Surprise! NBA free agency is about to begin, and once again, the Boston Celtics are in the thick of the action.
For the second consecutive year, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has positioned his club to make some serious noise when the clock strikes midnight on July 1. Armed to the teeth with coveted role players and one last parting gift from the Brooklyn Nets, Boston has the flexibility to go in all sorts of directions.
You’ve heard the major rumors by now: Sign Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin. Trade for Paul George. Make another run at Kevin Durant. (Just kidding.) But it’s time to read between the lines a bit. Here’s our primer for the Celtics as they enter free agency.
1. A frontcourt presence/rebounder.
The Celtics ranked 27th in the NBA in rebound differential last season. In the postseason, they ranked dead last (16th out of 16). Their style of play doesn’t lend itself to dominating on the glass, but Boston’s failure to limit second-chance opportunities cost them games last season. The Celtics must improve their presence in the paint if they want to make a serious run at the East crown.
2. A dynamic, off-ball scorer.
Isaiah Thomas silenced the haters who claimed the C’s don’t have a go-to scorer. But he can’t do it on his own. When teams double- and triple-teamed Thomas this postseason, it forced Al Horford and the Celtics’ shooters to make plays, which they did with varying success. Adding another established scorer like Hayward, though, would take significant pressure off Thomas while forcing defenses to pick their poison.
3. A shooter off the bench.
Boston ranked third in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted last season but just 14th in 3-point shooting percentage. That’s due in part to some shaky shooting outside the Celtics’ starting five, and perhaps part of the reason why the C’s drafted sharpshooter Jayson Tatum over Kansas’ Josh Jackson this year. Still, every NBA team these days could benefit from another quality outside shooter, and Boston is no exception.
1. Can the Celtics bank on signing Hayward?
If you believe the reports, Boston’s entire master plan this summer revolves around landing Hayward. The C’s certainly are a favorite, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Jazz can make a pretty strong case for convincing their beloved son to stay in Utah, and the Miami Heat reportedly are “no less a threat” than Boston. Hayward reportedly is the first step toward landing Paul George, so the C’s are putting a lot of eggs in this basket.
2. What’s Plan B?
In other words, what path do the Celtics take if they can’t acquire Hayward and/or George? Blake Griffin has been tied to Boston in rumors, as has Rudy Gay. But if Ainge doesn’t land the big fish, he could opt instead to hold onto his wealth of assets and build for the future. Or, he could swoop Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers and try to build a “win now” squad without Hayward. With Ainge, the options are limitless.
3. What do Boston’s plans mean for the rest of the roster?
Free agent signings don’t happen in a vacuum, and signing just one player with Hayward’s price tag would force some major roster reshuffling. Kelly Olynyk likely would become an unrestricted free agent, while Amir Johnson probably would land elsewhere. More importantly, the Celtics would need to part with at least one key player — think Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley — to clear enough cap space for a max-level free agent. If you add George to the mix, the list of departing C’s grows longer.
ONE BOLD PREDICTION: Danny Ainge finally sets off the fireworks.
The Celtics shucked their reputation as a free agent ghost town by signing Horford last summer. Now, it’s time to strike. Boston is loaded with assets and can offer the Pacers a better package for George than any other team, especially if Indy is eyeing a rebuild. Hayward had a good run in Utah, but the Celtics offer him a better chance to win, both now and in the future. We’ve seen Boston’s summer plans fizzle out before, but Durant and the Golden State Warriors are forcing everyone’s hands. Ainge makes his move, bringing Hayward and George to Causeway Street and making the C’s an overnight contender.
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