We all went to bed last night after an incredible day of basketball. Damian Lillard went nuclear in a thrilling triple-overtime game against the Denver Nuggets. The Brooklyn Nets took care of business and are set to face the Milwaukee Bucks in a juicy second-round matchup. Even the Phoenix Suns game was insane to watch when it came to the fan experience and drama that continues to build up before Game 6. Admit it, you went to bed just patiently waiting for the next day of playoff basketball games.
BUT NONE OF US WERE READY FOR THE EARLY MORNING ANARCHY WE WERE ABOUT TO GET.
I can only speak for West Coasters in this situation, but the jolt of shock I got from the basketball world this morning was more terrifying than the world's strongest cup of coffee. Less than 24 hours after being eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, the Boston Celtics decided to throw a grenade of anarchy into the basketball world this morning. Normally I would welcome this type of madness. But when it came at seven in the morning...just imagine someone that was convinced their phone was lying for at least 10 minutes. I even had to do the normal check of "is this actually Woj or is this a fake account?" Followed by the annoying "Did someone just put a fake verified logo next to his name?" All of that, of course, is followed by the "Holy s&*t it's real."
Danny Ainge is expected to step down as President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics, sources tell ESPN. Brad Stevens is expected to assume a more prominent front office role with the team. https://t.co/8eR4AHcGv3— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 2, 2021
Just a lot to digest not only for Boston Celtics fans but for the entire basketball world. Woj hit us with an All-Time Woj Bomb, announcing that Danny Ainge would step down from the Boston Celtics with former head coach Brad Stevens replacing him as the President of Basketball Operations. At first, I read a similar tweet from Shams incorrectly that was worded as if Stevens might be taking on both the head coach AND president of basketball operations role, which is always a miserable idea. It's been tried before by a number of teams throughout the league and it just often ends in disaster. The truth is that both of the positions are two different jobs, which require tireless amounts of hours that often can't be done simply by one person. After a number of following tweets from insiders around the league, it was announced that Stevens would be receiving a promotion and would oversee the search for the Celtics next Head Coach.
NEW MAN IN CHARGE
So now we need to talk a little about what to expect from the new sheriff in town. Brad Stevens will now take on a Front Office role, and it was reported that the team was given a heads up about this after last night's game. Obviously, this will be the first time Stevens has taken the leap towards a position in the FO. The one interesting tidbit that was leaked out today was Danny Ainge stating that Stevens hasn't always agreed with some of the front office decisions. Obviously, that's not much of a surprise. You can imagine that there's a fair amount of Head Coaches around the NBA that might not always agree with some of the roster changes a Front Office makes. But, now we're going to see Brad Stevens sitting in the driver's seat to make most of the roster decisions with this team. Could Stevens look to make some immediate changes to "re-tool" this Celtics roster moving forward? Will he move some players that Ainge has kept around over the years?
REVAMPING THE ROSTER
It's going to be easier said than done, as Stevens will need to make some serious magic happen with the way this roster is currently put together. Right now the Celtics find themselves in a tough spot. They have two rising stars in the league under contract for the foreseeable future. That's the good news. Tatum is locked up until the 2025-26 season. Jaylen Brown is also under contract until the 2023-2024 season. So that's definitely going to be something to at least feel good about. The problem is, what direction do the Celtics go in now?
There's no denying what they are competing with when it comes to the Eastern Conference moving forward. There's a monster in Brooklyn that is going to be the team everyone is chasing moving forward. Milwaukee will continue to be a force as well, especially after Giannis signed his max deal. Philadelphia will also be a problem as long as Embiid and Simmons continue to flourish playing together. This Boston team had a rollercoaster from hell type of year. They never got the chance to see what this team could look like with a full slate of health for an extended time. But the bigger question we have to ask ourselves here...was Boston even going to be good enough if they were healthy? Unfortunately, I believe that answer is no.
So how do you revamp your roster and try to compete with the rest of the "beasts" in the East? Well, there are some serious obstacles in the way and some potentially tough decisions on the horizon. After trading for Evan Fournier at the deadline, the former Magic wing is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Boston could try to bring him back, but there's a good chance that Fournier gets a pretty significant offer in free agency. I would imagine that the Celtics part ways and let Fournier go hit the bank. If you took anything away from this Celtics roster over the course of the year, it's that they have a number of areas they need to get better at. Their depth and toughness just seemed to be lacking overall. Some of the depth can be fixed. This Celtics roster featured a number of young players who were inexperienced and raw in their developmental stage. Rookies such as Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith were forced into action, and both should thrive with a full offseason to work on their games. So sure, maybe the Celtics get a big boost from Nesmith and Pritchard having a big second-year leap. Romeo Langford has always been a player who had some great upside for the Celtics, but he's struggled to stay healthy throughout the early parts of his career. So while the Celtics hope for Langford to finally have a full offseason of developing while healthy, you're most likely still going to need to find additional pieces to help out.
This team needs to add some veterans. A balanced team usually has a solid foundation that mixes in young talent and some veterans that have been battle-tested. But the Celtics might not find themselves in a position to go spending freely when it comes to Free Agency. One of the biggest storylines to monitor with this roster moving forward is Marcus Smart. He's been the absolute heart and soul of the Celtics during the course of his career, but Smart might quickly become one of the most desired trade assets around the league. Smart is due $13.8m next year on an expiring deal, something that is always highly coveted around the league. But the problem with trading Smart is you're losing a serious voice and leader in the locker room. He's been a player that has set the tone for Boston over the years with his energy and passion for the game. That's not something you can easily find and replace.
The other option that could be on the table, although it's going to be a challenging one, is trying to move Kemba Walker. Now, this is where things can get a little rocky for the Celtics. Kemba has been in and out of the lineup for the last couple of years while dealing with some injury problems. It's unfortunate because he's such a great talent when he's healthy, but his contract is holding the Celtics back from making any potential "notable" moves to improve his roster. As of now, Kemba is set to be under contract until at least 2021-22, but he will also have a player option in 2022-23 for $37.6m. So if Brad Stevens were to try to move Kemba, he's going to have his work cut out for him. The problem with trading a player like Kemba is not only do you have to find a suitor for that contract, but you also are most likely going to have to attach a draft pick to it in order to get a suitor.
HEAD COACH SEARCH
Not only does Brad Stevens now have the job of trying to figure out how to improve this Boston Celtics roster, but now he needs to find a new voice to be heard. It's going to pretty much be one of the most important moves for Stevens moving forward, and he's going to know that. Although media outlets throw out Jason Kidd's name more than any candidate in the history of coaching, I'm not buying it. Stevens seems like a guy that won't rush this process at all. He's going to take plenty of time going through candidates, making sure he receives great intel and reports before he makes this decision. Remember, Stevens is still a guy that loves the Celtics and wants to win here.
Wyc Grousbeck says that he and Brad Stevens spoke this morning and agreed "to win Banner 18, or die trying."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 2, 2021
While there's been plenty of rumors throughout the previous years that Stevens could go back to the college ranks for some "notable" jobs, I'm not buying it. Stevens is a guy about tradition, and he wants to win at the highest level. That being said, I'm a bit surprised he threw in the towel as a coach. Maybe this could end up being a fantastic move for Brad. Take for example a guy like Pat Riley who was a legendary Head Coach before moving to the Front Office and becoming an all-time great GM. Am I saying that Brad Stevens is immediately going to become Pat Riley? No, but he's an intelligent enough basketball mind that it wouldn't surprise me if he makes this work at a high level. The biggest and most crucial move he's going to make is his next coaching hire and Stevens knows this. While there's been plenty of entertaining candidates thrown out there early on, I keep coming around to one common idea. "What type of mindset does Stevens think this team needs to get better?"
Brad never seemed like the over-the-top motivator of a coach. He seemed like a guy that excelled as a basketball mind and knew how to put his players in a position to best utilize what they were good at. Think of Evan Turner who struggled to find a role, before Stevens all of a sudden turned him into a respectable role player. Or how Stevens had a number of overachieving Celtics teams in the past that surprised the NBA with their ability to play at a high level. The Celtics teams under him that had the best success thrived when they were the underdog. They had that mentality that they believed in each other and they didn't care who was in their way. But now, Stevens needs to take a step back and figure out who can be the next man to bring back that intensity. The good thing for Celtics fans is Stevens is going to have plenty of coaches on his radar, and it wouldn't surprise me if he hires someone that no one is talking about. At the same time, I find myself curious about whether or not Stevens thinks a young college coach can come in and immediately get the respect of guys like Tatum and Brown. So do you take that gamble? Or do you potentially bring in someone that will immediately have the respect of the team. Guys like Sam Cassell and Chauncey Billups will be interesting names to monitor moving forward for sure. Both know what it's like to play at a high level around the league, and both will most likely be able to get control of a locker room in a hurry. Woj went on ESPN after the news broke, stating that this Celtics opening is "going to be a coveted job". He also hinted that there's going to be some coaches that are even currently in the Playoffs who might try to find a way to throw their hat in the ring. It just continues to push forward my belief that this process isn't going to be rushed at all. Stevens is a smart guy, he's going to do his homework.
THE TENURE OF DANNY
While the promotion of Brad Stevens is going to be the "bomb" of the day, it's also important to point out the legendary run that Danny Ainge had with the Boston Celtics organization. Plenty of people out there might criticize Ainge for trades he didn't make or for the team underperforming this year but he was sensational with the Celtics. Let's take a trip down memory lane. Ainge basically re-wrote the way for teams to speed up a re-build. He acquired a plethora of draft picks and made strategic trades to get the Celtics back on the right track in a hurry. In 2007, Ainge sent Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and 5th overall selection Jeff Green to Seattle for Ray Allen and Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Then Ainge turned around and traded Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, and two first-round draft picks to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett. Ainge quickly turned the Celtics from a rebuilding team to a championship contender in one offseason. All of this was after the Boston Celtics lost a chance in the lottery to select former Texas forward Kevin Durant. It would bring the Celtics a championship, and we will always look back and wonder if the Celtics could have won more titles if not for the Kevin Garnett injury. Moving forward, Ainge cashed out his poker chips at the right time, trading Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets for one of the most famous trades in NBA History. Again, Ainge rebuilt the Celtics on the fly, using moves over the next couple of years to add players like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum.
Thank you, Danny ☘️ pic.twitter.com/DFOf6s6gpO— Boston Celtics (@celtics) June 2, 2021
Sure, there's always going to be plenty of talks about some of the moves that Ainge didn't make, but that's what happens with life in the NBA. Numerous times Ainge had to re-group and turn a roster around and he did it. He also went out and hired Brad Stevens when no one saw the move coming. Rumors have leaked that both Stevens and Ainge were becoming exhausted with their roles over the last couple of years and how could you blame them. Ainge has had a history of health concerns, and he just experienced a three-year window that saw the Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving experiments end up as stress-creating monsters. So it's not much of a surprise that Ainge is finally ready to step away from the Celtics. It's only poetic that 8 years after Ainge shocked the basketball world with the hiring of Brad Stevens, he's handing the keys over to that same person.