The Celtics were in need of a change at the trade deadline and they achieved that goal on Thursday, landing a starting-caliber wing in Evan Fournier in exchange for two second-round picks. The team also prematurely moved on from their starting center by sending Chicago Daniel Theis in what was a financially motivated deal completed at the trade deadline buzzer to avoid the luxury tax for Boston.
On the surface, the Celtics look like they are moving in two different directions by adding a win-now piece as a possible rental while also taking away a core member of the rotation in Theis for a largely underwhelming return in Mo Wagner and Luke Kornet (likely to be waived).
The Celtics were shooting for bigger moves, according to league sources, but those did not come to fruition, leaving the Celtics to make the best out of the tough hand they dealt themselves thanks to an underwhelming offseason. Jeff Teague was dumped after playing his best basketball as a Celtic this week since Boston was no longer playing well enough to justify giving a filler veteran regular minutes over young guys that needed time to develop. Javonte Green was simply a casualty of the salary math in helping the team avoid the luxury tax.
So what exactly did the Celtics accomplish with a traded player exception that netted them a 20-point scorer for four second-round picks (including the two given up at the time of the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade)? That all comes down to Evan Fournier and how much of a meaningful impact he can make in the next two months (and perhaps beyond).
In a nutshell, Fournier does not turn the Celtics into an East contender but it does address a need that was set to turn this season into a complete waste: Scoring depth on the wing. Boston simply had none outside of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Some of that has been due to inexperience, some of that has been injuries (Romeo Langford) but the onus was clearly becoming too much on those guys along with Kemba Walker’s inconsistent play and constant absences.
What exactly Fournier brings to the table remains to be seen but this is an audition for the 27-year-old over the long term here. Boston’s front office is evaluating fits around their core right now and Fournier will get a chance to prove he’s worthy of a sizable payday this offseason from Boston or another team in the next few months.
The best case scenario for Boston? Look at what Jordan Clarkson has turned into in Utah. He was acquired cheaply last year and now has become a sixth man of the year candidate on a loaded team after signing a reasonable extension with Utah in the offseason. He can carry the scoring load for the bench and even for the starters on nights they don’t have it going. Fournier could perform a similar role for Boston and perhaps show he’s more worthy of a long-term commitment than Marcus Smart when his deal expires in 2022. At the least, he should be a far better closing weapon in games, helping Boston avoid situations where Smart takes ill-advised shots in clutch situations when defenses hone in on All-Stars.
In a perfect world, the Celtics would have done more at this trade deadline to better map out their future beyond Fournier. Moving on from Daniel Theis was a step in that direction (albeit an underwhelming one given the lack of a return). However, that exit does open the door for more opportunities for Rob Williams and Grant Williams right away. The same goes for Payton Pritchard with Jeff Teague’s departure. There will also be regular minutes available on the wing for one of Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith most nights now, depending on who earns that playing time. A league source tells MassLive the Celtics will be active exploring the big man buyout market (Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge will be available) with the starting center spot now open, too.
Fournier gives the Celtics another option this summer and these other moves will ideally give the team more information about what players they like among the team’s youth. However, Ainge did kick the can yet again on challenging choices that await this offseason such as finding a way to dump Kemba Walker’s contract and whether Marcus Smart is part of the future or not as he enters the final year of his deal. The team failed to address any of these questions just yet, understandable amid a bizarre season filled with injuries for both players that probably kept their trade values extremely low compared to what they’ve been historically.
The Celtics can only hope the value of those guys bounces back in the second half of the season as Fournier’s addition takes some of the pressure off of a previously undermanned core and returns players to proper roles. This Celtics team needed a bit of a shakeup and the price was low enough not to damage any looming trade options this offseason beyond taking up a chunk of their massive traded player exception. Starting this weekend, a low cost audition awaits Fournier and the rest of Boston’s young reserves as they attempt to turn this season around.
Story by Brian Robb, masslive.com