The Celtics picked up two wins after winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy last season. But their run through the playoffs also underscored the need for them to improve their depth.
The Boston bench ranked in the bottom five in points per game in the regular season, averaging 30.2 per game. Then finished 14th out of 16 playoff teams in that category, providing just 22.5 points, according to NBA.com.
The Celtics’ need for more meaningful contributions from their second unit was perhaps most evident in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Boston bench combined to score just four points before the Celtics and Warriors emptied their benches. As a result, Boston’s starters played most of the second half, running out of gas in the final frame of a 104-94 loss.
This lack of support prompted Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, who continues to operate aggressively in that role, to trade for Malcolm Brogdon. In the deal, Stevens opted to part ways with Boston’s top pick next year to keep mainstays in the team’s playoff rotation. It’s the third consecutive Celtics first-round selection Stevens has handed out since taking over from Danny Ainge.
Brogdon’s acquisition also came on the heels of Boston securing a commitment from Danilo Gallinari that he was on his way to bolster the Celtics’ second unit.
The addition of Brogdon, who averaged 19.1 points, 5.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds last season, and Gallinari, a 15.6 ppg career scorer who produced 11.7 points in a crowded Hawks rotation, led some, like FanDuel Sportsbook, listing Boston as the favorite bet to win the championship this season.
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said: “Maybe we can win this thing,” in a conversation with WBZ’s Dan Roche. “We have a fighting chance. These are their words. They are burning with the desire to make it happen.”
As for how it felt to see Boston go from 11th place in the East to conference representation in the NBA Finals, only to see a 2-1 series lead turn into a 4-2 Finals , Grousbeck described it as follows.
“I felt we were a stone’s throw from Mount Everest and then we fell,” the Celtics owner said. “We were leading 2-1 in the final. … I felt like we were almost there. We were beaten, maybe we were tired.”
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Now, with Brogdon and Gallinari added to bolster the roster and training camp around the corner, Grousbeck is ready to turn the page on the 2022-23 campaign.
“We believe our roster is a strong contender right now,” he said. “Ime (Udoka) likes the group, Brad likes the group, I like the group. The group is very cohesive.”
This cohesion, which includes the Boston core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams and Marcus Smart preparing to play their fifth season together, barring a trade for Kevin Durant, allows Brogdon and Gallinari to fit more easily into clearly defined roles.
And as impressive as Ime Udoka was in his first season at the helm, part of the Celtics’ slow start resulted from his learning the job and acclimating to his new team. Now, with most players back, they can build on the foundations established last year. Brogdon and Gallinari will also benefit from operating in a system where everyone is on the same page.
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