Daredevil Brad Stevens helps Celtics make stylish slow-and-power entry into offseason

Forsberg: Daredevil Brad takes offseason fashionably slow and hard originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Ten days ago, Brad Stevens was asked if ownership of the Boston Celtics gave him the right to use a hefty trade exception and spend on the luxury tax to bolster the roster for the 2022-23 season.

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

And he wasn’t kidding.

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The Celtics broke their checkbooks on Friday while making a fashionably slow but undeniably grand entrance into free agency. Boston opened up the middle tier of the taxpayers to land forward Danilo Gallinari off the waiver wire, then flipped the entire end of its bench, along with a 2023 first-round pick, to Indiana in exchange for high-priced point guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Boston is now about $17 million over the tax cap with only 11 players signed for next season. But the two veteran additions leave Boston much deeper and more versatile than the team that finished two wins short of the Banner 18 last season.

And the Celtics have yet to touch Evan Fournier’s $17.1 million tradeable exception. They might not even use most of it before July 18, but it remains a roster-building asset.

If it eventually evaporates, there should be no concern. By making the impressive trade to land Brogdon, adding a big ball-handler with defensive versatility, the Celtics acknowledged some holes on last year’s roster and shouted that they expect to be back in the title mix next season.

Vegas’ odds instantly catapulted them to co-favorites for the NBA title.

When Brogdon landed, president of basketball operations Stevens brought the one fish Danny Ainge always mourned the loss of. The Celtics were bullish on Brogdon during the 2016 draft, but ended up trading a pair of early second-round picks for a 2019 first-rounder. Agee would later lament not using one to take a swing at 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 get him on the cheap. The Celtics sent Daniel Theis, whose $8.5 million salary was excessive for a third-string center. Aaron Nesmith, who shot 25.4 percent on all 3-pointers in his second season. a bunch of end-of-the-bench pieces known more for their celebrations than their play. and a 2023 first-round pick that should be projected somewhere in the 26-30 spots.

Brogdon has a long injury history and has only played in 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 through the 2024-25 season.

But Stevens was willing to trade first-round picks to secure players who fit Boston’s style of play and are under long-term control. Call bold Brad. Securing Brogdon comes five months after Boston used a 2022 first-round pick as part of a package to land Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs.

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

The Pacers, in rebuilding mode, can give Nesmith the minutes he needs to develop, but the Celtics essentially traded away the ninth and 10th players for a player who immediately steps into an already loaded top 6.

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

The Celtics still need to fill at least three roster spots (and fill the 2-way spots). But Boston’s depth chart right now looks like this:

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

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

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

Boston could still use a third-string center with some weight. Brogdon should help provide another edge defender to take the pressure off Tatum and Brown.

Acquiring Brogdon at such a discount cost based on outgoing assets made the decision to wear down that much easier. So is 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 kind of big playmaker smart haters have been craving for a while. The Celtics can now have the best of both worlds with Smart having proven that he can get into the offense and attack, but also able to share those dominances with Brogdon, who can play both positions guard.

Brogdon’s injury history makes it a luxury to have someone like White in a backup role as well. The depth chart is a bit congested for Pritchard, whose role was reduced early last year when the Celtics signed Dennis Schroder, but if Ime Udoka embraces his new depth, there are minutes to keep fresh throughout Boston’s top 10 during an 82-game season.

When the rotation is critical in the playoffs, the Celtics are more likely to lean on Brogdon than Gallinari. But Boston’s lack of bench offense has been such a glaring weakness during this season that the soon-to-be 34-year-old shooting guard could be an important depth option.

The Celtics are currently looking at a potential luxury tax bill of $35 million-plus given the escalators based on total spending. This group needs to prove they can be a surefire contender again throughout the new season in order to justify taking on such hefty contracts (six players north of $16.4 million).

Boston wasn’t content to just add a ninth or 10th man. Acquiring Brogdon at such a discount cost based on outgoing assets made the decision to wear down that much easier. So is 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 pursue the Kevin Durant sweepstakes — they have the contracts and enough future picks to stay in the process, though it’s more likely they’ll just try to help the Durant relocation process with their TPE and win further evidence from the process. Friday spending makes it harder to take on a lot of money, but not impossible.

Because on Friday the Celtics proved they’re willing to pay to play to secure Banner 18, especially after it slipped through their fingers last month.

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