Chris Forsberg

Bridges trade spotlights Brad Stevens' roster wizardry with Celtics

The NBA champions still have an impressive collection of draft picks going forward.

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That the Brooklyn Nets are leaning heavy into draft pick accumulation just days after Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the Boston Celtics to a championship seems incredibly poetic.

The Nets, of course, dealt a ransom of picks to acquire aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce back in 2013. The Celtics turned those picks into Tatum and Brown -- and a whole lot more --- setting into motion a success-filled decade that culminated last week with Banner 18.

Let’s be clear here: We really like that the Nets elected to trade Mikal Bridges to the New York Knicks as part of a series of deals Tuesday that positions the team with a staggering 16 first-round picks between now and 2031. The Knicks sent out their own ransom of picks -- including five first-rounders and another potential first-round pick swap -- to acquire the defensive-minded wing.

The Knicks, thwarted in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers, are pushing all-in while acquiring yet another Villanova product. They still have work to do to keep key pieces from last season's roster, but we don’t hate the idea of swinging for the fences, particularly if the team is able to retain midseason acquisition OG Anunoby. If you suspect the Knicks will be picking late in the first round for the foreseeable future, it’s a worthy gamble to add a proven commodity.

But the 2013 Celtics-Nets swap is a harsh reminder of how fast a lopsided trade can send a team into a tailspin. The Knicks’ pieces are younger and offer a longer window to chase a title. New York’s defense has a chance to be elite, and on paper, they are right there with the elite of the East. The Celtics still should feel confident in their collection of talent. If things go sideways, though, the Nets will reap the benefits.

Perhaps our bigger takeaway from the Knicks mortgaging their future in hopes of immediate success is to marvel at how Brad Stevens has limited his draft-pick spend in adding key pieces to Boston’s roster.

Stevens hasn’t been bashful about dealing first-round picks. But he hasn’t splurged to the extent that New York did. Boston sent out two first-round picks to acquire Jrue Holiday last October, but one of those was a first-round pick the team previously added while trading for Kristaps Porzingis.

With Brown and Tatum being homegrown, the Celtics essentially traded four first-round picks (and one potential pick swap) to acquire the quartet of Porzingis, Holiday, Derrick White, and Horford that completed their championship-clutching top six.

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It should be noted the Celtics paid a heavy player cost in those deals, most notably in sending out starters Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III and Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon last offseason. But Stevens has been measured in using picks to help position talent around the superstar tandem of Tatum and Brown.

On Wednesday night, Stevens could use a first-round pick for the first time in his tenure as president of basketball operations, with Boston slotted at No. 30. The Celtics still hold their first-round picks in 2025, 2026, and 2027. The 2028 pick is the potential swap with San Antonio from the White trade. Boston sent its 2029 pick to Portland in the Holiday deal.

By being diligent with its swaps, the Celtics have assets that could help facilitate other moves, though a ballooning cap sheet will conspire against much tinkering moving forward, at least while this core remains in place.

If nothing else, Boston has picks that will continue to infuse young talent that could be key to taking stress off the core of this team.

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