Forsberg: Bold Brad makes fashionably late and loud entrance to offseason

Forsberg: Bold Brad makes fashionably late and loud entrance to offseason

Ten days ago, Brad Stevens was asked if Boston Celtics ownership had given him the OK to use a bulky trade exception and spend into the luxury tax to bolster the roster for the 2022-23 season.

“We’ve got the OK to do whatever we need to do,” said Stevens.

And he wasn’t kidding.

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The Celtics broke out their checkbooks on Friday while making a fashionably late but undeniably grand entrance into free agency. Boston dangled the full taxpayer midlevel to scoop sharpshooting forward Danilo Gallinari off the waiver wire then flipped the entire end of their bench, along with a 2023 first-round pick, to Indiana in exchange for pricy point guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Boston is now roughly $17 million over the tax line with only 11 players signed for next season. But the two veteran additions leave Boston far deeper and more versatile than the squad that finished two wins short of Banner 18 this past season.

And the Celtics still haven’t touched the $17.1 million Evan Fournier traded player exception. They might not even use the majority of it before July 18 but it remains an asset for roster construction.

 

If it ultimately vaporizes there should be no consternation. In making the jaw-dropping swap to land Brogdon, adding a big ball-handler with defensive versatility, the Celtics acknowledged some holes in last year’s roster and screamed that they expect to be back in the title mix next season.

Vegas odds immediately rocketed them to co-favorites for the NBA title.

In landing Brogdon, president of basketball operations Stevens fetched the one fish that Danny Ainge always lamented got away. The Celtics were bullish on Brogdon during the 2016 draft but ultimately traded away a pair of early second-round picks for a 2019 first-rounder. Ainge would later lament not using one to take a swing on Brogdon, who went 36th to the Bucks.

A half-decade later, the Celtics’ willingness to take on Brogdon’s long-term money opened an avenue to acquire him cheaply. The Celtics sent out Daniel Theis, whose $8.5 million salary was too much for a third center; Aaron Nesmith, who shot 25.4 percent on all 3-pointers in his sophomore season; a bunch of end-of-the-bench pieces better known for their celebrations than their play; and a 2023 first-round pick that ought to projects somewhere in spots 26-30. 

Brogdon has a lengthy injury history and has played in only 61.9 percent of Indiana’s games over the past three seasons. He signed a two-year, $45 million extension that keeps him on Boston’s books until the 2024-25 season.

But Stevens has been willing to splurge first-round picks to secure players that fit Boston’s play style and are under long-term control. Call him Bold Brad. Securing Brogdon comes five months after Boston utilized a 2022 first-round pick as part of a package to land Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs.

All this after Stevens dealt a 2021 first-round pick to Oklahoma City while swapping Kemba Walker for Al Horford at the start of his GM tenure 13 months ago.

The Pacers, in rebuild mode, can give Nesmith the minutes he needs to develop but the Celtics essentially dealt their ninth and 10th man for a player that immediately slots in an already loaded top 6.

It comes with a hefty salary cost but Boston saw the value of depth and spending while watching the Golden State Warriors emerge in the 2022 Finals.

The Celtics still have to fill at least three vacant roster spots (and fill their 2-way slots). But Boston’s depth chart at the moment looks like:

STARTERS: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Robert Williams III

BENCH: Brogdon, White, Gallinari, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser

You can quibble, if you want, about the prospects of Brogdon elevating to a starting role. It’s certainly possible but Boston had the best starting 5 in the NBA last season. If this is the roster that the Celtics carry into the new season, there is a great chance to limit the wear and tear on the core, especially 36-year-old Horford, by utilizing the new depth and versatility.

 

Boston still could use a third-string center with some heft. Brogdon should help provide another wing defender to take stress off Tatum and Brown.

Getting Brogdon at such a discount cost based on outgoing assets made the decision to splurge that much easier. So, too, did watching East rivals load up at the start of free agency and the bitter taste of not being able to close out last year’s storybook season.

Offensively, Brogdon is the sort of big playmaker that Smart haters have lusted over for a while. The Celtics can now have the best of both worlds with Smart having proven he can quarterback and offense but also able to share those reigns with Brogdon, who can play both guard spots.

Brogdon’s injury history makes it a luxury to have someone like White in a reserve role as well. The depth chart is a bit jammed for Pritchard, whose role decreased at the start of last year when the Celtics signed Dennis Schroder, but if Ime Udoka embraces his newfound depth, there’s minutes to keep Boston’s entire top 10 fresh over the course of an 82-game season.

When the rotation crunches in the playoffs, it feels more likely that the Celtics will lean more on Brogdon than Gallinari. But Boston’s lack of bench offense was such a glaring weakness during this year’s run that the soon-to-be 34-year-old sharpshooter could be an important depth option.

The Celtics are currently staring at a potential $35-plus million luxury tax bill given the escalators based on total spending. This group must prove it can be a surefire contender again throughout the new season in order to justify carrying this many bulky contracts (six players north of $16.4 million). 

Boston was not content to simply add a ninth or a 10th man. Getting Brogdon at such a discount cost based on outgoing assets made the decision to splurge that much easier. So, too, did watching East rivals load up at the start of free agency and the bitter taste of not being able to close out last year’s storybook season.

The Celtics can still monitor the Kevin Durant sweepstakes — they have the contracts and enough future picks to still hop into the proceedings, though it’s more likely they try to simply aid the Durant relocation process with their TPE and gain further assets from the process. Friday’s spending makes it tougher to take on any big money, but not impossible.

Because Friday the Celtics proved they are willing to pay to play with the goal of securing Banner 18, especially after it slipped through their fingers last month.


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