In the days before the draft, Boston traded one player from its deep group of guards (Marcus Smart) and acquired a big man to shore up the frontcourt (Kristaps Porzingis). The Celtics are loading up for another deep playoff run. They aren’t alone among East contenders this year who should remain so in 2023-24.
The Hawks have a lot of ground to make up on the Celtics, Heat, Bucks and 76ers. Before the draft, Hawks general manager Landry Fields acknowledged that keeping pace with the best East teams is on his mind as he builds the roster.
“That is something that you have to think about,” Fields said. “With the draft, I’m not expecting a guy to come in and say (to him), ‘You’ve got to guard (Heat star) Jimmy Butler tomorrow night.’ That’s not necessarily what it is.
“That’s more so, ‘Is there a trade? Is there a free agency (move). Is there certain internal development that we need to have with certain guys?’ And next year, this is the crop of players that are out there in the East and for us to be championship-caliber and in contention, we need to make sure that we’re operating and growing as needed.”
The Celtics got a head start on that. To do it, they had to send away Smart. That’s a real loss for Boston. Smart is a tenacious defender, good passer and efficient scorer at the rim. The Celtics could afford to move on from Smart because they have lots of guards and wing players with those attributes.
The Celtics even got two first-round picks out of the deal, the No. 25 overall selection Thursday and a top-four protected selection in 2024.
“From our standpoint, we just looked at it as, ‘What’s our best opportunity to continue to grow and improve as a team?’” Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens told reporters. “Knowing that sometimes really, really hard decisions have to be made.”
Stevens had plenty of options. He was able to move Smart because he’s a valuable player with a reasonable contract who was expendable. In return, Boston received a good player and two draft picks. The Hawks can’t easily make the same kind of deal.
Lots of teams would like to have Young. It would be difficult for the Hawks to get equal value in return with Young if they decided to part with him. They shouldn’t. His wizardry in Game 5 at Boston was a reminder that Young is the one special player on the roster.
The Hawks could get a good player in return for Murray in normal circumstances. The problem is Murray’s trade value likely is suppressed because his contract expires after next season. He has incentive to seek a bigger payday in free agency rather than sign an extension. Also, unless the Hawks also get back some first-round draft picks in a Murray deal, they’ll have to take a loss on the three they sent away to acquire him.
The other incumbent Hawks players don’t have as much trade value as Young and Murray. The Hawks reportedly tried to trade John Collins (again) before the draft to move up in the order and couldn’t find a deal they liked (again). They also couldn’t execute a trade of De’Andre Hunter.
Trading a veteran player for a draft pick was a path for the Hawks to achieve some player salary relief for next season. The Hawks are projected to have a payroll that exceeds the luxury-tax threshold. Franchise owner Tony Ressler has never paid that penalty.
There’s just no clear path for the Hawks to significantly improve their roster.
“We’re going to have to see,” Fields said after the draft. “I wouldn’t consider it something that’s necessarily difficult. I don’t think that’s the right word for it. I think that we have things that we can look at in time, but part of this is about development and improving our roster that way.”
The Hawks are banking on coach Quin Snyder to get more out of the team. Unless the roster improves, he’ll face the same challenges next season as predecessor Nate McMillan. The Hawks couldn’t do it on or before draft night. The Celtics did.
The new league year doesn’t officially start until July 1, but the Hawks already have fallen further behind in the East.