Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said Monday that every move he makes in his new role — including trading Kemba Walker and a first-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford — will be made with one goal in mind: maximizing the talents of All-Star wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“The ability to make our wings better is going to be a huge part of the people that will be around them,” Stevens said Monday in his first public comments after making the Walker deal three days earlier.
It was a significant move as Stevens begins his tenure replacing Danny Ainge atop Boston’s organizational depth chart, moving on from a player who was well-liked and whom the Celtics signed to a max contract two years ago to replace Kyrie Irving as the team’s floor general.
Stevens ultimately concluded that the financial flexibility created by saving at least $20 million over the next two seasons by swapping Walker and Horford — plus Horford’s fit in Boston — made it a deal worth making now, rather than waiting to see what else may come up down the line.
But Stevens admitted it wasn’t an easy move to make — in part because of his personal affinity for Walker, as well-liked a player as any in the league.
“Well, I think that’s, right, part of the job change, right?” Stevens said when asked about his new responsibility to move on from players. “It is difficult. Because I really — for instance, just really liked Kemba, period, end of story. He is a super likable person.
“[But] we had to look at with the idea of moving that first-round pick this year, it gave us the opportunity to look at a road ahead with a few more options, from the financial flexibility standpoint, with the picks, all of our future first-round picks past this year, which, again, give you more options. And then it was the best deal that we thought with regard to returning players, right? The opportunity to add Al, who makes significantly less money but is a really good player who has corporate knowledge of this environment that’s really excited to be back in Boston and has a good feel for not only playing with our guys but also has made them better … his impact on others and his ability to lift others is one of his great strengths.
“To have the ability to get that in return and gain financial flexibility moving forward, the cost, right, was a person that you really really like and one first-round pick.”
Stevens coached Horford for three years after the Celtics pried him away from the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent in 2016 as a consolation prize for missing out on signing Kevin Durant that summer.
Although he struggled to fit next to Joel Embiid after joining the 76ers in 2019, Horford still looked very effective when he played at center both in Philadelphia and last season with Oklahoma City — where he averaged 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 28 games before both he and the team mutually agreed to shut him down.
Stevens said he expects that version of Horford to arrive in Boston, adding multiple times that Horford is “very excited” to be back on Boston and that his versatility could allow the Celtics to play him alongside other big men, including emerging young talent Robert Williams.
“Al can move the needle,” Stevens said. “Al had a good year in Oklahoma City — obviously didn’t play a ton of games, but statistically had a year that obviously applies across the board. I think that sometimes the ability to space, pass, play in different ways and play in different coverages at the other end, be able to play with other bigs or as the lone 5 I think is something that … he just has a wealth of experience.”
While Stevens said he’s still considering adding to his front office down the road, he declined to get into any specifics about the current search for his replacement on the bench in Boston, saying that it would be unfair to those involved to speak about it publicly before it was done.
“I realize that there’s a lot of speculation and everything else out there, but in fairness to the people that have been under consideration, that are under consideration, I want to make sure that we’re doing it the right way,” Stevens said. “There will be a time and place to talk about that.”