Should Josh Richardson Start for the Celtics?

The trade sending Josh Richardson to the Celtics was finalized on Saturday, with Boston sending Moses Brown back to the Mavericks in exchange for the veteran swingman. Brown’s stay in Boston was (very) short, acquiring him almost exactly two months ago from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Kemba Walker deal (I just hope he didn’t have time to buy a house or sign a lease). It doesn’t appear the Celtics were big fans of Brown considering Keith Smith of Spotrac reported that the Celtics were looking to send back salary to Dallas, but the Mavericks didn’t want any. This certainly makes it sound like the taking Moses Brown was a concession in the deal:

The low cost of acquiring Richardson has led some to question his value. After a poor season in Dallas, it’s fair to not be *overly* excited about the acquisition. However, Richardson is still a quality starting NBA player and definitely didn’t have “negative value” as some fans have suggested. The main reason why Richardson was so cheap was because the Mavericks had no leverage due to his player option. They also have plans to use their cap space elsewhere, with eyes on chasing an obviously superior player in Kyle Lowry in free agency. Richardson simply wasn’t a fit in Dallas next to Luka Doncic. The Celtics were also one of the few teams with the cap flexibility to take on Richardson thanks to the leftover portion of the Gordon Hayward trade exception.

It’s worth remembering how good Richardson was just a few short seasons ago. Before two awkward seasons being misused in Philadelphia and Dallas, Richardson was actually the top scoring option for the Heat. He led Miami in scoring in 2018-19, averaging 16.6 points per game at 25 years old. In Philadelphia, Simmons, Embiid, and Harris were all ahead of Richardson in the pecking order. When he was in Dallas last season, not only did he have to defer to Luka, but Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and even Jalen Brunson at times all took priority over Richardson. This was because in the season prior, Dallas ranked 3rd in the NBA in points per game. They could already score. They traded Seth Curry for Richardson purely to add a defender and pigeon-holed Richardson into that role.

In Boston, he’ll have a chance to showcase his offensive prowess again. He has a real opportunity to emerge as the 3rd scoring option in Ime Udoka’s offense behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Richardson may even serve as the primary ball handler at times, certainly more frequently than he did in the prior two seasons with Ben Simmons and Luka Doncic running the show. Richardson averaged over four assists per game in his last season with Miami. That average dropped to under three with the 76ers and Mavericks.

Some have suggested that Al Horford should start at the four, with Robert Williams at center and Josh Richardson coming off the bench. After the Celtics dealt both Tristan Thompson and Moses Brown away, that lineup configuration doesn’t make much sense to role out on a consistent basis, not that it made much before either. They need to be able to bring Horford off the bench to spell Williams or vice versa. Brad Stevens may have favored the double big lineup frequently last season, but Ime Udoka may not be as fond of the combination. Horford has simply aged out of being able to consistently guard modern NBA fours at this point in his career.

Playing Richardson and Marcus Smart together in the backcourt with Brown, Tatum, and Williams in the frontcourt would give the Celtics a dangerously switchable lineup. So far this offseason, it appears Brad Stevens’ plan isn’t to find another star to put next to Tatum and Brown, but rather a flurry of versatile defenders. The grand plan being to stifle opposing offenses enough that their dominant scoring duo can handle the necessary offensive load themselves. Additionally, the Celtics will have Langford, Dunn, and Horford off the bench who also fit perfectly in a lineup next to Brown and Tatum as quality supporting defenders.

Believe it or not, offense actually wasn’t the issue for the Celtics last season. They had their 2nd highest offensive rating in franchise history. Conversely, their defensive rating was their worst in the history of the franchise. The next three worst after last season came between 1995-1997, the dark years. That is what ultimately led to their downfall. Yes, scoring may be hard to come by, but if everything goes according to plan, the Celtics won’t need much of it.

Photo: (Sam Hodde – AP Photo)

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