The summer of 2019 saw a major shake-up from the Boston Celtics. Of course, Kyrie Irving skipped town to join the Brooklyn Nets. Boston was then able to replace Irving by landing Kemba Walker, luring him away from the Charlotte Hornets. That free agency period also saw the departure of Al Horford — who joined the rival Philadelphia 76ers.
Horford’s exit was a costly one for a handful of reasons.
First and foremost, the big man had been crucial to the team’s success since he joined in the summer of 2016. Boston had fought their way to the Eastern Conference Finals in both 2017 and 2018, partly because of Horford’s excellence on both ends. He played a major role in the 2018 run, defending younger versions of both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid, along the way.
Boston knew the significance of the loss, and tried to fill the void by signing Enes Kanter (now Freedom) to a two-year $9.5 million contract.
It didn’t really work out.
Kanter appeared in 58 games for the Cs in 2019-20, starting in seven of them. He played just 16.9 minutes each contest, unable to stick in the rotation due to his defensive limitations. Plus, Boston was bounced in the Eastern Conference Finals, largely because of a lack of help protecting the rim as Bam Adebayo tore them to shreds.
Boston Celtics give up Desmond Bane draft pick to offload Enes Kanter
Months later, Kanter was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a three-team deal. A deal that saw the Celtics part ways with their No. 30 overall pick — which became Desmond Bane.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps pointed out that domino effect in a recent article regarding the league’s top “what-ifs.”
“In addition, having Horford on the roster means Boston doesn’t need to sign Enes Kanter (now Enes Freedom),” Bontemps wrote. “In turn, that means the Celtics keep the 30th pick in the 2020 draft, rather than trading it to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a Kanter salary dump. The player taken with that pick? Desmond Bane.”
There’s no guarantee that Bane’s young career would’ve played out the same in Boston, but he’s made some great strides in his first few seasons.
The 25-year-old has averaged 16.1 points per game with Memphis, shooting 46.9% from the field and 42.5% from beyond the arc. Those numbers have been enough for the Grizzlies to sign him to a five-year, $197 million contract extension.
If Horford never skipped town, that talent could be fighting for an NBA Championship alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.