NBA Free Agency: Boston Celtics Preview
What Happened Last Year
The 2016-17 Boston Celtics season was a successful campaign by all bench marks for a team in year four of a complete rebuild. Highlights of this year for Boston include the Eastern Conference’s top seed/best record (53-29), a deep playoff run before being expectedly dispatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the emergence of Isiah Thomas as the C’s first superstar since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett went to Brooklyn. The Celtics were a team that beyond their top 3 or 4 players, didn’t feature much difference in the next eight names on the list, all well rounded bench players but streaky in terms of productivity. While balance, physical play, and a usable deep bench was part of what made the C’s so good, one of the glaring problems that reappeared throughout the season was the lack of any real consistent scorers outside of Isaiah Thomas, a truth that ultimately doomed them along with a complete lack of athleticism and size. And this doesn’t just mean the bench. Al Horford and Jae Crowder both struggled heavily at various times this past year, making it that much more unbelievable they won 50+ games without a consistent #2 option. The good news is that Boston strengthened their reputation of being one of the best defensive squads in the league led by the likes of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and nasty bench guys like Jonas Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk, a big part of their signature wins this past year. While Boston at times looked like a top 3 team in the league, it would be foolish to not dismiss this as anything but overachieving behind a solid blueprint designed by the best young coach in the NBA today, Brad Stevens. This current squad reached the top of the mountain in terms of their best case scenario and while it was fun and irreverent to watch the Little Guy and Co. defy the odds, some of this season’s fan favorites will be wearing different uniforms when things get going next season, which means there will also be a few new faces on the Parquet. These faces must fill the off season needs of the Celtics, which are, in no particular order: consistent scoring, strong rebounding, and, of course, the distinct defensive styling’s of the unit currently in place.
Upcoming Free Agents
Unrestricted: Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green
Restricted: Kelly Olynyk
Non-Guaranteed Contracts: None
Potential Cap Space: $29,051,942
Kelly Olynyk - Believe me I find it as surprising as anyone that the long haired man from Canada is considered a top priority to re-sign but with his elevated offensive game throughout the playoffs, paired with his defensive game largely built around his exuberance to do the dirty work. Why would the Celtics not be interested in keeping a quality cheap, young guy on their bench? Because of his status as a RFA, Olynyk would require a qualifying offer of around $4.3 million and $7.7 Million in cap space to be re-signed. When you look at who else is available, what do the Celtics have to lose? Bringing back Amir Johnson would cost too much and really, Olynyk, based on his age and defensive ability is the smarter, economic choice.
Jonas Jerebko - Again, another non-sexy type player but when you look at his ability to shoot the 3 when open and his general nastiness he displays on the floor in terms of defensive attitude, why not? He’s been in Steven’s system for years and would you rather have an unproven, never used player at the end of the bench or the Swedish Sensation who has been able to provide quality minutes in the past? Chances are Jerebko won’t be looking for too much of a pay increase as the C’s should look to sign him for around his current contract price of $5 million. Anything more is too much.
Gordon Hayward - While this is purely based on Hayward’s pending decision on the final year of his Utah contract, I don’t see how the Celtics start anywhere else when FA begins. Proven shooter, great basketball IQ, and of course, the cosmic connection between him and Brad Stevens, are all reasons the Celtics should pursue the former Butler star. The Celtics are in dire need of solid offense and that is what Heyward would provide in spades, giving another hard target on the floor to draw defenders away from the double and triple teams so regularly employed against IT. By investing in Hayward, despite the potential to be very pricey (I’m thinking no less that 20-22 million a year), Boston would be adding more depth and usability to its current core. Hayward would not only be a weapon himself but he would sharpen the others already at Boston’s disposal and usher in a new Big 3 era alongside Thomas and Horford.
JJ Redick - While I’ve heard that Redick’s current price tag is a little high for this upcoming offseason, he would fill a need in the form of instant offense of the bench, a tool sorely lacking among the Boston ranks. Steven’s scheme loves to free guys up along the perimeter, which is nice, except the Celtics have guys that tend to miss wide open shots. If I saw Jae Crowder brick another wide open shot this past year, I would have put an axe through my TV but thankfully the season ended. Redick would be a terror in this style of play and, of course, he’s a major dick, something that Boston sports fans absolutely love as part of a player’s intangible skill set. Veteran experience plus a deadly shooting range makes Reddick an option the Celtics can’t ignore in FA.
Paul Millsap - One things the Celtics desperately lacked was a solid rebounder. Routinely getting killed off the glass was pitfall in many losses throughout last year’s campaign. Taking a look at Millsap would be a great way to fix that need as well as add another inside scorer who can be creative off the pass and runs the floor with the same high tempo the C’s do when playing strong ball. Another player with a high basketball IQ, he is a hardcore defender, which if added to this already bloodthirsty group, would strengthen the C’s strong hand at the opposing end of the court. Cap wise, Millsap may end up being a steal as he nears the end of his prime seeking a legitimate run at a NBA title. With this in mind, he may be able to be brought aboard for a less than expected.