In a somewhat shocking trade that fortified a strong 2023 title contender, the Celtics acquired Malcolm Brogdon from the Pacers for Aaron Nesmith, Daniel Theis, a 2023 first-round pick, Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts and Juwan Morgan. Here are our grades.
The Celtics entered the offseason with few holes on a roster that was up 2–1 in the NBA Finals. But if any one critique could be levied after three straight losses that yielded a paltry 97.9 offensive rating and approximately 109 live-ball turnovers, it was their inability to manufacture clean offense without Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown being asked to lift more than they could carry.
Wanting to ensure their Finals run was no fluke and that a lack of playmaking wouldn’t bite them again when it matters most, the Celtics acquired Malcolm Brogdon, the best point guard rumored to be available on the trade market. It’s an ideal addition to a team that wanted more offensive punch without having to sacrifice anything on the defensive end (their great strength and fundamental identity).
Brogdon is three years removed from submitting a 50/40/90 campaign and averaged 19.1 points and 5.9 assists last year, during a season in which his three-point shot faltered. Out of 55 players who logged at least 500 possessions as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, only seven players were more efficient than Brogdon on plays that ended with him shooting or passing, per Synergy Sports.
In Boston, where Tatum and Brown soak up most or all of the defense’s attention, Brogdon will cook. Put your third or fourth-best perimeter defender on him and good things will happen. Shots will be more open than at any point since he left the Bucks in 2019, while, thanks to Marcus Smart and Derrick White, he’ll be able to rest a bit more on defense than he’s had to the past few seasons. Robert Williams is a freakish lob threat and Al Horford is the stoic pick-and-pop partner who makes every ball-handler’s life so much easier. (Danilo Gallinari is also reportedly coming to Boston, which gives this team even more space/scoring options than they’ll know what to do with.)
It’s unlikely Boston changes its starting five, but Brogdon gives Ime Udoka more options off a bench that evaporated in the Finals. He’s also insurance in the event Smart (who badly sprained his ankle in the Eastern Conference finals) gets injured, and another piece who can function in small-ball lineups that had quite a bit of success throughout the playoffs.
Brogdon’s own health is a question mark. He’s never crossed the 2,000-minute mark in his career, and in three years with the Pacers he appeared in 54, 56 and 36 games, respectively. But contenders rarely have a chance to acquire someone this good, who’s in their prime, locked up for three more seasons on a manageable contract. The Celtics want to win now, and not picking in the first round three drafts in a row is a long-term blow they’re willing to absorb. The strategy is a no-brainer.
Boston believed White was its missing piece last year. It was a few plays from being right. Now, with every rotational piece from last year’s team still in tow (including Grant Williams, who the Pacers reportedly had interest in), the Celtics’ decision to move another first-round pick for Brogdon is an indication they aren’t willing to leave anything to chance. They weren’t satisfied running it back with the status quo, and now enter the 2022–23 season with the NBA’s most complete team, without having to give up anyone who helped make their 2021–22 so special.
The Pacers are about to embark on a lengthy rebuild. Tyrese Haliburton is their franchise point guard and they just took 6’6” Bennedict Mathurin with the No. 6 pick in the 2022 draft. Heading into the offseason, Brogdon, who is 29 years old and was their highest-paid player, always made sense as a trade candidate. The question now, if you’re a Pacers fan, is why didn’t they get more for him?
A first-round pick is nice, but for it to come in 2023 from a Celtics team that has Finals aspirations likely means it’ll be in the high 20s. Aaron Nesmith is about to enter his third season and could still bloom in a new environment, able to showcase a bit more of the two-way skills that once convinced the Celtics he was worth taking with the No. 14 pick in the 2020 draft. But he’s hardly a blue-chip prospect. Daniel Theis is 30.
That haul isn’t atrocious but was it really the best Indiana could do? Trades are complex negotiations and I’m sure they canvassed the league looking for some combination of young talent and draft capital. The list of interested teams that need a guard and are willing to shed both of those things for Brogdon might not have been so long, though. Maybe they could’ve gotten a better first from the Timberwolves to take D’Angelo Russell off their hands. But Brogdon isn’t the greatest fit on Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards’s timeline.
The Wizards acquired Monte Morris earlier this week. The Knicks signed Jalen Brunson. The Bucks, Clippers and Nets have no draft picks. The Mavericks are out a first in 2023. If this was the best Indiana could do, one could argue that it’d be worth bringing Brogdon into the season and then shipping him out to a desperate suitor that might overpay before the trade deadline. But for a team that wants to lose in the short term, grabbing Nesmith and a first-round pick in July is apparently something they wanted to do.
More shoes will drop, too. Myles Turner is still around and could fetch another pick and intriguing young piece. Same deal with Buddy Hield. The Pacers already have a lottery-protected 2023 first coming their way from Cleveland and all their own first-round picks going forward. It’s a team that has a long way to go before they’re good again. This was a decent enough move (albeit unspectacular) to get them where they want to go.