BOSTON — Brad Stevens is used to getting deals right under the buzzer. In 2022, he brought back Daniel Theis to the Celtics less than 10 minutes before the trade deadline. Then he did it again on Thursday, acquiring Jaden Springer for a second-round pick.
The surprise about this trade was not how late it was. The team was on the other side of the deal. Why would one of their biggest rivals — who was hoping to have MVP Joel Embiid back in time for a postseason game — trade a player to the top team in the Eastern Conference?
“Our assessment was that his timeline for helping a playoff team is beyond what a second-round pick could do for us,” Sixers president Daryl Morey said. He told reporters in Philadelphia on Friday.
But earlier that morning, Brad Stevens described Springer as an athlete who could athletically play in the playoffs. He also named 21-year-old Springer a puppy. Both could be true. But the reality is that a Sixers team operating in the same title window has handed their rival someone who will be useful at some point, depending on which general manager you ask.
“We did it. It sucks. I think Jaden is going to be really good,” Morey said. “I think his schedule got pushed back a little bit. (It's) our assessment, and if we're wrong, we're wrong. And then you can all write it down. decent.”
The Celtics' assessment is that the Sixers are wrong. But they also work from a different perspective. While Boston is in a second cap scenario, the Springer trade helped Philadelphia stay under the tax level this offseason and regain access to the full mid-level exception. It gives them an option they can use to get more assets on draft night, then transfer them to a veteran. It just allows them to go all in sooner.
“It was very clear that, again, we're focused on winning the title. We had to look at what are the odds that Jaden Springer, who I think has a good future, will help the playoffs in a year, two years, three years or maybe? ” he said. Morey.”And what are the odds that a second-round pick will help us? We thought the second round pick helped us more, and that's the case. It allows us to go maybe get a veteran at the deadline next year and things like that.
The glaring question teams face as they dive into building a championship roster is how to maintain their depth. Young players develop, their rookie deals expire and someone else pays them more than you can afford. Just look at what happened with Grant Williams.
When the Celtics let Williams go and dealt Marcus Smart to bring in Kristaps Porzinis, one of the few unknowns was how the team would retain its defensive strength and impact. Then they traded for Jrue Holiday. The problem has been resolved.
But all the moves they've made, exacerbated by the new collective bargaining agreement, have made it difficult to find quality reserves. They spent the first few years of this decade drafting Euro caches and major development projects, so there was no one in line behind Williams, Payton Pritchard, and Sam Hauser, who was not drafted the same year Springer and the Celtics selected Johan Béjarin.
This meant they had to fill the back of the roster with the bare minimum of veterans holding down their spots in the league. While Oshae Brissett, Luke Kornet and Neemias Koita have all played well, Dalano Banton and Svi Mykhailik have barely been on the court and promising rookie Jordan Walsh has been in the G League for most of the season.
They needed someone to bridge the gap between long-term projects like Walsh and J.D. Davison and players already in the rotation. When the Celtics took a first-round pick in the Porziņģis trade and turned it into five second-rounders, it was clear they were going to bide their time to answer those questions.
Boston was entering the season with some key pieces both short and long term. But the Celtics knew that when the trade deadline came and teams were desperate or given up hope, they could pounce for what they needed.
Not everyone entering the season can confidently fill the spot if Porzinis or Al Horford is injured in the postseason, but he's still young enough to replace Horford when he retires soon.
There was no one who could bring Pritchard's defensive intensity with the amount of star wing guarding.
Time and time again, Stevens' front office has taken advantage of time constraints to get good-value solutions to their problems. They somehow managed to trade for Porziņģis And Get firsts because the bigs were going to leave the Wizards in free agency.
Ever since Stevens saw Springer looking like a troublesome defender in their preseason meeting earlier this season, he's been keeping an eye on his new young winger, hoping the Sixers need to move him aside to maintain financial flexibility. Stevens was happy to take that on because the second apron takes all his flexibility. Boston had to bring in players now because making trades and signing free agents will slow to a trickle this summer.
“I think everyone should do what they think is best for their organization at that moment at that time,” Stevens said. “I think the other reality is that we all have different evaluations of people, and that's part of it. … But in the end, we just have to look at where we are. How can we try to do things that can help us get better on the sidelines now, but also give us an opportunity to attack The ones later that we can’t have otherwise, right?”
Springer was the 28th pick in the 2021 draft, the year the Celtics selected Begarin. Who knows if Bejarin will one day come over from Europe, though, as he's the kind of athletic defender who could use the ball in their development pipeline. But effectively, the Celtics have taken the No. 45 pick they used on Bejarin, added what would currently be the No. 41 pick of the upcoming draft and turned that into a 21-year-old who just locked up Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic in the past week.
But while Springer has shown he can be a defender for many of the league's best players, there's a reason the Sixers let him go. Yes, head coach Joe Mazzola could push him into a playoff berth a few months from now, and he would likely be solid on defense. He will also likely make some mistakes and struggle offensively.
So how can Boston not waste his potential like they did with Aaron Nesmith, who is thriving in a consistent role in Indiana?
“I think (player development) has been a point of emphasis for us this offseason and the point has been to kind of build out our player development staff,” Mazzola said.
“So, it's not about a specific role, it's about all the concepts that we need them to be able to do and some of the situations that they'll be in.”
The flip side is what would have happened if the Celtics never flipped that pick in the draft and just selected Marcus Sasser 25th overall. In Detroit, he turned out the lights and became one of the few bright spots in the Pistons' historically poor season. But like Walsh, he may not have seen the floor in Boston at all.
But as a GM, you can't look back.
“For me, the Jaden thing was a success. I'm totally fine with people wanting to write the opposite,” Morey said. “But if you take a look at the late first round, late second round (picks), 85 percent of those players aren't helping their team. On the ground and cannot be traded for a positive value that helps you get another player. Jaden did that and I have to focus on the playoff team now. So that's our focus, right or wrong.
Morey said it was done with optimism that Embiid would return this season. He's also dealing with the fact that Embiid's health struggles over the past few years make it a no-win situation now. Springer may be playoff ready in two years, but that's too far away for Philadelphia.
The Celtics don't have much to worry about. Things are as close to perfect as you'll get. Their challenge will be to realize and execute what it really takes to run the title.
Who knows whether Murray or Stevens were right in their decisions? There's only one way to find out.
“It's a high-level competition with a lot of good teams,” Stevens said. “Nothing is done on paper. Everything will be done in court.”
(Top photo of Jaden Springer and Derek White: Bill Streicher/USA Today)
“Travel aficionado. Infuriatingly humble reader. Incurable internet specialist.”