk this past week to add another young and versatile player to their arsenal. Yet they still have needs as they prepare for a critical season.
Mykhailiuk, who has fared well against the Celtics, can stretch the floor with his shooting. With the acquisition of Mykhailiuk, the return of Sam Hauser, and addition of Oshae Brissett and rookie Jordan Walsh, the Celtics appear set at small forward.
There remains one roster spot, and the Celtics still have a void at center. Robert Williams and Al Horford return, but that may not be enough depth. Williams can’t be relied upon to play 70-plus games, while Horford is 37 and showed signs of fatigue late last season, and he struggled mightily from the 3-point line during the series loss to the Heat.
Luke Kornet will be at training camp, but he’s on a nonguaranteed contract and he lost the faith of coach Joe Mazzulla as last season progressed. It’s apparent the Celtics need a reliable third center to soak up minutes if Williams is injured or Horford isn’t productive.
Blake Griffin could be a candidate, but while he served as a stellar locker-room presence, leader, and mentor for players, especially Payton Pritchard, his on-court production waned as the season went on. It’s uncertain whether the 34-year-old Griffin has much left to contribute on the floor.
Players such as Bismack Biyombo and Dewayne Dedmon are available and have played quality minutes for the past decade. However, neither is considerably better than Griffin, who did show flashes last season as a rebounder and hustle player.
The Celtics’ issue at center is created by the uncertainty of Williams. He entered this offseason healthy and has been working on his post game. But he’s played just 209 games in his five seasons, including just 35 last season. How many minutes per game can Mazzulla depend on Williams? He averaged 23.5 minutes last season and the club is not likely to allow him to approach anything more than 30. So, who can soak up those remaining 18 minutes?
Mazzulla could go with a smaller lineup with Horford or Kristaps Porzingis at center, but that lineup would lack a post presence. Horford’s post game has declined considerably, to the point where he is passing up open short jumpers. Porzingis always has been more of a finesse center, despite being 7 feet 3 inches, and is more comfortable away from the basket. Like Williams, there is also an injury concern with Porzingis, who will enter training camp next month coming off a plantar fasciitis injury.
So, the Celtics could use another rugged body in the paint, and there are a handful of players who would be considered calculated risks, such as Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins, neither of whom played in the NBA last season.
The Celtics are wary of adding a veteran who may eventually complain about his role or playing time. They cherish team chemistry, and Griffin never complained about his situation last season, although he wanted to play more.
Griffin has not officially retired, and he recently gave a ringing endorsement to the Celtics’ locker room culture, after years of dealing with mayhem with the Nets. If the Celtics do decide to bring back Griffin, they need to determine whether he can actually help the team on the floor.
President of basketball operations Brad Stevens has struggled to build a productive bench, and he has been meticulous this offseason in adding players who will provide quality minutes, such as Brissett and Dalano Banton, and drafting Walsh.
These games are worth watching
Here are the top 15 games to watch this season with interesting story lines, rivalries, and players returning to former teams:
▪ Oct. 25, Celtics at Knicks: The Celtics will enter the season as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, and a full training camp under coach Joe Mazzulla and the addition of Kristaps Porzingis should help them toward a deep playoff run. Mazzulla now has full control with his own coaching staff and endorsement from management on his offensive philosophy. The Knicks are primed for contention with Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle back, along with free agent signing Donte DiVincenzo joining former Villanova teammate Josh Hart. The Knicks have had a strong offseason and want to begin the season by making a statement.
▪ Oct. 27, Warriors at Kings: Golden State made significant changes in the offseason, including trading Jordan Poole to the Wizards for Chris Paul, who is nearing the end at 38. The Warriors have no idea how Paul is going to work in the offense. He has even questioned whether he’ll come off the bench. A Paul-Stephen Curry backcourt may have been lethal five years ago but perhaps not as much now. The Kings want to prove they were no one-year fluke and are ready to contend in the Western Conference. They are pretty much running back the same roster, and the hope is they learned from the seven-game loss to Golden State in the first round.
▪ Nov. 8, Spurs at Knicks: This will be Victor Wembanyama’s first time on the grand stage of Madison Square Garden as the new-look Spurs attempt to take a step forward in becoming consistently competitive in the Western Conference. It’s uncertain how much Wembanyama will play as a rookie and how the Spurs plan to implement him in the offense. Wembanyama played just two summer league games and showed promise, but now he’ll be playing against the likes of Randle and other physically imposing players who will push the slight Frenchman around in the paint.
▪ Nov. 10, Lakers at Suns: The Suns added Bradley Beal from the Wizards to make their own Big Three, but the Lakers feel they’re the favorites in the West with a healthy Anthony Davis, a still-effective LeBron James, and an emerging Austin Reaves, who has been sparkling for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. The lone issue with the Suns is depth. They sacrificed most of their bench to get Beal and will have to rely on their starters, including 35-year-old Kevin Durant. This will be the first time Frank Vogel, who coached the Lakers to the 2020 championship in the bubble and then was fired less than two years later, will face his former team.
▪ Dec. 23, Grizzlies at Hawks: This could be the season debut for Ja Morant, who will serve a 25-game suspension for brandishing a gun twice on social media. By this time, Marcus Smart should be comfortable running the Grizzlies’ offense. So, will Morant immediately start at point guard and move Smart to shooting guard or will Morant slide in as shooting guard and give the Grizzlies a new look? The Hawks are hoping to build off last season’s first-round appearance with Trae Young as the leader, but John Collins is off to the Jazz. The Hawks will rely on youth such as A.J. Griffin and Jalen Johnson to remain competitive in the East.
▪ Jan. 13, Rockets at Celtics: It will be Ime Udoka’s first game coaching in Boston since his suspension and eventual dismissal as Celtics coach because of inappropriate actions in a consensual relationship with a subordinate. Udoka was popular among Celtics players, some of whom still are confused why management took such drastic action. It will be fascinating to see how the TD Garden faithful receive Udoka and his staff, some of whom were with Mazzulla last season. The Rockets are improved with Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks leading a young core that should be better defensively.
▪ Jan. 14, Pacers at Nuggets: It will be a big night for Dorchester native Bruce Brown, who turned a productive season helping the Nuggets to the NBA title into a two-year, $45 million contract with the surging Pacers. Brown was disappointed he did not receive a more lucrative deal after productive years in Brooklyn and accepted a one-year deal with a player option from the Nuggets to boost his market value. Brown will start in the backcourt with Tyrese Haliburton, giving the Pacers a chance to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
▪ Jan. 27, Lakers at Warriors: The Lakers believe they are the favorites in the West, while the Warriors believe their aging core has a run or two left. They meet in a Saturday night nationally televised game that could have playoff seeding implications. The Warriors lost to the Lakers in the conference semifinals and the question is whether Golden State improved in the offseason. The Warriors lost general manager Bob Myers, as well as Poole, and they are banking on players such as Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and Gary Payton II to take major steps forward.
▪ Feb. 4, Grizzlies at Celtics: Smart will make his return to Boston after nine productive years with the Celtics and it will be an emotional game for both sides. Smart was initially hurt by the three-team trade that sent him to the Grizzlies for Porzingis, but by the time he returns he should be settled into the Memphis culture as the Grizzlies seek to atone for last season’s disappointing first-round playoff loss to the Lakers. There will certainly be a moving tribute video and plenty of opportunity for fans to honor one of the more impactful Celtics of the past decade.
▪ Feb. 4, Suns at Wizards: On the same day Smart returns to Boston, Beal will make his first appearance in Washington since being traded to Phoenix. Beal waived his no-trade clause when the Wizards decided — sort of — it was time for a complete rebuild. But the Wizards didn’t really tear everything down, acquiring Poole and signing Kyle Kuzma to a four-year extension. The Wizards will be one of the more intriguing teams because they have young talent that should flourish in Beal’s absence. Beal should receive a warm response from the fans because of his dedication to the organization through difficult times.
▪ Feb. 9, Rockets at Raptors: This will be VanVleet’s return game after seven seasons in Toronto. VanVleet left the Raptors for a three-year, $128 million contract to be the Rockets’ starting point guard. Houston has filled its roster with young talent over the past few years, but it needed a veteran presence and VanVleet appeared ready for a change. The Raptors have a new coach and responded to losing VanVleet by signing former Celtic Dennis Schröder to a two-year contract. The Raptors have a slew of questions, including the long-term futures of stalwarts Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
▪ March 17, Nuggets at Mavericks: The Mavericks feel they can contend with a full season of Kyrie Irving playing alongside Luka Doncic. The Mavericks added former Celtic Grant Williams, sharpshooter Seth Curry, and Richaun Holmes, and drafted defensive-minded center Dereck Lively. By this time, the Nuggets should be a different, but just as efficient version of their championship team, with players such as Christian Braun and Peyton Watson receiving more playing time in place of Brown and Jeff Green, who both left in free agency.
▪ March 17, Suns at Bucks: There has not been much talk about the Bucks this offseason, and they haven’t really given folks much reason to talk. Giannis Antetokounmpo recently told the New York Times he wants more clarity on the team’s long-term future before agreeing to another extension. Khris Middleton is returning on a contract extension but began showing signs of age last season, as did Brook Lopez. The team’s biggest free agent splash was signing Brook’s brother, Robin Lopez, who had been relegated to third center in his previous few stops. The Suns should be cohesive by the time they get to Milwaukee, making this an intriguing late-season interconference matchup.
▪ March 27, Clippers at 76ers: So, which team will James Harden play for? That’s the biggest question. The mercurial guard wants a trade to Clippers, and he called 76ers general manager Daryl Morey a liar last month. But the Clippers have no reason to offer the 76ers a moderately equal deal since Harden is in the final year of his contract and has expressed unhappiness in his past three teams. The 76ers will have to determine how to make reigning MVP Joel Embiid happy before he is the next one to ask for a trade. New coach Nick Nurse has quite a task on his hands to keep Philadelphia competitive in the East.
▪ April 7, Timberwolves at Lakers: Don’t sleep on Minnesota in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves should be better with Anthony Edwards coming off starring in the FIBA World Cup and Karl-Anthony Towns more comfortable after playing a year with Rudy Gobert. This was an exciting play-in game last season, but both teams have much higher hopes this time. The Lakers, meanwhile, could be closing in on the No. 1 seed in the West by this time and this could be a critical game.
Former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decided to give former first-round pick Romeo Langford another chance on a training camp invite with the Jazz. Langford was expected to be a potential cornerstone with the Celtics, joining the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the frontcourt, but his laid-back style, as well as numerous injuries, encouraged current president of basketball operations Brad Stevens to send Langford to the Spurs in the deal for Derrick White. Among a group of young prospects, Langford was never able to stand out in San Antonio and the club allowed his contract to expire without an effort to re-sign him. Langford averaged 6.9 points last season in 43 games with the Spurs but has not dramatically improved at any level, including 3-point shooting. He is a career 28.8 percent 3-point shooter and shot 26.2 last season, hurting his chances to play consistently. There is still hope for Langford, who doesn’t turn 24 until Oct. 25, and the Jazz are bringing him in at no risk . . . Another intriguing free agent was quickly taken off the market after the Mavericks waived veteran center JaVale McGee with two years left on his deal. McGee signed with the Kings as a backup to Domantas Sabonis. The Mavericks signed McGee to a three-year, $17 million contract just last summer, but coach Jason Kidd figured out quickly that McGee wasn’t playable in key stretches. The Mavericks decided to waive-and-stretch McGee’s remaining salary. He is 35 now but has played in some big games in recent years and can still have an impact defensively . . . The Hornets finally decided on a long-term deal for restricted free agent P.J. Washington, signing him to a three-year, $48 million contract. Washington is an asset, but the club was reluctant to invest more than $20 million per year in a player who could become expendable if Brandon Miller works out as a swingman. Washington will return in a prominent role, but his deal is tradeable in today’s NBA economy. Washington had a similar situation to Grant Williams, who wanted to return to Boston but was not coming back on a multiyear deal. Williams settled for a four-year, $53 million deal from the Mavericks instead of accepting the Celtics’ qualifying offer. Washington was the final marquee restricted free agent on the market and he returns to a crowded frontcourt that includes Miller and Miles Bridges.