30 Teams in 30 Days: Kemba Walker takes spotlight after Boston's busy offseason

NBA.com Global on Sep 22, 2019 07:37 AM
30 Teams in 30 Days: Kemba in spotlight for Boston Celtics
FILE - Newly acquired Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker smiles during a news conference at the Celtics' basketball practice facility, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.

With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

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Today's team: Boston Celtics

2018-19 Record: 49-33, lost to Bucks in Eastern Conference semifinals

Key additions: Kemba Walker (free agency), Enes Kanter (free agency), Carsen Edwards (Draft), Romeo Langford (Draft), Grant Williams (Draft), Tacko Fall (free agency)

Key departures: Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes

The lowdown: It isn’t often when a club comes a game short of 50 wins and reaches the conference semifinals to see it all be considered a disappointment. But welcome to the 2018-19 Celtics. So much was expected from a team that crashed the conference finals without Irving or Gordon Hayward a year earlier. Simple mathematics had a healthy version of this squad making the NBA Finals or possibly winning it all.

But they were troubled almost from the outset when it became clear, even before Christmas, that they were hardly the class of the East. Almost every player in the rotation underwhelmed. Irving had a weird season in that his numbers were solid -- he averaged nearly 24 points and seven assists -- but his demeanor was volatile. He backtracked on re-signing (after essentially promising to do so) and often called out younger teammates (then later apologized for it). As a result, he never won over the locker room on his leadership skills and chemistry never fully manifested.

Fair or not, much of the blame from the fans fell on Irving. And yet: Jayson Tatum faltered in his second season, never recapturing the magic he showed in the postseason as a rookie. Same goes, too, for Rozier, who also took a step backward from the previous season. Essentially, Irving was supposed to symbolize a source of addition by addition and instead generated frustration almost all around.

Hayward, now healthy, also trended downward and looked nothing like the player who was an All-Star in Utah. There were times when he was a fourth option, and he was briefly demoted when he came off the bench for 18 games. Likewise, Marcus Smart averaged nine points and four assists after signing a big free-agent extension the previous summer.

Overall, it was that kind of year for the Celtics: one where they finished in the upper class in the East, yet they’d rather forget it altogether.

Summer summary: When Irving bailed on the Celtics for Brooklyn in free agency, it caught nobody in Boston by surprise. By then, all signs pointed toward Irving leaving and Celtics fans offering to drive him to the airport. Yes, the relationship had deteriorated that badly.

So the trick facing GM Danny Ainge was: How do you replace a player who, despite his quirks, ranked among the league's top point guards?

His Plan B was a strong one: adding Walker, who is almost as gifted a scorer as Irving and arrives with none of the baggage. In that sense, Walker was a welcome sight in Boston. He’s a two-time All-Star whose stay in Charlotte had run its course. The Hornets were stuck in neutral and had no reasons to convince Walker to stay except money, and even then, Hornets owner Michael Jordan wasn’t willing to give his franchise player the max. With the money being roughly equal in Boston, it was an easy call for Walker.

Nobody was ready to proclaim the Celtics a winner in this point guard swap based on talent; Irving is clearly superior. But Walker is solid and still in his prime and there will be no drama -- at least none generated by him.

The surprise departure from the Celtics wasn’t Irving but Horford. There were rumors that Boston wasn’t automatically giving him an extension next summer when his contract ended, so he became proactive regarding his future and saw an opening in Philly, which lost Jimmy Butler in free agency and therefore had money to spend. Horford received more money (four years, $109 million) than the Celtics were perhaps willing to give a player in his 30s. He also joined a championship contender and can switch back to his more natural power forward spot with Joel Embiid occupying the middle.

Therefore, the Celtics had a void to fill, and did so economically when Kanter cost only $10 million over two years. Again, as was the case with Irving vs. Walker, Kanter is not the player Horford is.

Boston will especially suffer defensively since Kanter is among the worst rim protectors in the league. Still, he brings a delicate touch around the basket and can serve as an option offensively. In the right system, Kanter can be useful.

There was no sane reason to keep Rozier, a backup who landed in Charlotte via the sign-and-trade deal that brought Walker to Boston. Instead, the Celtics searched for depth through the Draft and, in the second round, took Edwards. The scoring point guard from Purdue is a player built in the mold of Rozier.

That’s not all Boston managed in the Draft. Thanks to Ainge’s penchant for stockpiling picks, the Celtics also drafted Langford and Williams. Langford was a schoolboy star who somewhat underwhelmed at Indiana, but Boston has high hopes for him in its player development program.

Same, too, for Williams, an undersized power forward who played three seasons at Tennessee and improved each year. He was a consensus first-team All-American and two-time SEC player of the year.

If Ainge and his scouting department were correct, then in time, Edwards, Langford and Williams will help nullify the impact of the defections from the rotation.

Ainge also took a flyer on Fall, the very raw and limited center who went undrafted. At 7-foot-7, Fall will at the very least get a look in training camp and possibly in the G League if he shows enough promise.

It was a summer of change for the Celtics, who lost their franchise point guard and All-Star center yet may not lose their place in line near the top of the East.

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 

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