October 4, 2022

Ten days ago, Brad Stevens was asked if Boston Celtics ownership had given him the green light to use a bulky trade exception and spend in the luxury tax to bolster the roster for the 2022-23 season.

“We have the green light to do whatever we need to do,” Stevens said.

And he wasn’t kidding.

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The Celtics pulled out their checkbooks on Friday while making a late but undeniably big entry into free agency. Boston dangled the full middle tier of taxpayers to remove point guard Danilo Gallinari from the waiver wire, then flipped the entire end of their bench, along with a 2023 first-round pick, to Indiana in exchange of expensive playmaker Malcolm Brogdon.

Boston is now about $17 million over the tax line with just 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 18 banner last season.

And the Celtics still haven’t touched the $17.1 million exception traded by Evan Fournier. They might not even use the majority of it until July 18, but it’s still a plus for roster building.

If it does eventually vaporize, there should be no consternation. Making the jaw-dropping trade to land Brogdon, adding a big ballhandler with defensive versatility, the Celtics recognized a few holes in last year’s roster and shouted they expected be back in the title mix next season.

Vegas’ chances immediately propelled them into co-favorites for the NBA title.

During the Brogdon landing, President of Basketball Operations Stevens retrieved the only fish that Danny Ainge has ever lamented. The Celtics were bullish on Brogdon in the 2016 draft, but eventually traded a pair of second-round first-round picks for a 2019 first-round pick. Ainge would later lament not using one to hit Brogdon, who went 36th to the Bucks.

Half a decade later, the Celtics’ willingness to take Brogdon’s long-term money opened a way to acquire him cheaply. The Celtics sent Daniel Theis, whose $8.5 million salary was too much for a third center; Aaron Nesmith, who shot 25.4% on all 3-pointers in his sophomore season; a bunch of end-of-the-bench plays better known for their celebrations than their game; and a 2023 first-round pick who should project somewhere in the 26-30 spots.

Brogdon has a long injury history and has played in just 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 has been willing to splurge on first-round picks to secure players who fit Boston’s style of play and are under control for the long haul. Call him Bold Brad. Brogdon’s securing 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 handed out 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 have essentially given away their ninth and 10th man for a player who immediately slots into an already loaded top 6.

That comes with a high salary cost, but Boston saw the value in depth and expense while watching the Golden State Warriors emerge in the 2022 Finals.

The Celtics still need to fill at least three vacancies on the roster (and fill their two-way slots). But Boston’s depth chart at the moment looks like:

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

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

You can quibble, if you like, about Brogdon’s prospects for a tenured role. It’s certainly possible but Boston had the best starting 5 in the NBA last season. If this is the roster the Celtics carry into the new season, there’s a big chance of limiting wear and tear on the core, especially 36-year-old Horford, by using the new depth and versatility.

Boston could still use a third-string center with some weight. Brogdon should help provide another wing defender to relieve the stress on Tatum and Brown.

Getting Brogdon at such a low price based on outgoing assets made the decision to splurge a lot easier. Likewise, watching Eastern rivals charge 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 great playmaker that Smart’s haters have been coveting for a while. The Celtics can now have the best of both worlds, with Smart having proven he can be quarterback and offensive, but also able to share those reigns with Brogdon, who can play both guard positions.

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

When the rotation crunches in the playoffs, it seems more likely the Celtics will rely more on Brogdon than Gallinari. But Boston’s lack of a bench offense was such a glaring weakness in this year’s run that the soon-to-be 34-year-old sniper could be an important depth option.

The Celtics are currently looking at a potential tax bill of more than $35 million, given escalations based on total expenses. This group needs to prove they can be a surefire contender again throughout the new season in order to justify fulfilling those many large contracts (six players north of $16.4 million).

Boston didn’t just add a ninth or 10th man. Getting Brogdon at such a low price based on outgoing assets made the decision to splurge a lot easier. Likewise, watching Eastern rivals charge 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 watch the Kevin Durant draft – they have the contracts and enough future picks to continue in the process, although it’s more likely they’re just trying to help Kevin Durant’s relocation process. Durant with their TPE and get other assets from the process. Friday’s spending makes it harder to take large sums of money, but not impossible.

Because on Friday, the Celtics proved they were willing to pay to play for the 18 banner, especially after it slipped through their fingers last month.