The Boston Celtics’ first free-agent signing of the Brad Stevens front office era was a bit of a surprising one. The team agreed to terms with former center Enes Kanter on a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum, according to multiple league sources.

The Kanter signing itself is a perfectly defensible move in the present. Kanter is coming off career highs in field-goal percentage (60.5%) and rebounds per game (11.4) while playing all 72 games last year for Portland. That’s solid production for a player who had to settle for the veteran’s minimum but that salary is reflective of a center who is a huge liability on the defensive end against most opponents.

Kanter’s return to Boston, however, is also a perfect example of how a cycle of free agent and trade misfires over the past two seasons have come back to bite the Celtics, particularly when it comes to the center position.

The revolving door at center for Boston started two offseasons ago as Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were preparing to depart in free agency during the summer of 2019.

The Celtics decided to clear extra salary-cap room on draft night by trading away the No. 24 overall pick to dump the modest salary of Aron Baynes ($5.1 million) to the Phoenix Suns for a worse 2020 first round pick (ended up being No. 30 overall from the Bucks).

The Baynes’ trade was a proactive move to help clear out the necessary salary cap space for another eventual mistake (Kemba Walker’s four-year max contract). After that, the Celtics replaced Baynes with Kanter for a two-year deal at the room level exception (about $5 million per year). Kanter was a solid bench player during most of the regular season but was largely benched during the team’s postseason run to the Eastern Conference finals due to his defensive limitations.


Things went from bad to worse for Boston on the center front during the 2020 offseason. Once again, the Celtics decided they wanted to make an upgrade at center on Kanter after he opted into the second year of his deal for $5 million. In order to create some cap flexibility, the Celtics dumped Kanter with the No. 30 overall pick on draft night to the Memphis Grizzlies for two second-round picks.

Once again, this decision ended up being a poor choice in hindsight on a couple of fronts. To start, the Blazers ultimately ended up taking on Kanter’s $5 million contract from Memphis a day later for dumping Mario Hezonja’s contract, in what turned into a three-team deal. That left Boston downgrading from a first-round pick at No. 30 to future second-round picks for no good reason outside of them not having room for another rookie on the roster and avoiding a little money.

We all know the story from here. Memphis selected a productive rookie at No. 30 overall in Desmond Bane (All Rookie second-team honors). Meanwhile, the Celtics used their full mid-level exception ($9 million) on a new center in Tristan Thompson on a two-year contract that ended up being a poor fit for the team last year as Thompson’s play declined from his prime.

There’s no guarantee the Celtics would have drafted Bane if they kept the pick but creating the need to sign another center by trading Kanter limited some of Boston’s trade options last season with the Gordon Hayward traded player exception. The team dealt with a hard cap created by using the full mid-level on Thompson.

To his credit, one of Stevens’ first moves in the front office was to recognize the Thompson mistake and send him packing in a three-way trade with Sacramento and Atlanta that still remains unofficial. League sources say it’s possible that deal could be expanded in the coming days if any of the teams involved find other moves they want to fit into the transaction.

That brings us full circle to Wednesday’s Kanter signing to replace Thompson. Kanter is a flawed center but he was a player that Boston probably should have kept in the first place which would have allowed the Celtics to target a bigger area of need (wing or point guard) with their mid-level exception last season instead of a pricy big in Thompson.

In the present, Kanter should provide solid depth behind a pair of injury-prone centers in Al Horford and Robert Williams and there’s no harm in bringing in the 29-year-old on a veteran’s minimum deal. However, his return to Boston is a reminder of how much has gone wrong for the Celtics over the past 24 months between downgrading draft assets and signing free agents that didn’t work out.

Stevens isn’t the one responsible for these mistakes but he has to live with fixing them after Danny Ainge left him in a tough spot following his retirement.

Kanter probably isn’t going to make much of an impact on next season’s roster in the big picture but his presence will be a reminder of plans that went awry for this franchise over the past 24 months.

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