The moratorium period of 2017 NBA free agency is almost over, and soon all the Shams-bombs, Woj-bombs, Haynes-bombs and Player’s-Tribunebombs (the worst kind, although I’ll give this latest one an exception) will be confirmed on the official websites and social media accounts of the teams that signed or traded for the hottest commodities on the free-agent market.
And…the Boston Celtics…did a really good-ass job! It wasn’t perfect (because no one’s offseason is; even the Golden State Warriors resigned washed-ass, leg-whackin’ Zaza Pachulia and the sentient Van Wilder character Nick Young). Let’s break it down:
THE UNDISPUTED VICTORIES
Gordon Hayward: This one had been predicted years in advance, but that doesn’t make it any less positive for the Cs. That fade-headed paleface from Butler can ball, man. Hayward makes the team’s wing depth essentially unimpeachable, offering length that the Celtics backcourt and wing positions largely lacked. His scoring speaks for itself by both basic and advanced metrics. Let’s look at some of it now:
He’s also developed into a truly tough perimeter defender, with a defensive rating of 106 points per 100 possessions and 3.3 defensive win shares in 2016-17, per Basketball Reference. (The latter figure puts him in the NBA’s top 20 for that category, and he’s top-20 in OWS as well.)
(Just for fun, I’ll note that Isaiah Thomas was no. 2 in OWS, at 10.9–notably ahead of Russell Westbrook and behind only James Harden. Who says advanced stats don’t like I.T.?)
Jayson Tatum: CHIEF WOMAN RESPECTER CHECKING IN. I am not making light of this whatsoever–it’s legit incredible, IMO, that one of his off-court goals is to start a charitable foundation for single moms in need, in tribute to his own mother who raised him alone. But also, like, his footwork tho?
That is Very Good. Tatum, a Duke University one-and-done who’d always been viewed with enthusiasm and respect by draft analysts legit and amateur–but not the breathless amazement accorded Markelle Fultz or the hype surrounding Lonzo Ball (which at this point as reached “Drake album rollout” proportions)–already has an adept shot and post movements that’ll translate to the NBA. If he adds a big-league three to his shot repertoire, he can serve as a microwave scorer right away. He plans to be much more, and I think that’ll eventually happen. Once he adds a bit of muscle bulk to his lean frame and gets used to colliding with NBA bodies on a regular basis I see no reason why he couldn’t be a capable defender, based on accounts of his skill from college.
It’s undeniable that certain elite small forwards he’s facing, and even a few second-unit ones, will hang with his movements and shut him down. But Tatum seems, by all accounts, to be much like his predecessor at the no. 3 draft spot–a constant worker/relentless competitor bordering on asceticism with his discipline. And my oh my does he seem wholesome. In other words, not a member of the COMBAT MUSCLES division of the Celtics roster. But as in all life things, roster construction requires balance. Fadeward, Tatum, Jaylen and Al Horford are the devoted students and sensei, respectively, and Marcus Smart, Ante Zizic, the recently acquired Marcus Morris and the guy to be described below protect them. (Dudes like I.T. and Jae Crowder are combat-equipped but more likely to defuse a situation with a barb than a fist.)
Aron Baynes: I’ll admit that I was hoping for Dewayne Dedmon here. But the Celtics only had the room exception ($4.3 million) to work with, and Dedmon knew he could get more money elsewhere to fill the rebounding and shot-blocking role that Baynes took. (Although taking it with Atlanta for 2yr./$14mil seems like charting a course for a depressing period. Maybe Pop persuaded him to do it to throw poor Mike Budenholzer a bone, considering that Bud is about to field one of the league’s shittiest teams.)
Anyway. Aron Baynes! He’s fuckin huge! He got a ring with Pop! And while his tenure in San Antonio sometimes could be accurately characterized as “whiskey-drunk bull in a rancher’s antiques shop,” he developed more polish and discipline as the second-unit center on Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit squad. Baynes’s per-game stats aren’t exactly tantalizing, but the per-36 numbers–often much more illustrative when analyzing a bench player–really sing: 11 points, 10 boards, an assist and a block per 36 minutes. He’ll actually give Tristan Thompson something to worry about when the Cs play the Cavaliers, which is something Boston has sorely lacked since they entered real contention last year.
Marcus Morris: By all accounts, Marcus is both the less overall skilled and the less regularly volatile of the Morris twins–Markieff, his twin, is busy being a fuckhead on the Washington Wizards. But by the numbers, the only real drop-off between the two of them is rebounding–Markieff has the edge. Their scoring is almost identical, as is their assist rate. Markieff is a better percentage shooter from the field and beyond the arc, to be sure, but not by much, and certainly not by enough to risk the constant volatility ‘Kieff brings. (Yes, I’m well aware both are due in court for that alleged assault, and I’m sure Marcus got a few shots in, but ‘Kieff has quite a few more shitty incidents on his ledger.)
Anyway. While Marcus Morris isn’t a phenomenal rebounder, Crowder, Baynes and (hopefully) Zizic can pick up the slack there, and he’s proven as a skilled defender otherwise. Perhaps most importantly, he possesses the physicality and tenacity to reasonably defend LeBron James, who still reigns over this conference until otherwise deposed and whom will be even a contending Cs bogeyman until he isn’t. That’s why they brought Marcus here.
Supplementary draft picks and moves: I haven’t watched enough Summer League to speak fully to the abilities of Semi Ojeleye and Jabari Bird, but Bird is certainly a capable scorer when poorly defended (which he was, considering that the Celtics SL squad just beat Golden State by about 30 a few minutes ago) and Ojeleye has all of Celtics Twitter in an orgasmic fucking tizzy. I’ll take their word for it.
Also, Jae Crowder was the Celtic I least wanted traded of the three common trade targets, so I’m glad he’s still on my favorite squad. And I’m glad we kept him and still managed to bring in Hayward at the promised max price. Take that, jersey-burning Jazz fans.
Trading Avery Bradley: I know this was a necessary move to bring us the dude pictured above. I know that. And I think Danny Ainge traded him into a situation that he might not love precisely because he can leave ASAFP and get the near-max money he’s worth somewhere else, if that’s what he wants.
But how will we not miss this?
And, ahem, uh…just go to like the 3-minute mark; I can’t do the “start video from [insert point here]” YouTube function because of all the tears:
The advanced defensive metrics that love Hayward have always been *shrug* about A.B., which is odd because of how patently fantastic his D seems by the eye test (and what opposing guards from John Wall to Kyrie Irving have said, win or lose). So it’s unclear what the Bradley loss and Hayward addition will really do to the Celtics defense, which seesawed between amazing and egregious last year. But for me, what I’ll miss most about Bradley is his quiet intensity–he was as simultaneously precise and fierce as the hitman character in Le Samourai. (I’m aware that’s some Sam-Smith-in-The Jordan Rules-level of highfalutin metaphor, but bugger off, I’m bummed.) He exemplified every ounce of the concentrated fury on the hardwood that has distinguished great Celtic guards from Bob Cousy and Jo Jo White to Tiny Archibald, Ainge, Dennis Johnson and Rajon Rondo. He may never win a ring, but for me and many other Celtics fans, he was a damn champion no matter what.
Missing out on Paul George: I only mention this because of how cheap OKC got him for. Sabonis the younger, Victor Oladipo and not even a single pick? That Ainge’s reported offer (Jae Crowder, another starter-level player and three picks, at least one of which was the L.A./Sactown pick) was…a lot more. But whatever. Whether he wants to be the no. 1 option on a mid-pack Lakers team or really try something with the Thunder, there’s no need for more time pontificating about a player you (probably) did all you could to get.
Trading the no. 1 pick: I grow less and less puzzled by this trade each day, but it’s still something where the future is unwritten enough for me to call it an uncertainty. Fultz is almost definitely gonna be really good, and losing that always stings a bit. He also might not be the prince who was promised that draft/prospect nerds have painted him as. We shall see.
Isaiah: Emotionally speaking, I have a modest proposal for people who want to either trade I.T. or let him walk: they should take a long walk off a short pier, then attempt to have passionate sexual congress with a giant squid, a squid that resists this entreaty and tears its assailants to bloody death with its maw.
It’s true that the career arcs of Iverson and Calvin Murphy (particularly the former, though many other things were at play there) don’t inspire great confidence in the long-term production of shorter NBA dudes, Isaiah is 28. So the rational mind categorizes his future with the Celtics as an uncertainty, for purely objective reasons. But in my mind, Tiny Archibald’s career is as a solid counterpoint. And as someone who became so quickly beloved and such a key figure for the Cs and in Boston sports hierarchy, Isaiah’s earned the organization’s loyalty–and fuck what Kraft/Belichick or anyone else would do; these are billionaires who can afford luxury tax. That’s just me.
One thing is for certain: 2017-18 is going to be one hell of a fun season. See you there, folks.