Things seemed a bit bleak for the Boston Celtics at the start of free agency. Kyrie Irving left for the Nets and it became clear in the early going that Al Horford wasn’t going to return. Boston’s fate changed when it locked up Kemba Walker. There was still reason to think the Celtics would take a step back, but instead, they are 25-8 and second in the Eastern Conference. DraftKings Sportsbook currently has Boston favored at +110 to finish with the best record in the Atlantic Division. What do the Celtics needs to make sure they close the season as well as they started?
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Update, Feb. 3: The Celtics are in the mix to acquire Clint Capela from the Houston Rockets. Boston has been in the market for some frontcourt depth, and it might have to fork up future first-round picks to acquire that.
Sources: The Atlanta Hawks remain a possible landing spot for Capela too. Rockets are pursuing first-round picks to flip into a deal for a wing player and another center. Robert Covington and Andre Iguodala are among several Houston targets. https://t.co/uWXqPqEx6T— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 3, 2020
Should the Celtics get involved in the Kyle Kuzma sweepstakes? Well, it’s not exactly a sweepstakes at this point, but Kuzma’s name has popped up in multiple reports in potential trade talks. If the Lakers decide to move Kuzma, they could be looking to get back players who can help out right now. That’s something the Celtics may not be able to afford, particularly when their best trade asset is Marcus Smart.
There’s no way Danny Ainge will deal Smart — let alone to the Lakers for Kuzma. However, the addition of Kuzma would add another big body in the front court and a true PF to the roster, something it lacks. A lineup of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma, while smallish, would be exciting to watch. Kuzma could also come off the bench and play PF, so Hayward and Tatum can play their true position of SF.
Update: A Starting Center
The Celtics have a dangerous lineup of wings they can throw out there, but generally, one of those five are on the bench, and Daniel Theis or Enes Kanter is in the game. Sometimes the big is even Grant Williams, which just leaves Boston to thin up front. Theis’ averages of 7.5 points and 6.0 rebounds are solid, but to compete with Joel Embiid and the 76ers and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, a defensive presence in the frontcourt will be required.
Boston has long been rumored to have interest in Kevin Love, but a more obtainable big from Cleveland could actually help the Celtics fill more needs. Tristan Thompson doesn’t fit in Brad Stevens’ system in the sense of having five capable shooters on the floor, but he does fill a huge void in the middle defensively. Thompson’s season averages of 12.9 points and 10.5 boards are both career-highs. The major hurdle to get around here for the Celtics will be adding Thompson’s $18-million contract, although it expires at season’s end.
— Julian Edlow
Scorer Off the Bench
The Celtics have one of the deeper teams in the league, making it hard to find a real hole in their roster. Even though Brad Stevens does a good job staggering minutes, it does seem they could use a player who could provide a scoring spark off the bench. Boston’s bench is scoring 27.9 points per game, which ranks 27th in the NBA. Enes Kanter occasionally has a good scoring night, but outside of him, there aren’t any scorers or players capable of creating their own offense coming off the bench. Related, there isn’t any perimeter shooting on the Celtics’ second unit. Brad Wanamaker leads the group by shooting 34.1% from three. Perhaps Marcus Smart can bounce back since he’s shooting just 31.5% from deep. He shot 36.4% last year, but that’s starting to look like an aberration since he shoots 31.1% from three for his career.
Good Health and Development of Youth
The biggest upgrade the Celtics can make is having everybody healthy. Gordon Hayward has had some of the worst injury luck in the NBA over the last few seasons and was forced to miss a month because of a fractured hand. In addition, Kemba Walker has missed a handful of games with the flu and Marcus Smart missed most of December because of an eye infection. Keeping these guys healthy as well as getting continued improvement from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should lead to more wins for Boston.