Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics suddenly got busy late last week. They swung a huge trade for dynamic guard Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers and they’re likely to sign Danilo Gallinari after the veteran sharpshooter clears waivers. They’ve also shored up the back end of their bench, and in the process showed a lot of confidence in one of their recent undrafted free agents.

As reported by Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe on Sunday, the Celtics are expected to re-sign forward Sam Hauser to a three-year deal worth $6 million, with the first two years fully guaranteed. The numbers are notable, because the Celtics recently declined Hauser’s option for only $1.6 million with the intention of signing him long-term. Now, Hauser gets a big raise compared to what he was on track to make.

Hauser, 24, played his final year of college ball at Virginia, before signing a two-way contract with the Celtics as an undrafted free agent in 2021. The C’s later converted his deal to a regular NBA contract, but Hauser still spent some time with the Maine Celtics in the G League.

According to Himmelsbach, “there’s real optimism that Hauser can become a regular rotation player next season.” Hauser played 26 games in the 2021-22 season and averaged only 6.1 minutes off the bench. But he did shoot 43.2 percent from three-point range in his limited role. Ostensibly, that’s the main area where the team will expect the 6-foot-8 Hauser to have an expanded role.

The C’s seemed to suffer from a lack of wing scoring behind Jayson Tatum down the stretch and through the playoffs. The expected addition of Gallinari, and the retention of Hauser, are two notable steps in that direction.

An early (but urgent) look at the Celtics' offseason to-do list

  • MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 19: Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens looks on prior to Game Two of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena on May 19, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    MIAMI, FLORIDA – MAY 19: Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens looks on prior to Game Two of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena on May 19, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    The Boston Celtics got to within two wins of an NBA championship, with a star core that, frankly, is still be too young to reach that highest level. So if the C’s want to get back to the NBA Finals in 2023 and perhaps win the thing, the roster changes will have to come on the margins.

    Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both under contract in Boston for the next two seasons, and breaking them up or trading either of them feels like the absolute least likely scenario for President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens. Easily the most important thing for the team is that those two simply learn from the 2022 NBA Finals and channel that into improved play and more consistency in those championship moments. They won’t hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy without that.

    But assume that does happen. What can the Celtics do to improve the team around Tatum and Brown, to add those pieces that often put championship-caliber teams over the top? The Warriors essentially just proved it. They won three straight to take the NBA Finals in six games because Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took over the series, but they also needed a superb effort from Andrew Wiggins and got the occasional key contributions from Jordan Poole, Kevin Looney, and others.

    The Celtics could certainly get more out of the rest of their roster beyond their two stars, as well. But realistically, the reserves are where the off-season upgrades would come. And Stevens showed in his first go-around as the Celtics’ lead roster-builder that he’s willing to be aggressive and change the mix as he sees fit. So don’t be surprised if the Celtics have decidedly different-looking depth charts in 2022-23.

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  • Stevens did hint at what he’s aiming to accomplish in the off-season, and it’s certainly not to do anything drastic. As you might expect of Stevens, he’s not going to overreact to the way the season ended, and any changes are likely to be less significant than anything involving a star player. At the same time, Stevens believes that even those little tweaks can have a way of making over your roster, in either good or bad ways.

    “Our defense was good enough to win throughout the entire playoffs, even though we slipped a little bit in the Golden State series,” Stevens said in his end-of-season press conference Tuesday. “I mean, if you would have told me going into the Golden State series that we’d shoot 41 percent from three, I would have thought we have a heck of a chance of winning, obviously, but came up short.

    “As far as improving, it’s the same old deal: draft, develop, and deals. You just look for things that make the most sense within your group. I think that we have a little bit of a – we have to walk a fine line a little bit. I think teams are fragile. I think the way that teams work together and operate together are fragile. And I think your identity as a team, when you find one that’s successful, which we did this year on the defensive end of the floor and when we were at our best sharing the ball offensively, those things are fragile. And so, just to add [to the team] doesn’t mean that you’re not taking something away from the group. And to change significant pieces in the group doesn’t mean that that might not totally take your identity and shift it in a direction that’s not as successful. And so it’s quite a fine line.”

    What should be the Celtics’ plan to get better for next season and put the roster in a better position to win it all? Here’s a quick, early look at the 2022 NBA off-season and some possible ideas for the C’s.

  • Get a True Point Guard™

    Jun 5, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors during game two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 5, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors during game two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Marcus Smart isn’t a bad passer by any means – he just averaged a career-best 5.9 assists in the regular season. But obviously, Smart’s true calling card has always been his tenacious defense, which earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors. Offensively, the Celtics lack what’s come to be known as a True Point Guard™, and could stand to add one.

    This will, in fact, become a cliche as the summer goes on. People might already be sick of the calls for the C’s to add a True Point Guard™ – that is, a PG whose strength is facilitating the offense. And, ideally, provide consistently efficient shooting when his name is called.

    The Celtics had glaring struggles with ball-handling in the NBA Finals against the Warriors. It led to just an insane amount of turnovers (39 over the final two games) and questions of whether they’d be better suited with a point guard who can bring the ball up the court and distribute it cleanly. Tatum and Brown aren’t meant to play that role; they could benefit greatly from worrying more about getting to their spots and finding open looks at the basket, and passing it off only when it’s the right play.

    Smart excels at certain things, but he’s never going to be an elite shooting or passing point guard. His defense is tremendously valuable and he has enough of an all-around game to be a starter, which is why trading him for a True Point Guard™ might not actually improve the team enough to make it worthwhile. Such a move doesn’t seem realistic, anyway.

    Then again, Stevens wasn’t afraid to dump Kemba Walker. So it wouldn’t be totally outside the box for him to make big changes at point guard. But for the True Point Guard™, he might have to get it in the form of the next item on the Celtics’ to-do list…

  • Get a Bona Fide “Sixth Man”

    Jun 5, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) dribbles against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) in the second quarter during game two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 5, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) dribbles against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) in the second quarter during game two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    This and the previous item may end up being the same move. Right now, who even is the Celtics’ sixth man? Derrick White? While the veteran stepped up in a big way at times during the Celtics’ run to the NBA Finals, he’s still not going to provide enough offense or high-level facilitation to justify making him your top bench player. Ditto Grant Williams, who has a place on this team as a role player in the frontcourt, but will never score at the level that the team could use among the reserves.

    Unless Payton Pritchard makes an unexpected leap in his third season, a legitimate, dangerous scoring option off the bench will have to come outside the organization. Adding a sixth man who can spark the offense while giving Tatum or Brown a breather would give them a dimension they’ve mostly lacked on the court, and have the potential to pay major dividends in the big picture.

    Stevens actually acknowledged this particular need when he spoke to reporters Tuesday. He also sounds like he’s not about to give up on players like Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith, who could still have a lot of untapped potential as pure scorers.

    “If you ask me right now what we need, I’d like to have a little bit more scoring, consistent scoring off the bench, and I think that we have some short-term needs there,” Stevens said. “But I believe in a couple of the guys that didn’t get a chance to play as much, that they will continue to improve and be knocking on that door soon.”

    Another scorer to lift up Tatum and Brown on their off nights, and take more pressure off the two stars, should be a big priority for Stevens in the off-season. Combine a better Tatum/Brown with a third guy that cooks with the second unit, and the Celtics should have a much better chance to finish off a championship.

  • Use a Traded Player Exception

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 17: Kevin Huerter #3 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots against Dennis Schroder #71 of the Boston Celtics during the first half at State Farm Arena on November 17, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 17: Kevin Huerter #3 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots against Dennis Schroder #71 of the Boston Celtics during the first half at State Farm Arena on November 17, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    To refresh your memory, the Celtics created a Traded Player Exception (TPE) worth $17.1 million when they swung a sign-and-trade that sent Evan Fournier to the New York Knicks last August. Basically, the TPE allows the Celtics to absorb a contract worth that amount or less, without having to match the money.

    This is arguably the most urgent matter on the table for Stevens. The Celtics need to use the Fournier TPE by July 18, because if they don’t use it, they lose it. Even still, their best opportunity to get a deal done with the TPE could be during the 2022 NBA Draft, which begins Thursday night.

    Say Stevens wants to use the Fournier TPE to acquire that bench scoring he mentioned in his presser. He’ll need to identify a team looking to jettison a contract and accumulate draft picks. He will also need to be willing to possibly skip a whole draft, because the Celtics have just their own first-rounders in 2023 and 2024, with their second-round picks tied up in prior trades, with destinations TBD.

    The Atlanta Hawks and guard Kevin Huerter could be a doable trade partner. Huerter has four years left on his contract at an AAV of $16.25 million. Huerter averaged 14.7 points per 36 minutes last season, while shooting a respectable 38.9 percent from three-point range. But he could turn out to be a redundancy with Pritchard, who was more efficient from downtown (41.2 percent). Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma ($13 million) is a proven scorer who averaged a career-high 17.1 points per game.

    Other names to watch on this front are the Mavericks’ Davis Bertans, the Pelicans’ Devonte Graham, and the Clippers’ Luke Kennard. The latter led the NBA with a 44.9 percent rate on threes. They could also aim even higher – how about the Raptors’ O.G. Anunoby? – but it could require basically punting on the draft for the foreseeable future.

  • Big Man Insurance

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 16: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors goes up for a layup against Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics during the second quarter in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 16: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors goes up for a layup against Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics during the second quarter in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    The Celtics have a tenuous cap situation of their own. Most of the league is over the cap right now, though. But if the C’s need to make a big financial sacrifice, it could come in the form of Al Horford, who’s due $26.5 million next season. Horford just had the most accomplished playoff run of his career, averaging 12 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 48 percent on threes, and playing in his first NBA Finals as arguably the key piece in the Celtics’ frontcourt.

    Even if Horford ends up back for 2022-23, he’s already 36 years old and outperforming his age compared to the typical veteran big man. He was just the 10th big in the last 40 years to start at least 60 games at age 35 or older. He won’t be that available for much longer. The cliff could come at any moment for a player at his stage of his career.

    So, it would behoove Stevens and the Celtics to look toward the future in the frontcourt. There’s also the case of starting center Robert Williams, who is one of the more productive two-way centers in the league when on the court, but has battled durability issues throughout his first four seasons. Daniel Theis is under contract for next season, but that’s a roster spot where the Celtics could stand to improve.

    It seems like it’ll only be a matter of time until the Celtics have to play an extended period without Horford and/or Williams in the lineup, so a dependable reserve option – if not a long-term answer – at power forward/center should be on Stevens’ list of priorities.

    They’ll have options for veteran stopgaps in free agency, like Robin Lopez. They could also try to use their TPE from Juancho Hernangomez ($6.9 million) or Dennis Schröder ($5.8 million), but they may be hard-pressed to make an appreciable upgrade over Theis if they went that route. But this isn’t about adding a high-end talent, this is about adding insurance, because it looks like they’re going to need it at some point.

  • Serviceable Tatum Backup

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 16: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics reacts on the bench against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 16: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics reacts on the bench against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 16, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Before Josh Richardson was spun off to the Spurs in the Derrick White trade, he served as something of a facsimile to Tatum when on the floor. He had similar size and length and could defend the position well.

    The Celtics missed this element on their roster at times, when Tatum was on the bench. This was an example of a bench-level trade that markedly changed the Celtics’ roster makeup, the kind of move Stevens alluded to in his press conference. Whether it involves White or not, Stevens may be compelled to restore a Richardson type of role to the rotation.

    Perhaps Stevens could call the Sacramento Kings and see if they’re willing to part with Justin Holiday and his $6.2 million salary, which the C’s could absorb with one of their lower-level TPEs. Does Jazz veteran Rudy Gay have anything left in the tank?

    Keep checking back for more Celtics off-season coverage here are 985TheSportsHub.com. It’s likely there will be movement on the roster, perhaps even this week with the draft coming up.

  • Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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