Barely two weeks into his tenure as the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, Brad Stevens made a big splash in the trade market.
The Boston Celtics are sending veteran point guard Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a pair of big men, a veteran in Al Horford, and a youngster in Moses Brown, the teams announced last Friday.
The Celtics will also be sending the 16th overall pick in this summer’s draft and a 2025 second-round draft choice to OKC, who in turn will send a 2023 second-rounder back to Massachusetts as part of the deal.
Trades don’t often go down before this week’s NBA combine, let alone one of this magnitude, but a long-standing and positive relationship between Stevens and Thunder general manager Sam Presti allowed for both teams to get what they wanted right off the bat this offseason.
The oft-injured Walker, 31, is owed a whopping $73 million over the next two years while Horford is owed just $53 million ($41 million of which is guaranteed). This added cap space will allow Stevens to begin to mould this young Celtics team around young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the former Boston head coach sees fit.
In the end Walker’s stay in Boston lasted 99 games over two seasons, averaging 19.9 points and 4.8 assists with a 42/37/88 shooting slash line during his time at the TD Garden. It was an underwhelming stint, to be sure, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Presti flip Walker before he ever plays in OKC.
Walker had missed a total of just 35 games in eight seasons as a Charlotte Hornet, but upon his much-celebrated arrival in Boston, he simply could not stay on the floor, missing 45 games over the past two campaigns.
“It’s been really tough,” Walker said after the Celtics were eliminated this season. “Especially because over the course of my career, I’ve played so many games when I’ve been healthy. I came to Boston to be a part of those special runs and be a part of high-intensity games and fans going wild, and I wasn’t able to be a part of that, unfortunately. Just try to get right. I got to get right.”
The Bronx native had been struggling with left knee problems all through 2020, and eventually, he and the team decided to do something about it, holding him out early this season while he completed a three-month strengthening program for his knee.
He was also held out of half of every back-to-back set, but even those precautions couldn’t keep the UConn alumnus from missing Boston’s final two games of their first round series loss to the Brooklyn Nets, after which the Nets lost themselves to the Milwaukee Bucks, who will be big -7.5 NBA point spread favorites at -111 NBA odds in Game 2 of the Conference Finals against the Hawks on Friday night after dropping Game 1 at home.
The extra financial flexibility afforded by the trade to Boston should give them enough space to re-sign trade deadline acquisition Evan Fournier, who provides consistent and efficient scoring whether in the starting five or coming off the bench, though the latter of which seems more likely for this team.
The acquisition of Brown and re-acquisition of Horford (he had three solid seasons in Beantown from 2016-2019) also helps fill a huge need for the Celtics in the frontcourt. Most of Boston’s problems last season stemmed either from injury, or a lack of quality at the four and especially the five.
Horford is a great vet to have on the team and the Dominican can still contribute at 35 years of age. He showed that in 28 games for the Thunder last season before team and player mutually decided to hold him out for the stretch run of the season so as to get the youngsters more reps and find him a better suitor.
“While it was short, it was first class all the way [here in OKC] and me and my family are extremely thankful and appreciative,” Horford said in a tweet after the deal was announced.
Horford will likely start at center for the Celtics next season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Brown finishes off the campaign in that spot. Brown was a revelation in very limited playing time last season, showing great ability around the rim on both ends of the floor, as well as good rebounding instincts and great length on the defensive end.
His impressive play was enough to get the two-way player a multi-year deal from OKC, and the 21-year-old could be just what the doctor ordered for the Celtics’ front court. A front line that includes Horford, Brown, and highly-rated youngster Robert Williams is an enormous upgrade over last season, and the loss of Walker doesn’t hurt too much since the veteran rarely played due to injury.
Meanwhile in Oklahoma City, sources say that Presti is expected to work with Walker to find him a new landing spot as he has done with other veterans who have passed through over the last year such as Chris Paul, Danny Green, and now Horford.
Apart from that, Presti picked up yet another first round pick and another second-rounder as he stacks his assets in preparation to start moulding a contending team around exciting Canadian point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Presti has now amassed a total of 18 first-round picks over the next seven drafts, including three (Nos. 6, 16, and 18) during this summer’s 2021 NBA Draft. The only question now is, can Presti turn that warchest of picks into a team with exciting young talent as well as solid veteran leadership?
Having picks is one thing, but using them correctly is a whole other ballgame.