Boston Celtics

Building a champion: Key roster moves that won Celtics Banner 18

It took a decade of trades, draft picks and signings, but the Celtics finally won Banner 18.

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The Boston Celtics winning Banner 18 with a 2024 NBA Finals triumph over the Dallas Mavericks was the culmination of a long journey, one that took many trades, draft picks, free-agent signings and a little bit of luck to complete.

The Celtics, thanks to an all-time trade with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, were able to get two franchise players (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) in the draft without having to go through the painful process of losing a ton of games.

Surrounding these two stars with the right supporting cast wasn't easy, and it took a lot of trial and error before the front office was able to put the right group in place for the 2023-24 season. The C's also picked the right head coach in Joe Mazzulla, who is not only a good tactician but also has a special bond with his players.

In many ways, the length of the journey makes the accomplishment even sweeter for the Celtics.

Let's take a look at the most impactful roster moves made by Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens over the last 11 years that contributed to the franchise winning a league-record 18th title.

2013 trade with Brooklyn Nets

  • Celtics receive: Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, Gerald Wallace, 2014 first-round pick, 2016 first-round pick, 2017 first-round pick swap, and a 2018 first-round pick
  • Nets receive: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, D.J. White, conditional 2017 second-round pick

This is one of the best trades in NBA history, unless you're a Nets fan, of course. The Celtics closed out the Big 3 era by trading franchise legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for several players and four first-round picks (including one swap).

This trade was supposed to make the Nets a top contender in the Eastern Conference for several years, thus hurting the value of the picks owed to the Celtics. Brooklyn was adding Pierce and Garnett to an already impressive roster that featured Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson.

No one could have imagined the Nets would unravel and become one of the league's worst teams for much of this period. The trade ended up giving the Celtics the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft (Jaylen Brown) and the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. The C's included the 2018 pick as part of the trade to get Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers before the 2017-18 season. That pick ended up being No. 8 overall. So, in total, the C's got three top eight picks from the trade. They used the No. 1 pick in 2017 in a trade with the Sixers to get No. 3 overall (Jayson Tatum) and a future first-round pick.

There are a lot of great parts of this trade for the Celtics, but the most impactful one is it allowed them to draft the cornerstones of their franchise in Tatum and Brown (more on that below). It's always nice when another team does the tanking for you.

2016 NBA Draft

Taking Jaylen Brown at No. 3 overall was not a no-brainer decision. There was a lot of pre-draft hype around Providence guard Kris Dunn, who went No. 5 overall to the Chicago Bulls. Kentucky star Jamal Murray was a trendy choice for the No. 3 pick in many mock drafts, and he has enjoyed a nice career with the Denver Nuggets, including a 2023 title.

The selection of Brown wasn't super bold but it took a little courage. He was a tremendous athlete at UC Berkeley and had the skill set of a two-way wing. The Cal Bears were awful during his freshman season, though, which sometimes can make the evaluation process for an individual player a little harder.

Ainge deserves a lot of credit for scouting Brown himself.

The pick ultimately worked out as Brown has become an All-NBA caliber player and just won Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals MVP awards.

2017 NBA Draft

The easy thing for the Celtics to do in the 2017 draft would've been to take Markelle Fultz. The Washington guard was the consensus top player available. But Ainge coveted Tatum and thought he would still be on the board at No. 3, so he traded the top overall pick to the Sixers for No. 3 and a future first-round selection, which ended up being No. 14 overall in 2019 (Romeo Langford). The Sixers took Fultz, the Lakers selected Lonzo Ball and the Celtics got their man in Tatum.

Tatum has become one of the top five or six players in the league and the first Celtic to be named All-NBA first team three consecutive seasons since Larry Bird in the 1980s.

Jayson Tatum had such promise as a draftee, and delivered on it last night.

2020 NBA Draft

The Celtics owned the No. 26 pick in the draft and selected Oregon guard Payton Pritchard. It's very important for contending teams with expensive rosters to succeed in the draft because this is where you can find talented, cost-effective players to surround your veteran core.

Pritchard averaged career highs with 9.6 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game this past season, while shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 18.7 minutes per game in the playoffs and shot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Even though Pritchard struggled offensively in the Finals, he did hit a pair of halfcourt shots. His long 3-pointer in Game 2 put the Celtics ahead by nine entering the fourth quarter after the Mavericks trimmed the deficit to six. His halfcourt buzzer-beater before halftime of Game 5 caused TD Garden to erupt. The C's fed off that energy en route to a title.

It's not easy to find valuable rotation players late in the first round, but credit Ainge for seeing something in Pritchard. The 26-year-old guard just completed the first season of his four-year, $30 million extension. It's a deal that could end up being very, very team-friendly in the near future.

Celtics players spoke about Payton Pritchard's second buzzer-beater heave on the NBA Finals

Signing Sam Hauser in 2021

The New England Patriots had plenty of success with undrafted free agents during their dynasty. The Celtics found a gem in Sam Hauser after he went undrafted in 2021.

Hauser has shot 42.2 percent from 3-point range in three seasons with the Celtics. He made 42.4 percent of his 3-point attempts and averaged a career-high 9.0 points per game this past season. He's not just a shooter, though. Hauser's perimeter defense has improved quite a bit. He even did a good job guarding Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic in the Finals, in addition to shooting a red-hot 47.8 percent on 3-pointers in five games versus the Mavs.

A good bench is required to win the title, and Hauser is a critical part of that group. Signing him to a three-year extension worth under $6 million in 2022 also was a masterstroke by Stevens.

Re-acquiring Al Horford in 2021

  • Celtics receive: Al Horford, Moses Brown
  • Thunder receive: Kemba Walker, 2021 first-round pick (No. 16), 2025 second-round pick

The Celtics had never landed a marquee free agent until Al Horford signed a four-year max contract with the team in the summer of 2016. After spending three seasons with the Celtics, the veteran big man left in the summer of 2019 to sign with the Sixers in free agency. The C's never fully replaced Horford, and when there was a chance to rescue him from the struggling Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2021 offseason, Stevens pounced.

In addition to bringing back Horford, the Celtics were able to get rid of Kemba Walker's contract at the expense of a first-round pick. Walker was a good scorer, but knee injuries limited his effectiveness and availability, and he was no longer an elite offensive player.

The return of Horford was huge for the Celtics. His leadership, 3-point shooting and excellent defense all played a key role in the Celtics winning the title this season.

Derrick White trade in 2022

  • Celtics receive: Derrick White
  • Spurs receive: Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson, 2022 first-round pick (No. 25 overall), 2028 first-round pick swap

There were many critics of the Derrick White trade when it happened. The Celtics gave up a first-round pick and a first-round swap, plus two players, for a guard who wasn't a great 3-point shooter and hadn't reached his potential at that point.

But the trade has ended up being a massive home run by Stevens.

White has been an integral piece of the Celtics core since the day he arrived, and especially during the 2023-24 season. He averaged 15.2 points, 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 0.8 steals per game during the regular season. He also shot 46.1 percent from the field and a career-high 39.6 percent from 3-point range.

The 29-year-old guard was fantastic in the playoffs, too, averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, while shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc. White's defense was stellar all season, and his effort was rewarded with a place on the league's All-Defensive second team for the second consecutive year.

He also hit the series-winning shot in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Pacers:

Kristaps Porzingis trade in 2023

  • Celtics receive: Kristaps Porzingis (via Wizards), No. 25 pick in 2023 Draft (via Grizzlies), 2024 first-round pick (top-four protected, via Warriors)
  • Wizards receive: Tyus Jones (via Grizzlies), Danilo Gallinari (via Celtics), Mike Muscala (via Celtics), No. 35 pick in 2023 Draft (via Celtics)
  • Grizzlies receive: Marcus Smart (via Celtics)

Trading Marcus Smart was a difficult decision. Smart was a really good player, a fan favorite, and the heart and soul of the team. But the opportunity to get a 7-foot-2 center who can score inside and outside, and also defend the paint at an elite level, was too good to pass up.

Porzingis made a seamless transition to the Celtics lineup, and even though he only appeared in three of the five games in the NBA Finals, the veteran center made the most of those minutes.

And not only did the Celtics get Porzingis, they also acquired two first-round picks in this trade. One of them was used to get Jrue Holiday a few months later.

Kristaps Porzingis talks about joined the Celtics team and doing whatever he can to help bring Banner 18 to Boston.

Jrue Holiday trade in 2023

  • Celtics receive: Jrue Holiday
  • Trail Blazers receive: Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, 2024 first-round pick (top-four protected, via Warriors), 2029 first-round pick

The Milwaukee Bucks might have played a key part in the Celtics winning Banner 18. After Milwaukee included Jrue Holiday in the blockbuster deal that sent Damian Lillard from the Trail Blazers to the Bucks, the Celtics called up Portland and worked out a trade to acquire the veteran point guard.

The Celtics gave up a talented but often injured center in Robert Williams, veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon and two first-round picks (including the Warriors selection acquired in the Porzingis trade). It was a steep price, but the dividends from the trade have been enormous for Boston.

Holiday provided valuable scoring, elite defense, poise and calm under pressure, leadership and title-winning experience. He was the only player on Boston's roster with a championship ring this season.

The Celtics signed Holiday to a four-year extension back in April.

Brad Stevens (and Jrue Holiday) joins Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine to talk about the Celtics winning the 2024 NBA title
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