Celtics Notebook: Big pressure on Brad Stevens to figure out the frontcourt

By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub

The main recipients of the Celtics’ pivot minutes over the past several years will open the 2019-20 NBA season patrolling differently colored paint. Al Horford and Aron Baynes are gone, clouding the team's big man picture for the first time since 2015-16, a four-year span that feels like a decade ago thanks to Danny Ainge's roster machinations.

That season, Boston deployed a combination of Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller at the four and the five, with Jonas Jerebko in a stretchy role. David Lee made an early season cameo. Nobody in the group logged more than 24 minutes a night, but they collectively rebounded and defended well enough for the C’s to win 48 regular season games and a couple more in the playoffs against the Hawks.

Horford may have been the consolation prize in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes during a wild summer of 2016, but his arrival (and Sullinger’s departure) completely overhauled the Boston frontcourt, inserting a credible offensive threat who could also quarterback the defense.

Jerebko, Johnson, Olynyk and Zeller departed a year later, thinning the ranks and the team’s ability to compete on the glass some nights, but the arrivals of Baynes and Daniel Theis allowed Brad Stevens to experiment with different looks on a team that fell just short of the NBA Finals.

Oct 20, 2018; New York, NY: New York Knicks guard Alonzo Trier looks to shoot defended by Boston Celtics forward Daniel Theis in the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 20, 2018; New York, NY: New York Knicks guard Alonzo Trier looks to shoot defended by Boston Celtics forward Daniel Theis in the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)

Theis is the sole survivor from that big man group, flanked by new recruits Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier, with Robert Williams III back for a second helping. Stevens once again has a number of options boasting different skill sets. With the presence of so many capable perimeter scorers, the bigs won't be required to shoulder the same offensive burden as four years ago. But their defensive execution will be vital to the team's success.

Stevens’ preseason rotations seemed to define Theis as the starter. He knows the scheme and possesses the lateral quickness to hang with smaller players (an important attribute in a switching defense). But he’s 6-foot-8. He fouls a lot. And at tipoff on opening night, the German will be staring across the 76ers logo at Joel Embiid.

Kanter gives the bench a scorer, something that might be more valuable to the second unit. He isn't heralded for his defense. But he’s several inches taller than Theis and a vacuum on the glass. Some nights, Kanter will need the lion’s share of the minutes to bang down low. Other nights, the C’s might utilize two bigs at once.

And still, there will be others when Stevens goes small.

Poirier displayed solid fundamentals in limited minutes. Williams is still learning to be consistent with his. The coach's ability to find the proper recipe from night to night should be a key element to the team's performance.

More dribs and drabs after an undefeated preseason…

What Can Brown Do for Green? 

Jaylen Brown looks on during Celtics Media Day at High Output Studios on September 30, 2019 in Canton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Jaylen Brown looks on during Celtics Media Day at High Output Studios on September 30, 2019 in Canton, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

With Jaylen Brown entering his final season before restricted free agency, reports had the Celtics offering the former lottery pick a four-year, $80 million extension. Ainge contested the report during his Thursday conversation with Toucher & Rich, saying the team had actually concocted multiple offers and that he felt pretty good about the process.

Brown reportedly wants to bet on himself and hit the market. Fellow 2016 classmates Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray, after all, cashed in for a combined $340 million this summer. But those guys have been allowed to thrive as starters and offensive centerpieces in Philadelphia and Denver, respectively. A casualty of last season’s dysfunction, Brown spent the majority of it coming off the bench. Though he performed admirably, we’re still unclear about his ceiling after three years.

I’m sure Ainge would love to have a reason to pay him that kind of money. The reported offer is in the neighborhood of the four years and $85 million the Kings paid to keep Harrison Barnes around. You'd hope Barnes profiles as Brown’s floor - a useful scorer, but not a focal point, who does other things well enough. But the guy you’d hate to lose is the confident slasher and accurate outside shooter who can lock up opponents on the defensive end. We’ve seen glimpses of that player, but can he unlock all of those attributes in Boston’s current system?

Perhaps upping the ante over the Barnes deal is enough to retain Brown. Otherwise, he heads to the market next summer, where the free agent class is weak and teams will have money to spend, if only on potential. The Celtics have the right to match any offer, but things could get expensive.

The Celtics' Dynamite Kid

Oct 15, 2019; Cleveland, OH: Boston Celtics guard Carsen Edwards shoots a three-point basket in the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 15, 2019; Cleveland, OH: Boston Celtics guard Carsen Edwards shoots a three-point basket in the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

Carsen Edwards’ third quarter against the Cavs the other night was the talk of the NBA. While I’ve seen Celtics Twitter engage in nickname discussions for the rookie, something told me a foray down a Reddit rabbit hole might yield a good one. I think I found it - "C4." That’s an explosive, folks.

Usually I’m against the unimaginative practice of taking a player’s initials and jersey number, mashing the two together and calling it a day. But I thought this one was pretty cool.

Edwards' offensive exploits have been deserving of the hype. He averaged 19.4 points in 23.3 minutes during Summer League and 15.2 points in 18.1 minutes of preseason play. That comes out to an astounding 30.5 points per 36 minutes played.

It’s a nine-game sample against mostly inferior competition. But the Celtics haven’t had a bench player with Edwards’ scoring profile in a long time.

Going back to 2014-15, Isaiah Thomas played 21 games in green following his arrival from Phoenix, starting none. He put up a hearty 26.4 points per 36 minutes. The next year, Thomas was a starter.

Edwards may one day find himself in a starting role (perhaps in a mighty mite backcourt with Kemba Walker). In the interim, the Purdue dynamo’s ability to take and make deep shots with confidence can only benefit the second unit. It pulls defenders way from the basket, opening up driving lanes and windows for Marcus Smart to find cutters. If indeed Kanter fills a reserve spot, it gives the big man space to operate inside.

Remember how easy things looked back when Eddie House got cooking? More of that, please.

You’re My Lobster

Oct 11, 2019; Orlando, FL: Boston Celtics center Tacko Fall looks on against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 11, 2019; Orlando, FL: Boston Celtics center Tacko Fall looks on against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

With Tacko Fall headed to Portland, the Celtics and Maine Red Claws held a joint press conference Tuesday to address Boston’s purchase of the G-League franchise.

Amid rumors of a potential move to Worcester, it’s notable that the Red Claws have a five-year lease in their current home (with a five-year option to follow) and that 24 of the team’s games this season will be televised in the Boston area.

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. His Celtics notebook appears Fridays on 985thesportshub.com. Talk C's with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.