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Broken in Boston: Retooling the spiraling Celtics — Part I

Broken in Boston: Retooling the spiraling Celtics — Part I

It turns out that hoarding assets and a ton of "almost trades" may not be the best approach to build a franchise. The Boston Celtics are in the midst of suffering the ramifications of such an approach. 

Boston has played the third-most games that come down to "clutch time," just one behind the Los Angeles Lakers and two behind the Milwaukee Bucks. They have won just 9 of those 26 games. Their .346 win percentage in clutch situations is only better than the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs; three teams you do not want to be in the same company as this season if you have serious playoff hopes.

It is hard to imagine that a team with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two undeniable stars, could be currently a half-game from not even making the Play-In Tournament. The Cs still have Marcus Smart with an emerging Robert Williams for their defensive needs, but the rest of the roster just does not make sense.

Bryan Fonseca took a dive into the Tatum-Brown pairing, and he'll join me on this quest to solve this riddle that is the currenly-spiraling Boston Celtics. I will explore the need for a point guard in Part I, while Bryan addressed the frontcourt in Part II.

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Dennis Schroder and the Celtics were a marriage of neccesity rather than pure desire. Schroder bet on himself, leaving the best he ever had to look for even better, only to find out he made a mistake. Swiping through NBA Free Agency Tinder, the Celtics and Schroder matched because they both had a void to fill. After trading Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a reunion with Al Horford, newly-named president Brad Stevens had only Smart and Payton Pritchard on the roster to run the point.

Boston had an All-Star point guard for three straight seasons, and then, last year, Walker was often injured, which led to his departure. Going from big-name point guards to unproven floor generals, the Celtics gave Schroder a prove-it deal. But all it has proved so far is that he is not a fit to lead this team at the point position.

As a matter of fact, Schroder is not really fit to be the lead point guard on any team. The best seasons of his career arguably came as a backup to Jeff Teague in Atlanta. Once the Teague era ended, the Hawks, and Schroder's value, fell off a cliff. 

In 2015-16, the final year of Teague, Schroder carried a plus-7.5 Net Rating along with his career-best Defensive Rating of 95.9. In those two following seasons as the lead guard in Atlanta, Schroder was an overall minus-8.2 with an average DRTG of 109.3.

When Schroder returned to backup duty in Oklahoma City for both Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, his NET jumped up to plus-3.6 and plus-5.5 respectively.

Looking from the lens of plus-minus, 4 of his 5 worst seasons are his rookie campaign and every year he was the primary point guard. The evidence is there: He's not built to lead a team that way.

Through trial and error, the Celtics now know that, and are reportedly open to moving him (and other veterans) elsewhere to open up time for their young guys. So where/who do they turn to? Smart at the point alongside Brown, Tatum, Al Horford and Williams is a plus-17.6 NET with 324 total possessions per Cleaning the Glass. But can the group get it done in the fourth quarter?

If Ime Udoka and Stevens believe they can, then moves should be made to ensure the team's depth on the bench. If not, the Celtics need grab a floor general off the trade market. Here are some scenarios:

Memphis Grizzlies

Tyus Jones is arguably the best backup point guard in the NBA and the current leader in Assist-to-Turnover ratio among qualified players (5.40). The Grizzlies are who they are in large part due to his ability to run the bench unit, but also hold the fort down if Ja Morant misses time. 

So, why would Memphis do this? Well, the Grizzlies are not pressured to win the title this year. General manager Zach Kleiman has danced to the beat of his own drum, and will not accelerate his timeline simply because the team is ahead of schedule. Morant is due a rookie-scale max extension, and the Grizzlies will almost certainly have to fork over a near max to Desmond Bane when that time comes. On top of that, Jaren Jackson Jr. is already on the books for a $100 million extension, so money is tight in Memphis.

Kleiman is all about cashing in his assets; Memphis can't afford to pay Jones, so he could very well seek compensation now rather than let him walk in the offseason for nothing. Tyus will almost certainly be a starting point guard for someone next season, so Boston should look here first.

Memphis gets some expiring money back and a protected first-round pick for a player that would significantly help Boston's post season push. (It should be noted that Memphis may also try to get a hometown discount with Jones and keep him this offseason.)

Houston Rockets

Speaking of the Grizzlies, they once traded Chandler Parsons to the Atlanta Hawks for Solomon Hill and Miles Plumlee. A genius financial move by Memphis. Kleiman broke down the Parsons contract into two easier-to-move contracts to get Parsons off the books.

The motivation for Houston here would be similar. Schroder is an expiring deal that the Rockets could buy out immediately, while Horford could be shipped to a third team to be broken down even further. 

This issue with this trade on the Celtics' side is that Josh Richardson has been good for them, and while you upgrade the point guard position, the wing depth takes a hit. This is an all-in move for Boston that would most certainly be followed by either a trade for another wing or picking up a wing on the buyout market.

What does John Wall look like? Does he fit with Tatum and Brown? These are the questions that must be answered for this idea to even be kicked around. It's a rather unlikely scenario, but the market for quality point guards is quite dry. 

San Antonio Spurs

Here is your home-run swing. Bryan and I could not think of another available point guard (Malcolm Brogdon is ineligible to be moved) for Boston to pursue, so he mentioned this as a big swing. It may very well take more than two protected first-round picks — whether that is more picks or someone like Aaron Nesmith. The Spurs most likely have no interest in moving Murray this season, but for the right price, who knows. 

This would be a massive deal for the Celtics. They would get a perfect point guard to play alongside Tatum, Brown and Smart, as well as a veteran in Thaddeus Young, who is still waiting to pounce on an opportunity to play after a solid year in Chicago. Young is almost certainly going to be moved, and if the Celtics could land him with Murray, Boston — while not becoming title favorites — could fight its way out of the Play-In Tournament.

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Danny Ainge is no longer at the helm, so what will Stevens do in his first season running the show? This roster clearly needs an immediate makeover, and it starts with repairing the point guard position. 

Read Part II of this series, where Bryan Fonseca addressed the Celtics' frontcourt options in the trade market.

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