This may sound like something more out of the John Henry playbook, but with each passing day of 2021 free agency the Celtics’ plan to bridge their way to 2022-23 gains momentum — and length.

After passing on the biggest, and even the medium prizes of the free agent field, the team brought back Enes Kanter on a one-year minimum level contract Wednesday. They needed the big man depth after sending out Tristan Thompson in a three-team deal that should be finalized by Friday. And Kanter was willing to adhere to their plan of freeing up a maximum cap slot next summer to net a major free agent, clearly at the cost of contention this season at the start of the Ime Udoka era.

The immediate result — though the team is expected to add additional cheap short term pieces — is, at best, the seventh or eighth best team in the Eastern Conference next season. Teams like Miami and Chicago will jump several spaces in the pecking order thanks to their aggressive movement over the last week.

If New York had a healthy edge on the Celtics last season, that margin just jumped. For the second straight year they seem destined to emerge as the Play-in Celtics, with the possibility of a low 2022 lottery pick.

It’s not about contending with Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Atlanta and, now, Miami. It’s about keeping up with the next level — teams like Indiana and Charlotte. But Celtics management is so high on Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford, they don’t want an incoming veteran to get in the way of developing the youngsters.

But here’s what the Celtics will be looking up at in the Eastern Conference, just one week into the new season.


Kept: Bobby Portis

Added: Semi Ojeleye, George Hill

Lost: P.J. Tucker

They could afford to be quiet, simply maintaining that championship core. Tucker ends his rented stay, Ojeleye — who fits in nicely here as a defender — gets plugged in.


Kept: Bruce Brown, Blake Griffin

Added: Patty Mills

Lost: Jeff Green, Spencer Dinwiddie

The loss of Green actually takes a chunk out of the Nets’ depth, but Mills is one of the best backup point guards in the business. And now he gets to win again. This team, like Milwaukee, remains a favorite and Finals contender.


Kept: Duncan Robinson, Victor Oladipo, Dewayne Dedmon

Added: Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris

Lost: Goran Dragic

Toss, on top of this, a four-year max extension for Jimmy Butler. Like Pat Riley’s old Knicks teams, these Heat are the toughest dudes on the block. It’s the team of Butler’s dreams, and they are good enough to beat either of the two teams ahead of them on this list.


Kept: Furkan Korkmaz

Added: Andre Drummond, Georges Niang

Though this team is struggling through an identity crisis that may need professional help, the Sixers remain an elite defensive unit. Ben Simmons gets traded, eventually, but for now Doc Rivers has familiar issues. But until the Simmons matter is resolved, this team is looking up at the Heat.


Kept: John Collins, Solomon Hill

Added: Gorgui Dieng

Potential loss: Lou Williams

And a rookie max extension for Trae Young. The Collins signing secures one of the best young big men in the league. And they are now a playoff-tested group.


Kept: Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel

Added: Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier

The Knicks took care of business, retaining all three of their own free agents and adding great scoring depth with two players jettisoned from the Celtics universe. Fournier is good enough to blend anywhere. Walker will be able to keep a load off his knees in a deep backcourt. Would make a great microwave scorer with this group.


Added: Demar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso

Lost: Daniel Theis

Potential loss: Lauri Markkanen

This is a huge jump back into relevance, and suddenly Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic have a serious supporting cast — certainly good enough to climb higher.


Added: Enes Kanter, Kris Dunn, Josh Richardson, Bruno Fernando

Lost: Evan Fournier, Tristan Thompson, Semi Ojeleye, Kemba Walker

Roughly their place in the pecking order due to their look ahead at 2022. And Indiana, Charlotte and Washington aren’t far behind.

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