Playing in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight years, the Warriors' championship experience was one of the most significant advantages they had over a Celtics team featuring no one on their roster who previously played on that stage.
It was evidenced by Golden State not beating itself and by Boston's inability to take better care of the ball as the Warriors raised their physicality on defense.
The Celtics had success when they played up-tempo, but when getting sped up, especially when they didn't properly space the floor, led to turnovers, the response was often to downshift. However, slowing the pace of play meant operating against a set defense and usually proved counterproductive.
To that point, addressing Boston's offseason needs, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens stated, "I think we need a little more playmaking. We're at our best when we play with pace and whip the ball around the court. We played a little slow in that last series."
There was also the role cumulative wear-and-tear played in the Celtics not sustaining an up-tempo attack. They did an admirable job pushing through fatigue but digging out from being below .500 in January to finish the season second in the East, then grinding through two seven-game series to reach the NBA Finals caught up to them.
It would've helped if Boston received more support from its second unit, which played a crucial role in the Celtics representing the Eastern Conference on the brightest stage. But in the last three games against Golden State, Boston's bench was outscored 25.7 to 11.7, per NBA.com.
As Stevens expressed, bolstering the second unit is one of the Celtics' priorities this offseason.
"I thought our depth was good through the East playoffs. Then we struggled off the bench in the Finals. Whether that comes through guys in the program now or we increase that ability from the outside. We're going to try to do both well."
Presumably, with Aaron Nesmith in mind, he later conveyed, "I also believe in some of our guys that didn't get to play as much. But we'll explore everything with our trade exceptions, the draft, and free agency."
Not all nine of Boston's traded player exceptions will get put to use, but the $17.1 million TPE created in the sign-and-trade that sent Evan Fournier to the Knicks is one of the most valuable assets at Stevens' disposal. Here are some of the players the Celtics might pursue with it as they search for external upgrades that will aid their pursuit of banner 18.
Powell received mention when examining players the Celtics could acquire at the trade deadline to get better from beyond the arc.
Instead, he went from the Trail Blazers to the Clippers. He only played in five regular-season games with the latter due to a fractured bone in his left foot, but he returned late in the campaign and suited up for the play-in tournament.
In 45 games this season, Powell averaged 19 points and knocked down 41.9 percent of his 5.6 three-point attempts.
The 29-year-old wing knows his role, executes it well, and has operated effectively alongside Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet in Toronto and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Portland. He would come to Boston with little concern about meshing with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Powell is on the books for $16.8 million next season. After that, he has three years remaining on his contract, which increases from $18 million to $20.5 million in the last year of his deal.
The Clippers already have an estimated luxury tax bill of $43.8 million for 2022-23, according to Spotrac. Owner Steve Balmer can absorb that hit, but if he wants to shed payroll, trading Powell is one way to accomplish that. If Los Angeles moves in that direction, the Celtics' $17.1 million trade exception makes them a logical partner.
On the eve of the regular season, Huerter and the Hawks agreed to a four-year, $65 million extension. However, Atlanta went from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021 to going from the play-in tournament to a first-round exit this postseason.
As they look to reshape their roster around Trae Young, Huerter's future with the team is unclear. Playing nearly 30 minutes a game this season, he averaged 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 turnovers. A career 37.9 percent three-point shooter, Huerter hoisted 5.6 shots from beyond the arc and converted them at a 38.9 percent clip.
Huerter would help Boston's efforts to improve its shooting and facilitating, and he's a serviceable defender with a bit of versatility guarding on the perimeter.
Huerter, who turns 24 in late August, has a cap hit of $14.5 million next season.
Kuzma has turned himself into a good defender, and at the other end of the court, he averaged 17.1 points per game last season.
He shot 34.1 percent from beyond the arc on 5.7 three-point attempts in his first campaign with the Wizards, but at six-foot-nine, he pairs his size advantage for a wing with strength and craftiness that allow him to generate points at the rim. His 52.6 percent shooting percentage on 8.5 two-point field goals illustrates his effectiveness from inside the arc.
Kuzma, who was in the same draft class as Tatum, turns 27 in July. He has a cap hit of $13 million this season. Then, he has a player option worth the same amount for 2023-24.
One would think if Kuzma is playing for his third team next season, Washington would find better offers elsewhere. But parting with a top-1 protected 2028 first-round pick in the trade for Derrick White reflects Brad Stevens' willingness to be aggressive when pursuing targets he locks in on.
Adding Barton would give Boston a scorer off the bench. Last season, he produced 14.7 points and 3.9 assists. He made 36.5 percent of his 6.1 three-point attempts, doing most of his damage from inside the arc.
The six-foot-six wing has grown accustomed to starting in Denver, but he's proven effective coming off the bench and joining a title contender for a season where he'll turn 32 could convince the Celtics he'd fit in well.
And as much as Barton prefers to have the ball in his hands, he's played well off Nikola Jokic. The same goes for Jamal Murray when he's healthy. That could boost Boston's confidence in making a deal for him.
Barton is on an expiring contract worth $14.4 million next season.
As the Suns retool around Devin Booker and Chris Paul, like DeAndre Ayton, if one were to guess what this offseason has in store for Jae Crowder, it would be that he joins a new team.
A reunion between the Celtics and Crowder, who's on an expiring deal with a $10.2 million cap hit, would give Boston another effective, versatile defender, a ten-year veteran who's played in the NBA Finals twice, and another shooter off the bench.
Last season, Crowder, a career 34.6 percent three-point shooter, wasn't as effective as he was a year ago, converting 34.8 percent of his 5.4 long-range attempts. But in 2020-21, he drilled 38.9 percent of the 6.3 threes he launched.
Crowder wouldn't love that returning to Boston means coming off the bench, but his minutes (28.1 per game last season) and shots (8.1 field goal attempts) would be about the same.
The Celtics will do their due diligence on an array of other options, including Malik Beasley, Duncan Robinson, Thaddeus Young, Luke Kennard, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But the bottom line is their $17.1 million trade exception will play a crucial role in Boston's ability to acquire someone who boosts their chances of raising banner 18 to the TD Garden rafters.