The Boston Celtics have bounced back after their 0-2 start, running the Rockets and Hornets off their homecourts to knot their record at two wins and losses apiece. Jayson Tatum is rounding into MVP form, Jaylen Brown has improved yet again, Robert Williams looks worth every penny of his extension, and Dennis Schroder is starting to look like the bargain the Cs got him for.
There have been tons of takeaways through four of the 82 games yet to come, but the Celtics forward core has produced the spiciest of the group.
Coming into the season, we knew the Boston Celtics would have a surplus of talent at the two forward slots. Some thought this would be a strength, and others thought it would be a weakness.
So far, it’s been a little bit of both.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown look like the All-Stars we knew they’d be, and Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, and Josh Richardson are playing like rotational caliber players. But, that leaves Aaron Nesmith, Jabari Parker, Juancho Hernangomez, and Sam Hauser out of the rotation.
Let’s talk about what Ime Udoka and Brad Stevens can do to alleviate this log jam at forward and which forwards on the market you can expect the Boston Celtics to pursue.
First and foremost, having a log jam as the Cs have is not bad. For the first time in a while, the Celts have depth beyond their starting five and can count on different players to produce night in and night out.
However, as we get deeper into the season, the Celtics will have to decide who gets to stay and who has to go. Through four games, it’s impossible to say who will be safe versus who won’t, but we can make a decent guess using what we’ve seen from Udoka so far and what we already know about Stevens.
Ime Udoka has shown nothing but love for Grant Williams since he’s arrived in Boston. He’s used Williams as a four beside Robert Williams and Horford but has also entrusted him at the five in smaller lineups.
Although those small lineups have given up a lot of second-chance points, they’ve produced good offensive possessions for the most part. Based on Udoka’s high usage from Williams and Stevens’ historical liking to him, we can safely assume Grant Williams will remain on the team past the deadline.
Everyone else, however, is still fighting for stability. Jabari Parker made the most of his minutes against Charlotte, scoring 13 points on eight shots and hitting a couple of threes, but he was barely touching the floor before that. The same goes for Hernangomez, who played just four minutes last night. I expect Parker’s minutes to ramp up a bit after last night, but neither are going to be safe from the open market so long as Williams is playing the way he’s playing.
There’s currently a three-way battle between Romeo Langford, J-Rich, and Aaron Nesmith for minutes behind Brown and Tatum. Richardson and Langford are beating Nesmith out with ease for now, but all three are yet to crack consistent rotational minutes. Considering who they are playing behind, it’s not surprising that Udoka isn’t giving them heavy minutes, but as we get into the season, he will need to choose.
Richardson is the oldest of the three, and Stevens has been a long-time fan of his. However, he’s the worst shooter and overall scorer of the three. Langford has shown the most promise of the three but has already missed two games with an injury. Nesmith was believed to become the best of the three this season but is yet to find his shot and therefore find his place in the rotation.
If Nesmith’s shot returns to its April 2021 form, I think he’s a lock for that wing spot behind the ‘Jays’. If it doesn’t, and Richardson can find a way to get to the rim more while being a reliable outside threat, then Nesmith is out, and Richardson is in.
If Langford’s spot-up holds up and he can stay healthy, he could beat both out. It’s too early to tell what will happen, but the outcome will be the same no matter who wins over the role.
Harrison Barnes and Terrence Ross are two names that seem to make headlines at every deadline but never get dealt. That might remain true this season, but as Barnes’ value reaches its peak and the Magic attempt to tank, it’s unlikely either veteran remains with their current group.
Harrison Barnes would be a terrific fit with this current Boston Celtics starting five. He provides outside shooting, ancillary shot creation, advantage playmaking, and outstanding extra passing along with high-level point of attack defense.
At six-foot-eight his skill sets increase in value as Udoka can overwhelm other teams with length and speed between Smart, Brown, Barnes, Tatum, and Williams. The idea of Barnes on the Celtics is crazy to think about.
However, Barnes is owed about $20 million this season, a fair but steep price tag the Celtics will have trouble matching. Brad Stevens has already dipped into the tax and would have to do so again to acquire Barnes without giving up Smart or Williams. As much as I’d like to see the Celts reach for Barnes, it’s unlikely they end up with the seasoned vet after the deadline.
That leaves Terrence Ross, the human torch, out of place. Ross can give the Boston Celtics some much-needed outside shooting and can be a boom or bust shot creator on a game-to-game basis. He’s got good size, and he’s only owed $11 million this season. The Cs could use Richardson and attach a pick to get the Orlando Magic to bite, and in return, get a better backup wing to their two stars.
I highly doubt the Boston Celtics stand pat at this year’s deadline. They have too many moving parts that will be finalized well before the deadline, leaving an abundance of guys receiving DNP-CD’s when they could be somewhere else playing rotational minutes.
It’s up to Udoka to let Stevens know who these guys are, and it’s up to Stevens to find a team that is willing to give up something of value for them. I think those two teams could be Sacramento or Orlando, but you never know who is watching in the NBA.