BOSTON — In the opening hours of free agency the Celtics, NBA Finalists for the first time in more than a decade last season, watched the competition get better. They watched the 76ers add P.J. Tucker and Danuel House while moving towards a more team friendly deal with James Harden. They eyeballed the Bucks adding Joe Ingles to a team that pushed Boston to seven games in the conference semifinals—without All-Star guard Khris Middleton. They watched the Hawks trade for Dejounte Murray, the Knicks sign Jalen Brunson and the Wizards stock up on point guards to play opposite the freshly re-signed Bradley Beal..
On Thursday, the Celtics stayed quiet.
On Friday, they struck.
In Danilo Gallinari, who reportedly will sign a two-year, $13 million deal with the Celtics next week, and Malcolm Brogdon, who was robbed, er, acquired from Indiana for a first-round pick and a collection of spare parts, Boston has done more than kept pace with the competition—it has arguably pushed past them. A team—a Finals team—eight deep with trustworthy playoff talent now goes 10 with Brogdon, a physical, 6’5” combo guard who will seamlessly fit into the Celtics’ switch-heavy defensive schemes.
Critics will say Brogdon is injury prone, and they’re right. He never played more than 56 games in three seasons with Indiana, missing more than half of last season. They will say Gallinari, at 33, is an inefficient scorer and a defensive liability, and there’s merit to that. But the Celtics won’t ask Brogdon to be a primary scorer, as he was in Indiana. Just a solid playmaker who contributes on defense. And while Boston’s pursuit of Gallinari feels decades long—ex-GM Danny Ainge’s interest in Gallinari dated back to his days in Denver—the Italian forward projects as an eighth or ninth man in a deep Celtics rotation.
Boston got better.
And it may not be done.
Kevin Durant requested a trade this week and the Nets have begun the unenviable task of fielding offers for the franchise superstar. Brooklyn’s asking price, rival executives familiar with the situation told Sports Illustrated, is steep: two All-Star caliber talents and a cache of draft picks. If a team doesn’t have that, one exec said, the response has been “well go out and get it.” At 33, Durant is among the NBA’s best pure scorers, a perennial MVP candidate with a skill set and a work ethic that should allow his game to age well. The Nets have no incentive to tank—Houston, courtesy of the James Harden deal, have control of Brooklyn’s first-round picks through 2027—and want premium value in any trade.
The Celtics are among a handful of teams who can give it to them.
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Would Boston want Durant? Any Durant deal would begin with Jaylen Brown, the 25-year-old forward. Brown was an All-Star in 2021 and played like an All-Star in the second half of last season, after overcoming injuries and the team-wide inconsistency that infected the Celtics in the first two months of the season. It would undoubtedly include draft picks—Boston traded away its 2023 first rounder for Brogdon and owes the Spurs a pick swap from the Derrick White deal in 2028—and may require the Celtics to add another, non-Jayson Tatum player to the mix.
Boston, if unintentionally, is prepared for that. If the Nets insist on Grant Williams, the Celtics have Gallinari, who joins a frontcourt rotation of Robert Williams and Al Horford and could include Thomas Bryant, the ex-Wizards center who reportedly has Boston on his short list. The Celtics, understandably, would resist surrendering Marcus Smart, who exceeded expectations in his first year as a lead guard, but if Smart were to go, Brogdon, who averaged 21 points per game during the 2020-21 season, is there to replace him.
Equally important: Would Durant want to play in Boston? Durant has four years left on his contract but no team is acquiring the ex-MVP without his blessing. The Celtics weren’t on the initial list of teams leaked after the trade request. But Durant did grant Boston a free agency meeting in 2016. He has a strong relationship with Horford, who might have signed with Oklahoma City, not Boston, in 2016, had Durant committed to staying there. He was coached by Ime Udoka, a Nets assistant during the ’20-21 season. His business interests are in New York, perhaps incentivizing a northeast location. And Durant wants to win.
Breaking up a Finals team is risky. Especially one with a long shelf life. Brown is under contract for two more seasons. Tatum is locked in for at least three. Smart and Robert Williams’s four-year contract extensions kick in next season. Grant Williams, a revelation for Boston off the bench last season, is in line for an extension of his own. Horford is the only key player on an expiring contract.
The Celtics don’t need Durant to compete for championships.
But do they need him to win one?
Think about it: Durant is a proven, battle-tested playoff performer with two titles—and a pair of Finals MVPs—on his resume. Against Golden State, the Celtics’ offense often stagnated. Durant addresses that. They struggled to score in the half court, turning the ball over at a comical rate. Pair Durant with Tatum and that problem largely goes away, too. With Durant, Boston’s championship window would shrink. Three seasons. Maybe four. But they would be a title favorite, perhaps the title favorite, in each of them.
The Kevin Durant sweepstakes has begun.
Let’s see if the Celtics jump into it.
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