Stevens explains why Celtics made Kemba Walker trade with Thunder


Brad Stevens kicked off his tenure as Boston Celtics president of basketball operations with a bang.

Last week he traded point guard Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round draft pick (No. 16 overall) and a 2023 second-rounder to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for centers Al Horford and Moses Brown, as well as a 2025 second-round selection.

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Why did the Celtics make this deal? Stevens was asked Monday morning during a Zoom press conference.

"There are a couple of things. We had to look at, with the idea of moving that first-round pick this year, that gave us the opportunity to look at a road ahead with a few more options from a financial flexibility standpoint," Stevens explained. "(We have) all of our future first-round picks past this year, which, again, gives you more options."

Teams aren't allowed to trade first-round picks in back-to-back years. The league has something called the Stepien Rule that prohibits it. However, by trading a 2021 first-round pick before the draft, once the upcoming draft concludes, the Celtics will be able to move their 2022 first-round if they so choose. The 2021 draft would considered a "past" draft at that point, freeing up the 2022 pick to be dealt. This gives the Celtics more flexibility in the trade market, especially if a disgruntled star becomes available.

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Stevens also liked the return for the Celtics, especially with regard to Horford.

"It was the best deal that we thought with regard to returning players. The opportunity to add Al, who makes significantly less money but is a really good player and has corporate knowledge of this environment," Stevens said. "He'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.

"I think his ability to pass, his ability to play a couple positions and certainly stretch the floor against bigs, and his impact on others and 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 was a person you really like and one first-round pick."

The financial aspect of the trade also cannot be overlooked. Walker was due to make about $73 million over the next two years, including his player option for the 2022-23 season. That was a significant amount of money and salary cap space tied into a player who's had durability issues over the last two seasons. 

Horford will make around $27 million this coming season (around $9 million less than Walker) but the final year of his deal in 2022-23 is only partially guaranteed.

Overall, the financial savings from swapping Walker's contract for Horford's gives the Celtics a better chance to improve their roster this offseason, during the 2021-22 season or next summer. 

Stevens mentioned the word "flexibility" several times, and it's pretty clear that was the best part of this trade for the Celtics. It's always good to have options, and the Walker deal opened up more potential avenues for Boston to get better.

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