Celtics’ final move must trigger an overhaul in order to compete
At the same time, the Boston Celtics go to both the playoffs and nowhere. The announcement that Jaylen Brown will miss the rest of the season with a torn wrist ligament leaves the NBA team in shock with the playoffs in a week’s time.
The Celtics’ stint in the playoffs is short, and that might not be a bad thing. This will give the front office a lot more time to consider the fixes needed to bring the team back to the top – if not next season and then shortly thereafter.
Injury and COVID-19 have tolled the Celtics this year, but they’ll need something more than the current roster to improve next season.
Jaylen Brown faces potentially lengthy recovery
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Brown will miss the remainder of the Celtics season with a left wrist injury, the team have announced. He needs surgery and may take a long time to heal. His teammate Romeo Langford suffered the same injury last September and did not return until April 4. A similar schedule for Brown could cost him a handful of games at the start of the 2021-22 NBA season.
Brown is in his fifth season after arriving in the 2016 draft, and it was the best year for the 24-year-old swingman. He made his first All-Star team, and his 24.7 points per game and 48.4% shots are career highs. He also averages 6.0 rebounds and remains a reliable defender.
Brown is in the first season of a four-year, $ 107 million contract extension offered by the Celtics ahead of the start of the 2019-20 season.
Celtics don’t have the depth for a deep playoff run
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Surely that wasn’t their intention, but the Celtics have evolved into a two-man team this season. With Gordon Hayward gone to the Charlotte Hornets and Kemba Walker, 31, continuing the subtle decline that could make the final year of his contract unbearable in two seasons, it’s up to Brown and Jayson Tatum to lead the Boston offense.
As noted, Brown had a career year before the injury. Tatum, of course, became a superstar at just 23. He increased his score (26.3 points per game) and assists (4.4) to career highs while playing the most minutes in his history. With four seasons plus a player option in 2025-26 remaining on his contract, he’s a guy the Celtics should never let go.
The problem, however, is that the Celtics can’t realistically expect much more from Brown or Tatum, other than the latter coming out the gate in somewhat more cohesive games, as discussed on one. NBC Sports Boston Podcast.
Brown and Tatum should be good for 50 combined points per game in perpetuity, but where will the rest of the offense come from – especially if Walker continues to slip from his peak with Charlotte in 2016-17?
The Celtics need to start a recast.
What can Boston do to improve?
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The Celtics haven’t improved this last offseason or the trade deadline – especially if they can’t hang on to swingman Evan Fournier, acquired from the Orlando Magic. It also doesn’t help that Marcus Smart only has one year left on his contract and the data compiled by Spotrac.com shows Boston is running into salary cap issues.
Barring a move, the Celtics won’t select until the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft is past the midpoint, so landing immediate help via that route is unlikely.
At a minimum, the Celtics need to keep most of their rotation. Their top seven players have barely played together this season due to COVID-19 and injuries – only Tatum, Brown, Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams have recorded as many as 55 games – but would form a core for next season. They might try to level up at that point by parting ways with Walker or Smart, but it’s not like Dennis Schroder will magically fall into their knees.
Among the greats, Jabari Parker has been interesting in a month-long audition in Boston since the Sacramento Kings released him. Keeping him with Tristan Thompson, Semi Ojeleye, Luke Kornet and Robert Williams III would be a foundation. Collectively, it’s a young group with room to grow. Individually, there isn’t enough oomph to complete Brown and Tatum.
Houston Rockets’ Kelly Olynyk is heading to free agency. Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Lakers) and Bobby Portis (Milwaukee Bucks) hold player options for next season.
Olynyk would be the most useful scorer / rebounder, but the other two numbers fit better on a tight budget.
All statistics are courtesy of Basketball Reference.