What’s next for the Celtics and Blazers
Jrue Holiday trade sets up two different tests of player development
BY DAVID THORPE
The Denver Nuggets won the 2023 NBA title playing a mere eight players meaningful minutes in the playoffs. That’s unusual—and to the Celtics, perhaps an inspiration.
After Sunday’s trade for Jrue Holiday, the Celtics have six incredible players: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis, Derrick White, and Al Horford.
On the basis of those six, many are picking the Celtics as favorites for the 2024 NBA title. But the Celtics have accomplished that by trading away essentially every meaningful contributor from their bench.
When the Wolves traded good players for Rudy Gobert, David Thorpe remembers writing “that’s a big bet on Anthony Edwards” the young star who would end up carrying a bigger load.
“Just like that,” Thorpe says now, “when I saw the Celtics trade for Jrue Holiday, I thought that’s a big bet on Luke Kornet.”
Kornet is a 7-2 big who has never played more than the 17 minutes a game he played as a Knick in 2018-2019. He came into the league with a reputation for shooting 3-pointers, but hasn’t hit one in an NBA game since 2021.
This is the conundrum of the Celtics’ roster after the Holiday trade. The bench is unproven, and at the moment is slated to be some mix of Payton Pritchard, Oshae Brissett, Sam Hauser, Jordan Walsh, Dalano Banton, Lamar Stevens, DJ Steward, Svi Mykhailiuk, and two-way players JD Davidson, Jay Scrubb, and Neemias Queta. An open question is whether or not the Celtics, who have their own picks to deal, need to keep dealing to shore up the bench.
Meanwhile, the same trade brought the Blazers an interesting roster conundrum of their own: shortly after acquiring the young starting center of their future, Deandre Ayton, they got another one in Robert Williams III. How will that work?
For now, David says, it makes sense for both teams to bet on player development. Here’s what he means:
THE CELTICS BENCH
No matter what happened with the Nuggets, I believe depth matters.
But it’s a mistake to think that the players Boston already has can't be much better. Let's just remember last year’s Nuggets rookie Christian Braun, who was just absolutely terrible in the regular season. And then look what happened in that postseason. He was good when it mattered most, in the most important series of all in the Finals. So there's every reason to believe that you can get something out of the guys the Celtics have under contract. You have all season, Boston, to figure out who it is. You know where you're going: you're going to the playoffs for sure.
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