Brad Stevens is fully aware of what it costs the Celtics to be a championship contender - The Boston Globe (2024)

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The just-concluded draft was filled with unknowns, international prospects who may not be NBA ready, and college one-and-dones. There are very few certainties. The No. 1 overall pick, the Hawks’ Zaccharie Risacher, averaged 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds for Mincidelice JL Bourg in France.

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The Celtics decided on two 23-year-olds who could help immediately in Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman and Gonzaga’s Anton Watson and the hope is their experience will foster their adaption to the NBA. The Knicks, meanwhile, even traded away one of their two first-round picks on draft night.

Teams are not only ramping for championship contention but also doing salary-cap gymnastics to avoid the restraints of the first or second apron. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens is trying to prepare his team to defend their championship while watching as rivals such as the Knicks add to their roster.

“You saw a couple of moves today where people are setting themselves up to sign the next contract or to do things that can to dance around that second apron,” Stevens said. “Obviously, we’re projected to be a little bit above, but we projected to that last year when we made those trades and we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We just have to all navigate it.

“We all know the basketball penalties that are associated with it. We have to look at A) How are we going to be able to navigate that world from a financial standpoint, from a basketball standpoint, from a penalty standpoint, and B) Put the best roster together than you can.”

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Since Stevens’s first season (2013-14), the Celtics have reached the playoffs every year since. His goal is to continue this successful run despite the constraints. However, as long as the Celtics have high quality players, especially Tatum and Brown, the salary cap will be an issue.

“One of my main objectives is not to be, and it goes back 10 years, anything but sustainable, keep finding a way to sustainably put yourself in the mix for years, and years and years,” he said. “Doesn’t mean we’re not going to have a down year or rough year, maybe we don’t make the playoffs one year but it’s just not big dips. That what we would like. Hard to do because other teams are good, too.”

The salary-cap constraints puts even more of an emphasis on the draft. First-round draft picks can be contractually under control of teams for five years and the salaries of late first-round picks, such as Scheierman, aren’t comparable to the rising free agent salaries.

When you have two players such as Brown and Tatum who will earn more than $300 million each in their five-year contracts, landing big on draft picks will greatly help the Celtics continue to remain a title contender.

Related: Can the Celtics run it back without having to overspend? Breaking down the challenges of the luxury-tax apron.

“It’s super important though,” Stevens said of draft. “A lot of these teams, the Knicks included, stockpiled a bunch of picks they worked to get for a long time and each of these teams decide when they are going to cash those in. And they, obviously, have a great team and they felt like this was their time, and it sure looks like they’re going to be really, really good.”

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The hope is Scheierman and Watson will bolster the bench and eventually become quality role players at least.

“Obviously we haven’t had much draft picks in the first round in the last couple of years,” Steven said. “If you look at our roster this year and you look at our top eight guys, Jaylen and Jayson were drafted here, Payton [Pritchard] was drafted here and Sam Hauser was signed on draft night here. That is a critical component to building a team.

“We’ve had good runs before where we had even more drafted. It’s a balance but the draft is important, and, if you have a chance to get a really good player, it could make a huge difference. We’re hopeful that these two guys come in with the right mind-set. I have no doubt that they’ll have good careers and we look forward to playing a part in it.”

The Boston Celtics are NBA champions, a title years in the making

GRADE-A PICK

For Lakers, Knecht might be worth the wait

The Lakers not only landed Bronny James in the draft, they were able to nab perhaps the most polished offensive player on the board in Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht, who fell to 17 because he’s 23.

Knecht has the talent of a high lottery pick, but NBA teams have been dissuaded by older college players, despite the fact that many quality players have been using their COVID season in college, such as Celtic draftee Baylor Scheierman.

Knecht was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in his lone season with the Volunteers, averaging 21.7 points and shooting nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line. NBA clubs tend to believe players of his age have maxed out their potential, meaning they won’t get appreciably better.

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The Lakers need immediate offensive help and a swingman who can blend with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They’re not worried about age.

Knecht is a Colorado native who began his career at junior college before transferring to Northern Colorado of the Big Sky. Like Scheierman, who transferred from South Dakota State to Creighton, Knecht bet on himself and moved up to a power-five team for his final season.

Celtics guard Derrick White played at Division 2 Colorado-Colorado Springs before transferring to Colorado and was a first-round pick in 2017.

“I’d say my why is I feel like I’ve been underrated my whole entire life ever since I was coming out of high school, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, and to this day I’ll always have that chip on my shoulder to go out there and prove people wrong,” Knecht said. “I would say to all the kids out there that don’t have offers, you don’t have to be the highest-rated kid in your class or whatever. You could always go junior college or whatever type of route and be different. You can make your own path and find your way.”

The pressure is on immediately. The Lakers just hired JJ Redick as coach and expectations are to win now. James turns 40 in December and Davis, at 31, is perhaps entering the final years of his prime.

“It feels great, to play with one of the greats to ever touch a basketball. It’s going to be exciting to go put on a show for LA, “Knecht said. “I get to learn from one of the greatest in LeBron and AD to help me each step of the way on both sides of the floor. I’m excited just to go out there and compete.”

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James is not only a student of the game, but he follows college basketball closely. He mentioned Knecht during a postgame interview last season and it was duly noted.

“Yeah, I remember that clip. I woke up and rolled out of bed and I thought it was fake because tons of people were texting me. I was just like, there’s no way,” Knecht said. “When I watched that video, it just brought a smile to my face, and also my parents. They called me right away and told me about it. It’s going to be special and it’s going to be fun just to be sharing the court with both of them, AD and LeBron. LeBron is one of the greatest. So it’s going to be real special.”

Brad Stevens is fully aware of what it costs the Celtics to be a championship contender - The Boston Globe (1)

ETC.

Klay Thompson caught in Warriors’ window

The Warriors are trying to compile a competitive roster for one final NBA Finals run, but they have several issues to address. Klay Thompson is an unrestricted free agent and is open to going elsewhere, and the Warriors are trying to reduce their exorbitantly high tax bill as they try to capitalize on the final years of Stephen Curry’s prime.

The Warriors are still talking with Thompson, but when free agency hits, it may be too late.

“We want him back,” general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. said. “We’ve said that all along. Hopefully he’ll come back. But as far as the specifics and discussions and those types of things, I think it’s important to keep in-house and that stuff. When we figure out a solution to all that, we’ll have news for you.

“But to say a guy like Klay Thompson, who has meant so much to this franchise, to completely strip the emotion away from it, I think that’s almost impossible. But this is a business. We’ll talk through things and continue to talk through things. Like I said, we are hopeful, but, you know, we’ll see. We’ve got to figure things out.”

The Warriors and Thompson may not agree on his short-term future. Thompson believed he deserved a prominent role last season even though his performance didn’t show that. Other interested teams may promise Thompson not only a chance to start but to be a primary contributor. The Warriors want to get younger, giving Jonathan Kuminga a bigger role to pair with Curry. Thompson may not be ready to accept such a demotion.

“I think it’s the right thing that works for the franchise and player and the role he’s in,” Dunleavy said. “Factoring all those things in is what’s most important, and that’s kind of what’s taken place, what we are looking at. That’s as simple as it is. There’s probably going to be varying degrees of what that value is, but that’s on us and that’s on me to figure out what’s the right amount for our team.”

The Warriors are far from the team that beat the Celtics two years ago in the NBA Finals. Boston emerged as a power because of its emphasis on the 3-pointer, five-out offense, and an elite defense. The Warriors have struggled with age — Draymond Green and Thompson are 34 — the inconsistency of Andrew Wiggins, and the lack of a dominant big man.

“We are observing and seeing trends. We’re seeing what’s going on,” Dunleavy said about the just-concluded Finals. “Last year it was, ‘Oh, man, the game has changed.’ Big guys, [Nikola] Jokic, they won a championship. Have a dynamic guy like that.

“This year, I think there’s a lot of 3-point shooting and really good guard play defensively from the Boston guards. So you get all these new kinds of trends that are going in a certain direction. It’s good, but I think you have to also be mindful of it. There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat, and I think there’s a lot of ways to build a team. So you’ve got to go with what you have and what makes sense building around your group, and that’s kind of what we’ll look to do.”

The Warriors also have to determine what to do with the final year of Chris Paul’s contract. He is owed $30 million next season if the club picks up the option. It could also use the contract in a trade because it’s an expiring deal. Paul, 39, wasn’t the spark that the Warriors expected, and his value around the league is wavering. Dunleavy is trying to rebuild this club on the fly.

“I don’t think there’s one singular way to [retool the roster], but there are some good concepts and ideas around it,” he said. “At the core of it, it’s generally good defense, competitiveness, high IQ, toughness. Those types of things are really, really important. The skill stuff and position and architect-type things can vary. I think there’s a core base of things you need to win, and we’ll continue to pursue those.”

A key component for the Warriors’ short-term future could be swingman Moses Moody. At times, Moody has played like a rising prospect with a chance for a major role. But coach Steve Kerr has never given him consistent minutes, a point of contention for Warriors fans. Moody may be key to the team’s success next season.

“I saw with Moses growth in a lot of areas of the game,” Dunleavy said. “I think the biggest thing about him is you see just an unbelievable effort. When he gets put in the game, and for him, I think it was tough. His minutes waver up and down, which for any young player is challenging. But I know any time he went into the game, he brought an A-plus effort, which is huge. It’s something I know Steve could really rely on and appreciate.

“For us, the next step for Moses is more consistent minutes. Finding those minutes for him. We believe he can be a pretty quality wing. His ability to shoot the ball, he plays hard. He defends. I think his activity has gotten better, his awareness, as all young players do. I think there’s a bright future. I think there’s been a smaller sample size than we want. But that sample size has been good in terms of what he’s able to do, but we are hoping for more.”

Layups

The Clippers did not exactly show Paul George special treatment before he decided to opt out of the final year of his contract at $48.8 million. George, 34, wanted a four-year maximum contract extension, but the Clippers prefer to bring George back on a three-year deal at less than maximum. Now that he has opted out, George has a few options. Teams such as Orlando and Philadelphia could make max offers. George is eligible for up to four years and $212 million with other teams, while the Clippers can offer $221 million. The biggest development from George’s situation is the lack of interest from the Clippers to sign him to a max contact. The Clippers have not had the expected success with George and Kawhi Leonard as their cornerstones and may be leaning in a new direction as they open a new arena next season . . . The Celtics owned the 54th pick in the draft and were positioned to take Bronny James in front of the Lakers. While that would have been a risky move, as agent Rich Paul warned teams other than the Lakers against drafting the young James, there were some in the Celtics organization who pondered the possibilities of such a move. The Celtics could have taken James and then asked for a couple of second-round picks in exchange. There was never any serious consideration of using the pick on James, but the Celtics did interview him at the NBA Draft Combine and were impressed . . . The Nuggets are trying desperately to keep their core together for another playoff run, and they traded the salary of former Boston College standout Reggie Jackson to the Hornets, along with three second-round picks. Denver is trying to clear salary-cap space to potentially retain sharpshooter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who opted out of the final year of his contract and is a free agent. Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth said the team could fill Caldwell-Pope’s role with third-year swingman Christian Braun, but the preference is to have him back long term . . . The Celtics are trying to persuade third-year guard JD Davison to play on their summer league team. Davison can opt to be a free agent or return to the Celtics, who have to determine whether to offer him a standard NBA contract.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.

Brad Stevens is fully aware of what it costs the Celtics to be a championship contender - The Boston Globe (2024)
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