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In his first move as the Boston Celtics president of operations, former head coach Brad Stevens shocked the NBA world late last week by trading All-Star guard Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was not necessarily a surprise that Stevens opted to move off Walker. Following yet another injury-plagued campaign from the former Charlotte Hornets star, it became clear that his contract was going to be an albatross for Brad Stevens as he transitions to a front office role.
Rather, it was a surprise what Boston had to unload to rid itself of Walker’s contract. That included a first-round pick this year (16th overall) and a future second-round selection in exchange for the bloated contract of Al Horford, young big man Moses Brown and a future second-round pick.
In talking about the trade on Monday, Stevens seemed to throw Kemba Walker under the bus to an extent.
“The ability to make our wings better is going to be a huge part of the people that will be around them,” Stevens said Monday, via ESPN.
To be clear, that was not a shot at Walker the person. Instead, it’s all about trying to find someone who works better with star wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Stevens made that clear.
“Well, I think that’s, right, part of the job change, right? It is difficult. Because I really — for instance, just really liked Kemba, period, end of story. He is a super likable person,” Stevens said.
In Horford, the Celtics are reacquiring a player who had in the past showed an ability to expand his shooting to the perimeter while being a plus-level passer. As a member of the Celtics from 2016-19, the five-time All-Star shot 38% from distance and averaged 4.6 assists per game.
Brad Stevens plans after pulling off blockbuster Kemba Walker trade
Stevens touched on the financials of being able to move off Walker’s contract in return for Horford’s deal. It saves roughly $20 million in cap room throughout the remainder of their two deals.
“To have the ability to get that in return and gain financial flexibility moving forward, the cost, right, was a person that you really really like and one first-round pick,” the newly-minted team president said.
Unlike his predecessor, Danny Ainge, Stevens just proved that he’s not going to push back against trading draft capital if it means acquiring cap flexibility and/or another core player to go with Tatum and Brown. It’s one of the reasons Ainge received a ton of criticism, especially during the latter stages of his long tenure in Boston.
What exactly does this mean? It would not be a surprise if Boston offered up future draft capital to teams with cap room to take on the likes of Tristan Thompson and Marcus Smart.
As of right now, the Celtics are projected to be roughly $16.6 million over the salary cap. That doesn’t include pending free agent Evan Fournier, who was acquired in the last deal of Ainge’s tenure ahead of the March 25 NBA trade deadline.
Creating more cap flexibility to go with their $9.54 million non-taxpayer exception would go a long way in Brad Stevens being able to make a move or two during NBA free agency. He also has roughly $27 million in trade exceptions that could be used in separate deals to upgrade an underperforming roster.
One thing is clear. Stevens did not view Kemba Walker as a core piece of a championship team. Based on what we saw from the veteran guard in his two years with Boston, it’s hard to blame him.