Chris Forsberg

Celtics notebook: An unsung coach, the Grant Williams dilemma and more

Brad Stevens and assistant Tony Dobbins both have big weeks ahead, writes Chris Forsberg.

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Some scattered Celtics thoughts while waiting for decisions on Jaylen Brown’s supermax and Grant Williams’ future -- or at least the start of Boston’s NBA Summer League slate in Vegas on Saturday: 

Tony Dobbins' fresh perspective

Joe Mazzulla’s support staff got a notable overhaul this offseason with the additions of Sam Cassell and Charles Lee. But one of the few constants amid the changes from Brad Stevens to Ime Udoka to Mazzulla has been the presence of Tony Dobbins.

The 41-year-old Dobbins started in Boston’s video room as part of Stevens’ staff and joined his on-the-bench staff in 2020. Dobbins shuffled to the front of the bench this past season on a staff filled with Udoka’s former assistants and Mazzulla leaned heavily on him, especially with advanced scouting.

This summer, Dobbins will coach the Celtics’ entry in Las Vegas. He’s been given a somewhat unsexy bunch of NBA hopefuls headlined by Boston’s two most recent second-round draft picks in J.D. Davison and Jordan Walsh.

But Dobbins, one of the few holdovers after many of Udoka’s former assistants departed this summer, gushed about the opportunity to be in the big chair in Vegas.

"I'm just trying to take full advantage of it and enjoy kind of seeing a different side of coaching than I do during the season," said Dobbins. "I think it's an opportunity for me to be in a better position to help Joe. I think that's for me, and that's for all of us. The great thing about summer league is that it allows players and staff to kind of do something that’s a little bit different than what you do during the season. But, ultimately, the goal for everybody is to be better for the franchise."

There’s a refreshing energy when you hear Dobbins, who spent extended time after Boston’s first summer practice working with rookie Walsh, talk about getting to be part of the start of Walsh's NBA journey.

"It gives you good perspective to see a guy like Jordan, who was dreaming about this moment -- like, he's been dreaming of this moment his whole life -- and I get a chance to be a part of it," said Dobbins. "That’s pretty special. I don't take that for granted. So, for me, that's what makes it exciting."

Dobbins is also Brown’s player coach and spends a lot of time with him during the season, both looking over film and working on ballhandling. Dobbins shined during a 13-year career overseas career where defense was his on-court calling card.

Did fizzled trade complicate Grant Williams' path back?

Given the speed at which the Celtics were able to patch the fizzled three-team trade that was originally supposed to deliver Kristaps Porzingis to Boston, it seems fair to wonder if the team was considering the idea of making two pre-draft transactions involving members of their backcourt.

Even if the original trade that would have delivered Malcolm Brogdon to the Clippers transacted, Boston still could have pondered sending Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies for some combination of Tyus Jones and draft assets.

Jones would have given Boston a high-level backup best known for his glossy assist-to-turnover ratio. What’s more, he’s in the final year of a contract that will pay him $14 million, or $8.5 million less than what Brogdon is scheduled to make this season.

That savings would have made it easier for the Celtics to pay Grant Williams, including freeing enough room below the second apron to offer Williams in the neighborhood of where extension talks finished before the start of last season.

Boston is roughly $7 million below the second apron as it looks to put the finishing touches on its roster for next season. Stevens has noted that he has a green light to spend, but avoiding the second apron -- and its harsh future penalties -- is likely a preference for the Celtics.

That’s why we think Williams’ future in Boston is ultimately tied to Brogdon, or at least some other roster shuffle. The Celtics need to move off salary to pay Williams, both now but especially in future seasons when the supermax contracts of Brown and Jayson Tatum should kick in.

Yes, there is always the chance the Celtics splurge now, retain Williams at a fair price if no one overpays for him in restricted free agency, and deal with the second apron further down the road. 

But any decision to pay Williams gets easier if there’s more money to spend.

In the conversation

It says something about the Celtics that, even with all the new cap constraints, the team is still in position to eventually take another big swing. Boston still has all of its future first-round picks (2028 is a swap with San Antonio) and also has Golden State’s first-rounder in the 2024 NBA Draft. Boston can easily craft a draft pick-heavy package and use its mix of salaries to chase any disgruntled star.

During his tenure, Danny Ainge often talked about a desire to simply be able to get in the conversation for a star whenever they became available. You never want to be a team that can’t cobble together a deal when an elite talent hits the market.

Boston’s challenge, of course, is balancing when to take that swing. Championship windows are never guaranteed and you have to maximize the moment. That’s why you have to at least have conversations about a player like Damian Lillard. But that has to be balanced with the prospects of a younger star potentially shaking free further down the road.

Waiting patiently is never easy; all the consternation about Brown and his supermax in these first days of July proves that. We’re all eager for the Celtics to plot what comes next.

But the fact that Boston can simultaneously brace itself for paying its two All-Star wings supermax money AND ponder big-splash moves for other superstar talent -- after already acquiring another All-Star this offseason -- speaks volumes about the flexibility the team has created in building its roster and preserving its future draft assets.

Hunting for low-cost help

After the Porzingis pre-draft splash, the Celtics have made only a couple of ripples in free agency with the additions of Oshae Brissett and Dalano Banton.

The 25-year-old Brissett adds size and energy to the wing position; the 23-year-old Banton’s height makes him a very intriguing guard option. Both players should be deep depth at best for a Boston team with title hopes this season.

But with many of Boston’s recent draft picks stashed -- either overseas (like Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin) or on two-way deals, like Davison last season -- the Celtics needed to find other ways to make player development a priority.

Stevens has often referenced how the Miami Heat have benefited from unearthing unheralded prospects. The Celtics, with the cost of its superstar core rapidly rising, need to find low-cost players capable of filling roles beyond their salaries.

It’s on Boston’s staff to help unlock the obvious potential inside players like Brissett and Banton, but in a situation where playing time won’t be easy to come by.

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