The Weekly Reed: How the offseason bettered the Celtics’ finals chances 

Boston Celtics’ Payton Pritchard, left, drives against Philadelphia 76ers’ Jaden Springer during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, in Philadelphia. Chris Szagola/AP Photo

This NBA offseason featured plenty of big moves and shakeups, some of which involved the Boston Celtics. Led by their young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have solidified themselves as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and the entire NBA but felt like changes were needed following last season. The first move came when former coach and now general manager Brad Stevens secured Jaylen Brown on a five-year supermax extension valued at $303.7 million, the highest ever in NBA history. While a big move in most aspects, it was just the tip of the iceberg for this year. 

Numerous Celtics, many of whom played vital roles on the team in years prior, were sent to new homes. Stevens sent fan favorite and Boston’s longest-tenured player, Marcus Smart, to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a three-team trade that landed the Celtics Kristaps Porzingis. Developing big man Robert Williams III was another big name sent away this offseason in a move that brought in defensive guard Jrue Holiday. Grant Williams, who averaged over 25 minutes a game last season, was shipped to Dallas on a sign-and-trade. The roster, which had been similar for a few years, started to look a lot different, but let’s look at the returns. 

Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis were the two big names coming to Boston this summer. Holiday was one of the pieces traded from Milwaukee to the Blazers as part of the Damian Lillard trade, and the Blazers flipped him to Boston just a few days later. The Celtics ended up sending last year’s sixth man of the year, Malcolm Brogdon, and defensive big man Robert Williams, plus two first-round picks for the guard. Holiday is notoriously a stellar defender, and he’ll be paired alongside Derrick White this year. White finished with a defensive rating of 107.2, while Holiday’s was at 107.9 with the Bucks. Those are two of the best ratings out of all positions in the NBA, with White even playing in all 82 games last season. Holiday is also coming off his second-ever all-star appearance and his third NBA All-Defensive First Team honor.  

Kristaps Porzingis (aka Tingus Pingus) was the other significant addition for the Celtics. During last year’s playoffs, it was easy to see that Robert Williams’s injuries and Al Horford’s age really weakened their rebounding and rim protection. Porzingis is supposedly Boston’s response to such struggles. The 7’3 Unicorn has had his fair share of injuries in his career, but his 65 games played last season was his most since 2016-17. If he can stay healthy, his blocked shots can be very helpful to an already productive Celtics defense. Despite missing 17 games, Porzingis still finished eighth in the NBA in BLK with 1.5 per game, behind players like Embiid, Myles Turner and Jaren Jackson Jr.  

As a team, the Celtics had the second-highest defensive rating in all of the NBA at 110.6 last season, behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers (109.9). With Tatum and Brown still developing into their prime, the additions of Porzingis and Holiday can help provide some assistance. Holiday averaged 19.3 PPG with a 47.9 FG% and 38.4 3pt%, all while averaging 7.4 assists per game. These are all better offensive numbers than Marcus Smart was able to produce. Porzingis, on the other hand, has averaged over 20 PPG each of the last five seasons, and he’s a threat from behind the arc as well. Another player to look at is rookie Jordan Walsh out of Arkansas. The guard has impressed plenty of fans with his summer league performances and can be a good piece going forward. There are plenty of good things going on for the Celtics, but replicating Smarts tenacity and Williams interior defense is going to be hard. 

Looking at their competition in the East, it’s still fairly strong. Milwaukee improved offensively by adding Lillard, but it cost them Holiday, who really beefed up their perimeter defense. Despite rumors about Miami trading for Lillard or Holiday, they whiffed on both, but they’re still a threat. Jimmy Butler has led this team to the finals in both 2020 and 2023, and they don’t look like they’re satisfied with just making it there. Philadelphia with Joel Embiid are pretty solid, but if they somehow can get James Harden to play for them it could take the 76ers to the next level.  

With an improved defense and the further development of Tatum and Brown, the Celtics are looking to win now. Trading away plenty of picks and Robert Williams is what I think proves this philosophy. Boston is only two years removed from a final’s appearance, and they just added some of the biggest names they have in years, which I think is a turning point.  

As with last year, I think it’ll be between both Milwaukee and Boston for the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, but I think it’ll be the Celtics that come out on top. With White, Holiday and Porzingis, I think it can be one of the best defenses that we’ve seen in a while, hopefully leading to another deep playoff run and potentially even a ring.  

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