BOSTON — In the hours of free agency, the Celtics, NBA finalists for the first time in more than a decade last season, saw the competition improve. They saw the 76ers add PJ Tucker and Danuel House while moving toward a friendlier deal with James Harden. They watched the Bucks add Joe Ingles to a team that pushed Boston to seven games in the conference semifinals — without All-Star guard Khris Middleton. They watched as the Hawks traded for Dejounte Murray, the Knicks signed Jalen Brunson and the Wizards sourced point guards to play the newly re-signed Bradley Beal.
Thursday, the Celtics remained silent.
On Friday they struck.
In Danilo Gallinari, who would sign a two-year, $13 million contract with the Celtics next week, and Malcolm Brogdon, who was robbed, uh, acquired from Indiana for a first-round pick and a coin collection spare, Boston more than kept pace with the competition – it arguably passed them. One team – one Finals the team-eight deep with trustworthy playoff talent now moves to 10 with Brogdon, a physical 6’5” combo guard who will fit right into the Celtics’ defensive schemes.
Critics will say Brogdon is injury prone, and they’re right. He never played more than 56 games in three seasons with Indiana, missing more than half of last season. They’ll say Gallinari, at 33, is an ineffective scorer and defensive liability, and there’s merit in that. But the Celtics won’t ask Brogdon to be a primary scorer, like he was at Indiana. Just a solid playmaker who contributes to the defense. And while Boston’s pursuit of Gallinari appears to be decades-long – former general manager Danny Ainge’s interest in Gallinari dates back to his days in Denver – the Italian striker projects himself as the eighth or ninth man in a rotation. deep from the Celtics.
Boston has improved.
And that may not happen.
Kevin Durant requested a trade this week, and the Nets began the unenviable task of making offers for the franchise superstar. The asking price in Brooklyn, said rival executives familiar with the situation Sports Illustrated, is steep: two All-Star-caliber talents and a cache of draft picks. If a team doesn’t have that, one executive said, the response has been “well, go out there and get it.” At 33, Durant is among the NBA’s top pure scorers, a perennial MVP candidate with a skill set and work ethic that should allow his game to age well. The Nets have no incentive to tank — Houston, thanks to the James Harden deal, controls Brooklyn’s first-round picks through 2027 — and want added value in any trade.
The Celtics are one of a handful of teams that can give it to them.
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Would Boston want Durant? Any Durant deal would start with Jaylen Brown, the 25-year-old forward. Brown was an All-Star in 2021 and play as an All-Star in the second half of last season, having overcome injuries and team-wide inconsistency that plagued the Celtics in the first two months of the season. That would undoubtedly include draft picks — Boston traded their 2023 first-rounder for Brogdon and owe Spurs a pick trade from the Derrick White deal in 2028 — and could force the Celtics to add another non-Jayson Tatum player. to the mixture.
Boston, if unwittingly, is prepared for this. If the Nets insist on Grant Williams, the Celtics have Gallinari, who joins a forward rotation of Robert Williams and Al Horford and could include Thomas Bryant, the former Wizards center who has Boston on his shortlist. The Celtics, understandably, would resist dropping Marcus Smart, who exceeded expectations in his first year as a primary guard, but if Smart were to leave, Brogdon, who averaged 21 points per game over the course of the 2020-21 season, is there to replace him. .
Equally important: Would Durant want to play in Boston? Durant has four years left on his contract, but no team acquires the ex-MVP without his blessing. The Celtics were not on the initial list of teams disclosed after the trade request. But Durant granted Boston a free agency reunion in 2016. He has a solid relationship with Horford, who might have signed with Oklahoma City, not Boston, in 2016 had Durant committed to staying there. He was coached by Nets assistant Ime Udoka during the 20-21 season. His business interests are in New York, perhaps prompting a northeast location. And Durant wants to win.
Breaking up a team in the final is risky. Especially one with a long lifespan. Brown is contracted for two more seasons. Tatum is locked up for at least three. Smart and Robert Williams’ four-year contract extensions will begin next season. Grant Williams, a revelation for Boston off the bench last season, is in the running for an extension. Horford is the only key player on an expiring contract.
The Celtics don’t need Durant to compete for the championships.
But do they need him to win one?
Think about it: Durant is a tried and true playoff performer with two titles — and a pair of Finals MVPs — on his resume. Against Golden State, the Celtics’ offense often stalled. Durant responds to this. They struggled to score in the half-court, turning the ball over at comical pace. Pair Durant with Tatum and that problem largely goes away as well. With Durant, Boston’s championship window would shrink. Three seasons. Maybe four. But they would be a title favorite, maybe the favorite title, in all of them.
The Kevin Durant draw has begun.
Let’s see if the Celtics jump in.
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