The ejected Nets star would elevate Boston from title contender to perennial favourite.
BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics, who reached the NBA Finals for the first time in more than a decade last season, saw the competition improve in the early hours of free agency.
They watched as the 76ers signed P.J. Tucker and Danuel House while negotiating a more team-friendly contract with James Harden. They considered adding Joe Ingles to a Bucks team that pushed Boston to seven games in the conference playoffs while without All-Star guard Khris Middleton.
They saw the Hawks get Dejounte Murray, the Knicks sign Jalen Brunson, and the Wizards stock up on point guards to complement the newly re-signed Bradley Beal.
With the additions of Danilo Gallinari, who is expected to sign a two-year, $13 million contract with the Celtics next week, and Malcolm Brogdon, who was robbed, er, acquired from Indiana for a first-round pick and a slew of spare parts, Boston has done more than keep up with the competition—it has arguably pushed past them. A Finals squad that was eight deep in postseason talent is now ten deep with Brogdon, a tough, 6’5″ combo guard who will slot easily into the Celtics’ switch-heavy defensive tactics.
Critics will argue Brogdon is prone to injuries, and they will be correct. In three seasons with Indiana, he never played more than 56 games and missed more than half of last season. They’ll argue that Gallinari, at 33, is an inefficient scorer and a defensive liability, and they’ll have a point.
However, unlike in Indiana, the Celtics will not require Brogdon to be a primary scorer. Simply a good playmaker who also contributes on defence. And, while Boston’s pursuit of Gallinari feels like it has been going on for decades (ex-GM Danny Ainge’s interest in Gallinari dates back to his days in Denver), the Italian forward projects as an eighth or ninth man in a strong Celtics rotation.
This week, Kevin Durant requested a move, and the Nets have began the painful chore of fielding trade proposals for the franchise superstar. Rival executives familiar with the scenario told Sports Illustrated that Brooklyn’s asking price is high: two All-Stars and a slew of draught selections.
If a team lacks that, one executive stated, the answer has been “then, go out and get it.” Durant, 33, is one of the NBA’s top pure scorers, a perennial MVP contender with a skill set and work ethic that will allow his game to age nicely. The Nets have no need to tank—Houston owns Brooklyn’s first-round picks until 2027 thanks to the James Harden trade—and expect top dollar in any move.
The Celtics are one of only a few teams capable of doing so.
Would Boston be interested in Durant? Any Durant trade would start with the 25-year-old forward Jaylen Brown. Brown was an All-Star in 2021 and played like one in the second half of last season after overcoming injuries and the team-wide inconsistency that plagued the Celtics in the opening two months.
It would almost certainly entail draught picks—Boston gave up its 2023 first rounder for Brogdon and owes the Spurs a selection exchange from the Derrick White deal in 2028—and may necessitate the Celtics bringing in another non-Jayson Tatum player.
Boston is, albeit accidentally, prepared for this. If the Nets insist on Grant Williams, the Celtics have Gallinari, who will join a frontcourt rotation that includes Robert Williams and Al Horford, as well as Thomas Bryant, the ex-Wizards centre who allegedly has Boston on his radar.
The Celtics would naturally be hesitant to give up Marcus Smart, who surpassed expectations in his first year as a lead guard, but if Smart were to go, Brogdon, who averaged 21 points per game during the 2020-21 season, would be ready to take his spot.
Equally crucial is Durant’s desire to play in Boston. Durant has four years left on his deal, but no team would sign him without his permission. The Celtics were not on the first list of teams disclosed following the trade request. Durant did, however, allow Boston a free agency meeting in 2016.
He has a close relationship with Horford, who would have signed with Oklahoma City rather than Boston in 2016 if Durant had not committed to remaining. During the 2020-21 season, he was coached by Ime Udoka, a Nets assistant. His commercial interests are in New York, which may encourage a northeast site. And Durant is determined to win.
Breaking up a Finals squad is dangerous. Particularly if it has a lengthy shelf life. Brown has a two-year contract extension. Tatum has committed to at least three. Smart and Robert Williams’ four-year contracts are set to begin next season. Grant Williams, a revelation off the bench for Boston last season, is about to get his own contract deal. Horford is the lone significant player whose contract is coming to an end.