What Boston Celtics signaled through Jaden Springer and Xavier Tillman trades

The Boston Celtics didn't do anything drastic at the trade deadline, but the around-the-margins trades they made signaled quite a bit about their team makeup and their plans
Jan 9, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Xavier Tillman (2) warms up
Jan 9, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Xavier Tillman (2) warms up / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics didn't have to do anything during the NBA Trade Deadline. They had the NBA's best record, had a mostly clean bill of health, and, per Tankathon, they have one of the easiest schedules from this point forward. But instead, they came away with Xavier Tillman and Jaden Springer.

Those two aren't game-changers necessarily, but it's not like the Cs went hunting for exactly that kind of player archetype knowing their limited assets. Nonetheless, the reaction to those moves seemed to be unanimously positive.

Both Tillman and Springer have reputations for how useful they are, mostly on the defensive side. Tillman is the more proven option of the two, but Springer has flashed his obvious potential as a shutdown wing defender. Better yet, the Celtics acquired two players whose futures since they'll have Tillman's Bird Rights this coming offseason while Springer is in the third year of his rookie contract.

Since the Cs acquired them, they haven't played, and likely because Boston wants to familiarize their new players with how they run things first before putting them on the court. It's a tale as old as time that mid-season acquisitions have an adjustment period. It seems like a distant memory now, but we all remember how Derrick White looked like a deer in the headlights (offensively) when he first came to Boston.

However, getting past what exactly the Boston Celtics acquired in Tillman and Springer and what to expect from them from here on out, the team made other signals through what they did at the trade deadline.

Don't expect Luke Kornet to get any playoff minutes for Boston Celtics

For all intents and purposes, Luke Kornet's development as a reliable rotation center has become one of the Celtics' more understated subplots. Shooting 78% around the rim this season reflects how good he's become as a finisher. That's further echoed by his career-high true shooting percentage of 72.3%. The Celtics' defensive rating is 112.2 when he's on the floor compared to 109.2 when he's off, per NBA.com. On the surface, that would make him look bad. However, a 112.2 defensive rating ranks just behind the Magic for the No. 6 defensive rating in the NBA, per NBA.com, so even if the Celtics' defense is worse when he's in, it's still excellent. And we don't have to delve into the vibes he brings.

Alas, Kornet is an unproven commodity in the playoffs. The Celtics have hardly ever given him any actual playoff shine, indicating that they don't trust him. Acquiring Tillman, who has much more playoff experience than Kornet, further cements the idea that they still don't. Tillman also gives them more defensive versatility that Kornet, as impressive as he's been, doesn't provide.

Rotations inevitably shrink once the playoffs start. The Boston Celtics would have given the majority of their frontcourt minutes to Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford, which means that Kornet would have been phased out anyway. Any doubt regarding that sentiment has now been evaporated with Tillman in the picture. Luke Kornet has proven himself a reliable innings eater during the regular season. Frankly, that's all the Celtics needed from him.

Brad Stevens did now view bench scoring as pressing need for Boston Celtics

Before the trade deadline passed, Yahoo Sports' Jake Fischer reported that the Celtics had an interest in Lonnie Walker IV. Walker's appeal was evident, as he's shaped himself up as a bench scorer who is efficient in his role. The 11.5 points he's averaged this isn't a milestone for him, but the 47.4/43.3/76.1 shooting splits show that Walker is a scoring threat. Alas, the Celtics didn't come away with him. Whether it was because the Nets valued him too much or the Celtics didn't believe he was worth the asking price, the headline is the Celtics didn't get a bench scorer, period.

This would seem like a problem, as the Celtics have the third-lowest scoring bench in the league, per NBA.com. However, while having a shot creator in the second unit has its perks, it's not always necessary for teams trying to win. Despite the low scoring output, the Celtics bench has the highest net rating out of all benches in the NBA, per NBA.com, at plus-5.3.

It's true, Boston doesn't possess a bucket-getter in the second unit. But they're not asking Al Horford, Sam Hauser, and Payton Pritchard to play like that. They simply want those guys to play roles as connectors. Seeing how high their net rating is as a second unit, they're performing wonderfully in that role. Again, Walker would have been a nice weapon to have, and the Celtics benefited greatly from Malcolm Brogdon's presence last season, but Brad Stevens

Boston Celtics have failsafe in case Payton Pritchard is a problem

Without trying to repeat myself, it goes without saying that Payton Pritchard has also been quite good in his expanded role for the Celtics this season. Unlike Lonnie Walker, Pritchard isn't necessarily a second-unit scoring spark, but he brings a lot of attributes that make him a connector. He's a good floor-spacer, a smart decision-maker, has a nose for the boards despite his small stature, and competes enough on defense to not be a net negative.

Unfortunately, the playoffs have been and always will be a completely different ballgame. That means teams will target Pritchard due to his size. Pritchard proved in 2022 that he could help the Celtics in the postseason, but there have been times when Celtics' opponents had success going right at him in the exact same circumstances. Remember when Jimmy Butler kept attacking him in the brief time he showed up in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals? There's no reason for opponents to try that again. Luckily, this is where Springer comes into play.

Springer has not proven much in the NBA. But he left a good enough impression for Sixers fans to believe in his potential. Seriously, check out how Sixers fans responded to the trade in the quote tweets responding to Woj's report about the Celtics acquiring the Sixers' former first-round pick. They're furious that Springer is now a Celtic. Looking at some of his last defensive highlights as a Sixer, you see where they're coming from.

It would have been a risk going into the playoffs having only Pritchard as Boston's only proven guard on their bench. Springer is much less proven than Pritchard, but he has the makings of a shutdown defender with his already stout defense. For now, he doesn't compare to Pritchard on the offensive end, but if Fast-PP proves to hurt the Celtics on the defensive side, that's where Springer can slide in.

Boston Celtics won't be player on buyout market

Last week, I wrote about how, even if the Celtics had an interest in bringing back Danilo Gallinari, a reunion would be difficult to fathom. While the Cs would allow him to win a title, he would probably prefer to play for a team that would play him on top of that. Ergo, he's a Milwaukee Buck (don't laugh).

Here's another spoiler: that's the same reason all the other "hot" buyout targets chose where they went. Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Lowry, Thaddeus Young, and Delon Wright all ended up with teams that would give them a role in their rotation. Boston can't provide that to anyone.

To further elaborate on why Boston probably won't add anyone significant from the buyout market, let's go back to the buyout season circa 2016. Remember when everyone thought Joe Johnson was crazy to pick the Heat over the Cavaliers after the Nets bought him? On the one hand, had he signed with the Cavaliers, he'd have an NBA championship to his name. On the other, playing for the Heat gave Johnson a starting role on a playoff team. Doing so paved the way for him to get one last big contract before his career ended. That likely would not have been the case in Cleveland as they wouldn't have had to rely on Johnson as much as Miami did.

That's what the cream-of-the-crop mid-season buyout players prioritize most: proving that they still belong in the NBA. Boston can't give that opportunity to anyone right now. They have a winning formula with their rotation and just added two guys who have been regarded as excellent reinforcements in case something goes wrong. For that reason, don't expect Danuel House, Furkan Korkmaz, or Otto Porter Jr. to sign with Boston unless they have literally no other options. It's likely that they will.

If the Celtics wind up filling that last roster spot, expect it to be someone who simply wants to still be in the NBA and/or wants a title, even if it means never seeing the floor. Don't be shocked if it's someone like Danny Green (good locker room guy who's been to the finals), TJ Warren (they worked him out during the 2023 NBA offseason), or, dare I say it, Blake Griffin. None of those guys will demand minutes and will only serve as good locker room presences.