Did the Boston Celtics Improve at the NBA Trade Deadline? Not Just Yet

While most teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings improved at the NBA trade deadline, the Boston Celtics focused on finances and the future. When all was said and done, first-year president of basketball operations Brad Stevens shipped off seven players and brought back two.

The trade deadline has passed, and the Celtics again failed to make a splash. They did do some housekeeping and did leave some room for improvement this season.

The Boston Celtics were busy but didn’t better themselves on the court

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka talks to Josh Richardson against the Charlotte Hornets during fourth-quarter NBA action. | Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

The Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets all improved by 3 p.m. Thursday. The Celtics did some dancing around by shaking up a roster without seeing an immediate improvement. Boston saw two contributors in Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder leave town, along with former first-round pick Romeo Langford.

The biggest noise of the day came when the 76ers shipped the disgruntled Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets in a package deal involving James Harden. The Sixers paid a heavy price for the oft-injured, 32-year-old guard, sending Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round draft picks to the Nets.

The deal instantly improves both teams. The Nets acquired an elite talent in Simmons, an outstanding shooter in Curry, and a physical inside presence in Drummond.

For Philadelphia, the addition of Harden makes the Sixers an instant contender. Simmons hadn’t played a minute in Philadelphia, so adding the three-time NBA scoring champ can only improve a team that is already 32-22 and three games out of first place.

The Bucks added Serge Ibaka, who will provide Milwaukee with much-needed frontcourt help. The Bucks have played this season without center Brook Lopez. Lopez is recovering from back surgery. Ibaka had been limited to 41 games last season because of a back injury. The Bucks acquired him in a four-team deal. They lost Donte DiVincenzo, Semi Ojeleye, and Rodney Hood in the move.

The Boston Celtics didn’t get better — at least for now

The Celtics acquired guard Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Richardson, Langford, their 2022 first-round pick, and the right to swap first-round picks in 2028.

White is a solid two-way guard, averaging 14.4 points and 5.6 assists in 49 games. He’s a great perimeter defender, often compared to Boston’s own Marcus Smart. Smart is Boston’s heart and soul with his tenacity and hustle, although he gets ripped for his poor long-range shooting. Smart (31.6%) is actually a better 3-point shooter than White (31.4%).

The Celtics also brought back an old friend in center Daniel Theis. Boston sent Schroder, Enes Freedom, and Bruno Fernando.

Theis was a fan favorite in Boston when he averaged 7.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in his four seasons with the Celtics.

Boston also shipped a couple of injured players in Bol Bol and P.J. Dozier, along with cash considerations, in exchange for a future second-round pick.

With all the moves, the Celtics have five open roster spots. That could make them a player in the buyout market, which could eventually move the needle to where they did improve.

The Celtics gave themselves some flexibility

While the three separate deals didn’t push the Celtics into the group of championship contenders, they do give Stevens some options. Many of the players who left the Celtics weren’t part of Boston’s long-term plans. It gives Stevens some roster flexibility.

According to Brian Robb of MassLive, the moves put the Celtics about $3.5 million below the luxury tax. That will allow them to make some moves for players who have their contracts bought out by their present team. The Celtics have two weeks to get back to the 14-player league minimum.

White is a long-term move for the Celtics. He’s signed through the 2024-25 season and is expected to be a significant contributor, along with Theis.

The Celtics could turn to the G-League or some NBA vets to fill out that roster.

Stevens was busy at the deadline, but his days of making moves will continue in the next couple of weeks.

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