Potential Kevin Durant-Celtics Trade Complicates Brad Stevens’ Safe-Play Plans

For Brad Stevens, boss of the Boston Celtics, it is the safe play. Even with the wild week of rumors, innuendo and hurt feelings stemming from an ESPN report that the Celtics were among the teams seeking a trade for Kevin Durant, Stevens still has a safe play in hand and remains likely to act upon it.

Before all this upheaval, the Celtics came through the initial stages of the 2022 offseason with a good bit of flair, adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon via trade and forward Danilo Gallinari with their midlevel exception. In all, the team paid a minor price for the two, shedding the contract of Daniel Theis which, oddly, pays him $8.7 million this year and $9.2 million next year before running into a team option. Theis is a serviceable big man in the NBA, but a minimum player at best—one wonders what photos Theis had of Houston Rockets decision-makers to encourage them to give him the contract they did.

The rest of the package the Celtics sent to Indiana, besides the 2023 first-round pick in the deal, was roster flotsam and jetsam. Indiana gave walking papers to all involved.

For the third time in two years on the job, Stevens coughed up a first-round pick to make a bold move—he did it first last summer for Al Horford, then at the trade deadline for Derrick White, then again this offseason for Brogdon. He has, in that way, clearly distinguished himself from Danny Ainge.

But a move for Durant appears a bridge too far, even with Stevens’ willingness to get gutsy on the job. The Celtics and Nets did have loose conversations about Durant early in the free-agent process, with Jaylen Brown as the main chip going to Brooklyn, but the talks were never all that close to materializing into a deal.

Not yet, at least. Stevens has no reason to hurry, if he does plan to make a countermove on Brooklyn and come back with a Durant offer. There’s been no indication that is coming. Stevens has been eager to make moves in the early going of his career in the Celtics front office, but clearly, he can be patient, too.

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Stevens Is More Comfortable Playing It Safe This Time

Stevens is comfortable with the safe play here, in a way that he was not comfortable with keeping oft-injured Kemba Walker (who was traded for Horford) on the books last year. And in a way he was not comfortable with keeping Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson around at the trade deadline, or with not having another distributor off the bench (like Brogdon).

He should be. While many of us would like to see more gusto from Boston, to see them go all in with a real Durant offer, Stevens is happy with the sum total of the Celtics’ summer landing at Brogdon and Gallinari, two players who addressed their needs for playmaking and shooting. Brogdon has, during his career, averaged 4.8 assists per game, while combined, Gallinari and Brogdon have shot 38.8% from the 3-point line. Both players are going to be asked to sacrifice their own numbers to support the star tandem that Stevens has said is his focus all along, Jayson Tatum and Brown.

That’s just where the Celtics are at this point. It’s Tatum’s team, with Brown running a close 1A. The rest of the roster, from point guard Marcus Smart to sixth man Derrick White to budding star big man Robert Williams, has gotten used to it. And when it came to finding players to add this summer, it’s clear that Stevens had Tatum-Brown support on his mind.

“I want to come here and sacrifice to win,” Brogdon said. “Everybody on a great team, everybody sacrifices to win. Tatum, Brown, all of us have to take things off our plate, sacrifice a few things. So for me, I think Gallinari too, we’re trying to add. We’re not trying to take away. This team that already has something special, they’ve made it to the Finals, they already have a recipe. And I want to add to that recipe, not disrupt it. Whatever this team needs from me, whatever Ime (Udoka) needs from me, whatever my teammates need for me, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

From the beginning, that is what Stevens wanted to find this summer, and with both Brogdon and Gallinari, he did. This Durant bit complicates things, because any front office in its right mind would have to at least wonder how a player like KD fits with them. Stevens certainly wondered. Maybe he’s not done wondering. But with the kind of offseason he has put together, again, for the Celtics, he has no reason to hurry on getting something done. If he plays it safe with what Boston has on hand now, he’ll still be very comfortable.