How do the Celtics replace Grant Williams? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The NBA’s new second apron put a squeeze on the Boston Celtics, who will deliver forward Grant Williams to Dallas as part of a three-team trade that will bring back a pair of second-round picks and create a $6.2 million traded player exception.
For the Celtics, moving Williams is a less-than-ideal scenario but one that felt like an inevitability after the team acquired Kristaps Porzingis last month.
In introducing Porzingis, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens noted that the team still had a green light to spend but needed to be diligent about long-term commitments. It felt at that moment that Williams was unlikely to be back on the sort of long-term extension the two sides couldn’t hammer out before the 2022-23 season.
Stevens adds two more second-round picks to the five others he acquired as part of recent transactions. Those picks could be valuable in bolstering Boston’s thinned depth further down the road. The TPE could help the Celtics in acquiring an impactful player, too, especially if Boston wishes to avoid using its taxpayer midlevel, which would hard cap the team at the second apron for the season.
Williams’ reported deal — four years, $54 million — is in the neighborhood of what the Celtics might have been willing to spend before the year, and maybe even if they created additional cap room by moving Malcolm Brogdon.
But when the Brogdon portion of the original Porzingis deal fell apart after the Clippers balked about Brogdon’s health, the Celtics had to ponder the merits of carrying a player who dipped from Joe Mazzulla’s rotation late in the year and portions of the playoffs.
The Celtics sit about $7 million below the second apron and must determine the best way to fill out a bench that will miss Williams’ 3-and-D potential. There were stretches of Williams’ career here where it felt like he might eventually elevate to a starter-level forward.
Alas, his consistency waned after a strong start to last season and Mazzulla didn’t exactly inject confidence by shuffling him out of the rotation in early March.
Williams should thrive with an opportunity and contract security in Dallas. The Celtics don’t have an obvious path to replacing his potential, although Porzingis will eat a heavy dose of frontcourt minutes and younger players like Sam Hauser should get more opportunities to fill the shooting void.
Ultimately, the Celtics’ bench is less deep after moving Williams. Maybe that’s just a reality of the new CBA. Teams simply cannot splurge to build a deep roster, at least without so much money committed to star talent.
The Celtics, if healthy, still have a strong potential playoff rotation. But they are left a bit thin in the frontcourt where Porzingis, Al Horford, and Robert Williams III all have durability concerns.
Replacing Williams off the court could be even more difficult. Despite his loud personality, Williams endeared himself to this core, including Tatum.
For all the complaints about Williams, his grit and toughness — especially on the defensive end — were undeniable. The Celtics don’t make the 2022 Finals without Williams’ defensive efforts against Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Celtics lost a double dose of defensive toughness with Marcus Smart and Williams departing, this one season after their defense-first identity eroded. Williams saved some of his best basketball for the big stage.
There is an obvious void and a new CBA doesn’t make it any easier to fill.