- F Kristaps Porzingis (free agency)
- G Marcus Smart, F Grant Williams
A 57-win season had the scent of a championship until it turned sour unexpectedly, with the Celtics losing a Game 7 in Boston. This came at the hands of the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and it was a bitter taste for the Celtics, who staggered through much of that series and understandably blew a solid chance to reach the NBA Finals.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were All-NBA players who were consistently good and constantly terrorized the other team. Derrick White provided solid support in a starting role, and Marcus Smart was his typical scrappy self. Boston also benefitted from size, especially in the playoffs, with Al Horford and Robert Williams III complimenting each other very well.
The season actually began rather troublesome when coach Ime Udoka and the team parted ways after some human resources issues, and while Joe Mazzulla was steady during the season, his inexperience was exposed in the playoffs.
Overall, it was a bittersweet season for Boston. The Celtics were entertaining and good, but in the end, rather disappointing.
In his three years as general manager, Brad Stevens really hasn’t made a mistake. That’s impressive for someone who never held that job title before (although he did have personnel sway as coach), and even the most experienced front-office types manage to slip on a banana peel once in a while. But Stevens? His slate is clean.
Therefore, you must give him the benefit of the doubt in the summer of 2023 when the Celtics had what can be described as a mini-shakeup. There’s a chemistry risk when you part ways with a player who was the heart and soul of the club, and a fierce leader as well. We’re talking about Smart, a former Kia Defensive Player of the Year jettisoned to Memphis in a three-team trade that brought back Porzingis.
Smart was the longest-tenured Celtic and enormously popular in Boston. This wasn’t an apples-to-apples swap; Porzingis brings size and length and usually, when a team has the chance to swap small for big, they can’t resist. When healthy, as he was last season in Washington (the first time he topped 60 games since 2016-17), Porzingis has always been a good player, and you can’t teach 7-foot-3. But he does have a rich history of wearing street clothes and in that sense, Stevens is rolling the dice, especially because Smart was always ready and reliable for Boston. And after he joined the Celtics, Porzingis couldn’t even get through the summer without an injury scare.
yeah, this is gonna be fun ☘️ pic.twitter.com/cwZz9J8Uql
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 25, 2023
As if Smart’s defense won’t be missed, the Celtics also said goodbye to Grant Williams, who played much bigger than his size on the defensive end of the court. Williams was more of a financial casualty, and speaking of money, hello Jaylen Brown and congratulations.
The second-best player on the team became the highest-paid player in NBA history, an astonishing development made possible by great timing and a rising salary cap. Brown made second-team All-NBA last season after a fabulous performance (aside from the playoffs), which qualified him for a supermax extension.
And here’s also where it gets tricky for a GM who hasn’t made a mistake: Just because a player is eligible for a max doesn’t mean you have to give all of it to him. But because the Celtics did, there could be steep financial repercussions in the near future in terms of the luxury tax. For example, once Tatum gets his max — and his total package will go north of $300 million as well — the Celtics will be paying a ton to two players. They’ll need to fill out most (not all) of the rotation with minimum-wage guys. Will that be enough to keep Boston in the championship mix during Tatum’s and Brown’s prime years?
One way or another, the summer of 2023 will be remembered for when the Celtics made decisions that ultimately won or lost an 18th title.
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