BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are all in for the 2023-24 season. It's championship or bust -- no more excuses.
Brad Stevens moved his final stack of chips to the center of the table on Sunday, paying a hefty price to acquire guard Jrue Holiday from the Portland Trail Blazers. It's an incredible way to answer the Milwaukee Bucks and their acquisition of Damian Lillard on Wednesday, trading for the very guard they had to send to Portland in the blockbuster Lillard swap.
In Holiday, Stevens adds an offensively and defensively gifted guard with championship chops, as Holiday was a huge part of the Bucks winning a title in 2021. He essentially replaces what the Celtics lost when Stevens traded away Marcus Smart earlier this offseason. Holiday is a five-time All-Defensive player, including First Team nods in 2023, 2021, and 2018. He'll form a hellacious defensive backcourt with Derrick White on a team that ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating last season.
Holiday will provide a lot more on the offensive end as both a playmaker and a shot-maker surrounding Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kristaps Porzingis. He can essentially do whatever the Celtics need him to do, whether it's run the show with the ball in his hands or knock down open looks as a spot-up shooter. He'll continue to get good shots in Boston as defenses hound Tatum and Brown. When the Celtics trot out a five-man lineup of Holiday, White, Brown, Tatum, and Porzingis, they'll be pretty unstoppable on the offensive end.
The move firmly entrenches the Celtics and the Bucks as the favorites in the East, and favorites along with the defending champion Denver Nuggets to win a title in 2024. It's going to be one heck of a year for Boston basketball, and everyone should be salivating for a Celtics-Bucks matchup in the playoffs.
But as good as the Celtics should feel at the moment, the move does come with some risk. Stevens paid a massive price tag for Holiday, sending out Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, defensive virtuoso Robert Williams III, plus a pair of first-round picks.
The Celtics needed a DNA shakeup this offseason after coming up short in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Stevens threw his orbital shaker on its highest level. He basically turned Smart, Williams, Brogdon, and Grant Williams into Porzingis and Holiday, which will place an even bigger focus on shooting (fitting right into Joe Mazzulla's offensive approach) while changing the defense quite a bit.
Trading away Smart was a dramatic move. Acquiring Holiday a few months later alleviates some of the blow of that trade, but it cost the Celtics a lot, with Williams no longer around to reject shots on defense and rock the rim on offense. It subtracts Boston's best rim defender, and the team's best insurance policy for Porzingis' health and that of 37-year-old Al Horford. The Celtics are really banking on Porzingis remaining healthy for a full season -- and postseason -- for the first time... ever. Expect Stevens to scour the bargain bin (or make use of a Grant Williams TPE) to add a little more depth in the frontcourt behind Horford, Porzingis, and Luke Kornet.
But teams were going to have to give up something potentially great to get a great player like Holiday, and it's a price Stevens was willing to pay. In giving up such a premium for an All-Star, All Defensive player in their 30s, it shows just how hard Stevens and the Celtics are pushing for a title this year.
It's championship or bust for Boston. And with the moves the front office made this offseason, there will be no acceptable excuses if the team comes up short this summer.
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