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The Celtics made the first big move in the NBA this offseason on Friday, shipping out Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City for Al Horford and Moses Brown. They also gave the Thunder their 2021 first-round pick plus a future second-round pick in the deal.
Boston’s decision to move on from Walker and the $73 million he’s owed over the next two years was applauded by some NBA experts. One person that did like the trade for the Celtics was Kendrick Perkins. The former Celtics center turned NBA analyst believes moving on from Walker will allow Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown more opportunity to shine.
“Oh, I love it. I see Brad (Stevens) making power moves as soon as he steps foot in the office,” Perkins said on ESPN’s “First Take.” “I love it, and here’s why. He’s telling Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, ‘This is your team.’ Now you don’t have to worry about can Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, can they play together? Who’s going to share the ball? How can you make this work? We don’t have to worry about that.
“Bringing back Al Horford was huge. He’s loved by the Celtics’ fans, he’s respected by the organization, but most importantly, he brings value to that team. He stretches the floor. He’s a great leader. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum love ‘Big Al.’”
ESPN NBA insider Jackie MacMullan likes the reunion for Horford and the Celtics. In his first three years in Boston, Horford averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He was also named an All-Star in the 2017-18 season.
“I’ve said this a thousand times. For 90 percent of the players in the NBA, it’s all about fit,” MacMullan said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “Al Horford fit in Boston. They did not move on from him. He moved on from them and, as you know, went to Philadelphia. It was a terrible fit. Now that Horford’s back in Boston – and again we have to see about his knee because he’s had knee trouble – I envision him playing the 5 at some points. It’ll be interesting to see how things go with the roster moving forward. I don’t think the roster they have at this exact moment that they’ll start with next fall. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
A possible move MacMullan speculated was to trade one of the big men and/or Smart to fill the point guard void the Celtics now have.
Fellow ESPN NBA insider Marc Spears likes what Brown brings to the table for the Celtics.
“Let’s talk about that lede that’s buried by the Celtics in their press release (announcing the trade), not even in the headline or sub-headline: Moses Brown,” Spears said on “The Jump.” “I’m really excited for this pickup. He hard 15, 17-plus rebound games last season, the most by any player 21 or younger. He averaged 12.5 points, 12 rebounds in March. In his last game with the Thunder against the Clippers on May 16, he had 24 points, 18 rebounds, and seven blocks. They got a cheap diamond in the rough. A center they can probably groom and have for a long, long time. So, I think that was a sneaky little addition to the Celtics.”
Former NBA executive and The Athletic NBA writer John Hollinger believes that while going from Walker to Horford is a drop in talent, it creates some crucial financial flexibility for the Celtics this offseason. The Celtics will save roughly $10 million by swapping Walker’s contract for Horford’s and Brown’s.
“Replacing Walker’s salary with Horford’s creates a significant opportunity to replace his production in other places by reshaping the roster,” Hollinger wrote. “Boston sets itself up to do three things with this trade, two of which I would see as positives: Re-sign Evan Fournier; Use its taxpayer midlevel exception on a point guard; Trade anybody named Williams.”
ESPN NBA analyst Kevin Pelton isn’t as high on the trade for the Celtics, giving them a C-plus grade for the trade. One of his concerns is if the Celtics will play Horford at power forward due to the number of centers they have on the roster.
“Does Boston plan to use Horford as a power forward? The last team to try that, the Philadelphia 76ers, got burned badly,” Pelton wrote. “Philadelphia was outscored by 0.2 points per 100 possessions when Horford played alongside Joel Embiid — the biggest reason the Sixers quickly moved Horford to Oklahoma City after just one season — but had an impressive plus-5.8 net rating when he played center with Embiid off the court, per my analysis of lineup data from NBA Advanced Stats.”
As Pelton later notes, the Celtics did play Horford at center for the majority of the 2018-19 season, his last with the team. Still, with Robert Williams, Tristan Thompson, and Brown all being NBA-quality centers, whoever the next head coach is could have to play Horford at power forward from time to time.
Pelton’s other concern is who will play point guard for the Celtics now. Though Marcus Smart has played a considerable amount of time at that position over his career, Smart played more than two-thirds of his minutes with another ballhandler last season, according to Pelton. As of Friday, Payton Pritchard is the only other point guard on the Celtics’ roster for next season.
“From a basketball standpoint, I’m not sure Boston got any better with this deal,” Pelton concludes. “After accounting for the higher replacement level for centers than point guards, Walker was a more productive player in 2020-21 than Horford, and point guard is probably now a bigger need than center was for the Celtics beforehand. To make this deal work out, Boston will have to take full advantage of the cap flexibility it creates.”
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