Offseason Preview: Atlantic Division
Over the next several days, I’m going to go division-by-division through the league and lay out what decisions need to be made and what’s at stake for each NBA team this offseason. We’ll start today with the Atlantic Division, then move to the Central, Southeast, Pacific, Northwest, and Southwest.
Without further ado…
Key Potential FA: Grant Williams (RFA)
Big Decisions: Jaylen Brown extension, Kristaps Porzingis extension, Williams RFA, Horford-Time Lord-Porzingis and White-Brogdon-Pritchard trios
Boston has obviously already made a significant move this offseason with the Marcus Smart-Kristaps Porzingis swap.
It’s a deal that fundamentally changes the nature of the team, and it will have obvious ramifications both on and off the court. Smart was often described as the “heart and soul” of the Celtics over the past several years, and I think that was both a good and bad thing. The team took on his personality in more ways than one. That meant they typically locked in on defense and competed incredibly hard, but it also meant they were very inconsistent — especially on offense — and prone to ridiculous turnovers at inopportune times.
Still, swapping out Smart will surely make the team’s backcourt defense worse, even if you think Payton Pritchard is a quality rotation player. His absence also robs the Celtics of a player who has probably been their best distributor in recent seasons. (Porzingis is a negative as a passer and might actually exacerbate some of Boston’s offensive issues, even while he solves some others.) It therefore feels like another move has to be coming, with one or more of Al Horford, Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, and Pritchard heading out the door in exchange for either a more passing-focused guard option or another rotation wing. (MassLive’s Brian Robb reported before the draft that Boston “is far from done,” and that makes a lot of sense.)
It’s also possible that Grant Williams could be used to acquire that player, either via a sign-and-trade as a restricted free agent or through re-signing him to a player-friendly deal and then moving him for a better fit at the deadline or next summer. (As Danny Leroux and Keith Smith discussed on a recent Real GM Radio episode, we might see high-salary teams like the Celtics re-sign rotation players to deals that look like overpays simply do they can take back more salary in trades later. With the salary-matching rules changing in the future, it will be important to have salaries large enough to accommodate quality talent coming back in return.) I know there’s been speculation that Grant is on his way out the door in the wake of the Porzingis deal, but Boston letting him leave and getting nothing in return would be poor asset management. It seems much more likely that he’s sign-and-traded or retained to be traded later. (Having already traded Smart and possibly dealing with an injury to Brogdon also leaves the Celtics short at least one player who can defend wings, making retaining Williams — at least for now — even more important.)
Hanging over all of this is the decision of whether or not to hand Brown a super-max extension.
If the Celtics don’t make the offer, it’s a signal that Brown will be gone very soon, and it kind of torpedoes any leverage they’d have if they decide they do want to trade him. Even if they don’t plan on keeping him long term, signing him to the extension seems like a wiser move than allowing him to play out the year and head into free agency next offseason. He almost surely has more trade value signed for five more years than he does on an expiring deal, simply because the universe of teams willing to make a move for him would grow if they know he’s under contract through his prime instead of able to test free agency in a few months. The super-max is an absolute ton of money, but any contract is tradable in the right situation and as more and more players sign these big deals, they won’t seem like as much of an outlier.
It’s already been reported that Boston would like to sign Porzingis to an extension, and that he’d like to sign one. His skill set means he can fit alongside either Horford or Time Lord, or play as the lone big man on the floor with Jayson Tatum at the four. Given his age and ability to both protect the rim and space the floor, it does seem like a good idea to get the reported (by Marc Stein) two years tacked onto the current deal. Doing so would mean the Celtics have him and Williams under contract for three-plus years, and Horford for two. That’s plenty of time to figure out the best path for their frontcourt.