Even though they fleeced the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, for, among other things, first-round draft picks that subsequently turned into Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Boston Celtics still haven’t figured out how to adequately build around the two All-Star swingmen for a sustainable period. In Part I of our joint series, Justin Lewis talked about solutions to the point guard predicament.
Now, for Part II of this collab, I'll get into the situation with the bigs.
For the Celtics’ entire run as fringe or actual contenders — the 2016-17 season through now — think of all the times you could ever name a meaningful big man they’ve had on their roster. The list goes as follows: Al Horford, Robert Williams and... that’s it. Aside from that, it’s a lot of Daniel Theis, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, one of the Zellers, Aron Baynes and multiple runs (and name changes) with rebounding-specialist-turned-FOX-5-pundit Enes Kan... *sigh* … Freedom.
(Somehow, not one Plumlee made the list.)
Despite entering the later 2010s with a video game-like draft asset advantage over most of the NBA, the C's still haven’t gotten to an NBA Finals, which highlights two things. One, it’s very (emphatically insert expletive of choice here) hard to get to a Finals, never mind winning the championship. And two, just because you accumulate all those draft picks doesn’t mean you’re going to build a dynasty as some project. Why? Because this isn’t a simulation... even though it may feel like it sometimes.
Amid trade rumors involving Horford and Josh Richardson, it’s clear that the currently 25-24 Celtics are trying to execute something with an eye toward winning now and not rebuilding by splitting up the two Jays. Now, regardless of what they do, they'll probably "win now" anyway, given that the Eastern Conference is as strenuous as it is imperfect.
Sure, maybe a team other than the Nets, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks or Miami Heat break through. Maybe the Philadelphia 76ers finally make a Ben Simmons deal and push themselves into that upper-echelon group, or maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers make moves to remain afloat amid their surprising successes. Pointing all of that out is a reminder that the East is deep, and all of those teams are just better than the Celtics right now — regardless of the fact that their top two players are more talented than the top two players on at least half of those other teams.
Having just written about Tatum and Brown and whether or not they should even remain together, the most important thing is building this differently. Assuming the 24-year-old Williams — who is averaging 9.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game this season — is your center of the present and future alongside the Jays, think about the 4-man who’d best complement all three parties and their hypothetical point guard change. (Williams begins a four-year, $54 million extension next season.)
Thaddeus Young, San Antonio Spurs
Young’s been in trade rumors all season and is currently not a regular part of the San Antonio Spurs' rotation. But he’d be just about perfect for so many teams, including the Celtics. In 2020-21, we saw Thad play meaningful minutes with regularity, averaging 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists; he posted a team-high 2.2 defensive win shares for the Bulls (tied with Patrick Williams).
He’s 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, a career 50.2% finisher from the field, and 33.0% from three on 1.4 attempts per contest. Young shot 35.6% beyond the arc on a 3.5 attempts in 2019-20, but last season, he shot just 0.7 attempts per contest (26.7%) to provide more slashing ability for the Bulls. If Young — who is on a $14.1 million expiring contract — could be respectable from the perimeter, you’d take that regardless of how little he took. (Not everyone needs to shoot mad threes to space adequately, guys.)
The Hypothetical Trade:
Celtics receive: Thaddeus Young ($14.1 million), Doug McDermott ($13.7 million)
Spurs receive: Al Horford ($27 million), one or two second-round draft picks
In attaching a second-rounder or two to Horford, there’s incentive for the Spurs to do this, even as Horford has $26.5 million coming next season, though only $14.5 million is guaranteed. McDermott is due $13.7 million the following two seasons, and by acquiring him, it makes the numbers work; plus this gives the C’s an additional floor-spacer who’d likely become a crowd favorite….. Ya know?
Jerami Grant, Detroit Pistons
A better and younger Thad Young? The 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist is apparently demanding, but you gotta respect it. Grant’s due over $20 million this season, and closer to $21 million next, the last of a three-year deal he signed just over a year ago. Grant’s been out since Dec. 12, but over the last two seasons — in which he's played 78 games — Grant has averaged 21.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 blocks since seeing an expanded role with the Pistons.
Chances are he winds up on a better team and doesn’t have the same offensive workload, but on a good team, he’s probably best suited as a third option (next to Tatum and Brown in Boston's case). And, if one of those two absolutely wants to leave for whatever reason down the road, you can tie yourself to whichever player you keep plus Grant, as well as whatever comes back. Grant wants an extension after all.
It’s worth mentioning that Grant’s shooting splits have been .425/.344/.847 with the Pistons on around six three-point and free throw attempts both per contest, but again, on that team, it’s hard to be efficient — especially since he has more of the scoring load than he should. In Boston, you’d expect him to be somewhere between where he was with the Denver Nuggets and where he is in Detroit now, in regards to scoring. Thus, his defense should also revert back to where it was in Denver and even in Oklahoma City, or something close to that.