The Boston Celtics continued an offseason remodeling effort Sunday by agreeing to acquire All-Star guard Jrue Holiday from Portland.
With the Trail Blazers looking to move Holiday after acquiring him in last week’s Damian Lillard blockbuster, Boston’s front office quickly pounced. In a trade that will change the Celtics’ outlook for the upcoming season, the team agreed to send Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams III, Golden State’s 2024 first-round draft pick and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick to Portland .
OFFICIAL: Trail Blazers acquire Robert Williams III and Malcolm Brogdon
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 1, 2023
The Celtics aren’t alone in their pursuit of Holiday after it became clear the Blazers plan to find him a new home. The 33-year-old has drawn interest from a long list of playoff teams, including the Clippers and 76ers. The robust market for Holiday likely contributed to the hefty price tag Boston had to pay. Two league sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely, said the Celtics could not push the trade over the finish line without offering Williams. To land Holiday, Boston also had to part with Brogdon, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year award winner, and significant draft capital. The amount of money the Celtics traded raised eyebrows around the league, but so did the idea of Holiday joining Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston.
The Celtics paid to get a two-way impact player they hope will help deliver a championship. Holiday, 33, averaged 19.3 points, 7.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game for Milwaukee last season while making the All-Star Game for the second time in his career. Widely regarded as one of the league’s best defensive guards, he was also voted First Team All-Defense for the third time.
He should replace the versatility and tenacity that Boston lost by trading Marcus Smart earlier in the offseason. Heck, Holiday is one of the only guards in the NBA who could be an upgrade from Smart at his best on the end of the court. With Derrick White, the Celtics will have two All-Defensive team members in the backcourt alongside their two All-NBA wings. Add in Kristaps Porziņģis and Al Horford, who will lead the interior defense, and Boston has the capability of another elite defense after finishing second on that end of the court last season.
The Celtics will still miss Williams’ ability to close down the paint. As productive and efficient as Brogdon was last season, losing the 25-year-old shot blocker could hit Boston hard. When healthy, Williams is one of the few big men who pair with elite shot-blocking talents with feet quick enough to stay in front of guards on the perimeter. Even though he dealt with injury issues last season, his ability to transform the Celtics shined through; they’ve blown opponents out by 11.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. This is the second straight season they have had a double-digit net rating with Williams in the lineup.
With him, Porziņģis and Horford in the frontcourt, the Celtics spent the summer planning to use a steady diet of double-big lineups loaded with rim protection. The addition of Holiday will likely lead to more regular use of smaller lineups, though Joe Mazzulla will still have the option of pairing Porziņģis alongside Horford or even backup center Luke Kornet. Williams’ departure should leave Kornet with a bigger role than expected.
The trade also freed up another roster spot, which the Celtics could use to replenish some of the frontcourt depth. They agreed to bring big man Wenyen Gabriel to training camp, as The AthleticShams Charania reports. Other established centers still available include Bismack Biyombo, Dewayne Dedmon and Gorgui Deng. Blake Griffin, who was highly valued by the Celtics last season for his help on and off the court, remains unsigned.
Gabriel’s strong play for South Sudan at this summer’s FIBA World Cup helped secure the team’s first berth in the 2024 Olympics. Gabriel averaged 9.2 points and 6.8 rebounds for South Sudan, and worked out for the Celtics in Boston in recent weeks. https://t.co/8etl9lFNRo
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 1, 2023
While Williams had the higher trade value of the two players Boston sent to Portland, Brogdon certainly wasn’t just a throwaway. He finished fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage while averaging 14.9 points per game off the Celtics bench. Before dealing with an elbow issue late in the playoffs, Brogdon scored at least 12 points in 13 of Boston’s first 15 playoff games. He provided consistent, immediate offense for the Celtics’ second unit, but the relationship between him and the organization became complicated this summer after the team nearly traded him to the Clippers, as The AthleticJared Weiss wrote in a story about Brogdon’s departure. That’s no longer an issue for Boston.
The Celtics won’t be as deep after this trade, but their top six players (in some order: White, Holiday, Tatum, Brown, Porziņģis, Horford) may represent the league’s best core. Beyond that nucleus, Joe Mazzulla will need to hash out the back end of a rotation that will likely include Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser, Oshae Brissett and/or Kornet along with a few other players who racing a few minutes behind them.
Boston’s starting lineup is still being determined. Mazzulla can be smaller with White and Holiday in the backcourt or bigger with Horford next to Porziņģis in the frontcourt. Either way, the Celtics should have nothing but two-way players on their first unit with the option to switch between bigger and smaller lineups. Mazzulla will need to tweak some of his ideas for the upcoming season to fit Holiday into the plans and to make up for Williams’ absence, but Boston believes Holiday is the missing piece. The Celtics traded two good and productive players to get him, but both have health concerns. While Holiday’s age has its own concerns, he has generally been pretty solid throughout his career.
Beyond the possibility of Williams reaching his great potential elsewhere, is there a possible downside to this deal for Boston? The Celtics lined up to build an identity around size and outside shooting, but lost some of each attribute in this trade. They now have less frontcourt insurance in case the 37-year-old Horford begins to experience a significant decline or Porziņģis deals with injury problems again. Holiday was a solid 3-point shooter in the regular season (he shot at least 38 percent from deep in each of his three seasons in Milwaukee) but didn’t maintain that kind of accuracy in the playoffs. His postseason shooting percentages are actually pretty lackluster; he hasn’t shot better than 32 percent from behind the arc in a postseason since he was with the 76ers more than a decade ago.
Over three playoff runs with the Bucks, he shot a combined 39.6 percent from the field. His career true shooting in the playoffs was 50.2 percent, lower than Smart’s playoff true shooting of 53.2 percent. That could become a problem if Holiday is again forced to score poorly in the games that matter most.
On a similar topic, a Celtics-Bucks series would be epic now. A development that Milwaukee’s decision to offer Holiday for Lillard also ended up indirectly helping the Celtics, the Bucks’ main competition in the East.
Even with stretches of ugly playoff shooting, Holiday helped the Bucks win a championship. He is considered one of the NBA’s best teammates and locker room force. And he’ll give the Celtics one of the league’s premier perimeter stoppers, making their defense one of the most switchable in the league again. Although he has just one year left on his current $36.8 million contract and a player option for $37.4 million next season, Holiday will be eligible to sign an extension in February. The Celtics naturally made this deal with the hopes of keeping him long-term. They see Holiday as a great complement to their best players on and off the court. He is believed to be considering Boston as one of his preferred destinations after the Bucks traded him last week.
After failing deep in the playoffs several times in recent seasons, the Celtics decided not to try again with a similar group. They sent a four-piece rotation in Smart, Brogdon, Grant Williams and Robert Williams. They got two former All-Stars in Porziņģis and Holiday. At least the Celtics are different. They can also be better. And maybe, just maybe for Celtics fans, they’ll finally have enough.
(Photo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)