With the exact timing of the start of NBA free agency still somewhat ambiguous, so much about the NBA offseason remains a mystery. It’s hard to really get a sense for what it will look like in the era of COVID-19. Will the ongoing pandemic pair with an unappetizing free agent class to result in a less than robust market? Will we see something less than the dramatics we’ve become accustomed to in offseasons past?
Most of these questions, however, will need to be answered by teams other than the Celtics. While Boston could certainly capture some headlines in the event of a Gordon Hayward or Marcus Smart trade, they don’t exactly have enough money to chase any of the big (and I use that term loosely) fish like Danilo Gallinari or Montreal Harrell in free agency. What they will have is the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.7 million or *maybe* the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $9.3 million if something unexpected happens like Gordon Hayward opting out or being traded.
The interesting element at play for the Celtics in free agency is whether they’ve done enough to become a destination in which NBA veterans are willing to take a pay cut to join for a chance to win. Boston certainly has a bright future with Tatum and Brown, but losing to the Heat paired with the Nets returning to full strength puts their status as a serious contender in the present somewhat in doubt. Nevertheless, it will be up to the players on the market to decide if Boston is worthy of that designation. With that said, here are some players the Celtics could realistically target this offseason.
The Celtics can hope to pry Favors away from the Pelicans after a somewhat below average season by his standards. He wasn’t a perfect fit next to Zion Williamson, and new head coach Stan Van Gundy might have a different plan for how he wants the roster constructed. Favors will have a strong market, but the opportunity available in Boston is perhaps the best he’d be afforded. Favors could theoretically sign a one-year deal with Boston and immediately become a starter for a contender in a big market. He’d fit very nicely into Boston’s rotation ahead of Daniel Theis. Then, he can hit free agency next year when there will be more cap space to go around after capitalizing on that spotlight in Boston and hope to cash in. He doesn’t exactly space the floor the way Brad Stevens would like, but he’s a reliable defender and rebounder. He would certainly be an upgrade at center for the Celtics.
The Magic should be looking to shake things up this offseason and that doesn’t exclude moving on from Augustin. He’s had his moments, but Orlando may be hoping that Markelle Fultz can take the reins as the team’s starter at point guard next season. In a league filled with stars at his position, Augustin just doesn’t stack up. He’s not a starting caliber point guard by NBA standards, but he’d be a great backup. Boston’s backup point guard position was somewhat of a *point* of contention (see what I did there?) between the team and the fanbase last season. While fans clambered for Isaiah Thomas, the team was seemingly content moving forward with Brad Wanamaker. Given the opportunity to bring in Augustin, Danny Ainge should pull the trigger.
Boston might regret their decision to ship Baynes off to Phoenix last June after the season he was able to put together with the Suns. Bringing him back into the fold makes sense on a number of different levels, not the least of which is his chemistry with the team. Baynes offers the perfect mix of rim protection and semi-reliable shooting that Boston needs. A center that can do the dirty work while occupying an undemanding offensive role is exactly what the Celtics need next to their array of prolific perimeter scorers. Adding Baynes Fan Club back to WCT should also be considered a rather sizable factor.
Hood is coming off an Achilles tendon tear that may stifle his market and offer the Celtics the chance to scoop him up on the cheap. Hood has been somewhat inconsistent over the course of his career, but saw some of his best seasons in Utah playing alongside Gordon Hayward. Before going down with his injury in December, he was averaging 11.0 points per game on 50.6% from the field and 49.3% shooting from deep last season with the Trail Blazers. The Celtics have lacked a reliable spot up shooter who is content playing off the ball in a catch-and-shoot role and Hood would fill that void perfectly.
Williams has had somewhat of a tumultuous few months. After a visit to what was described as a strip club by some and reputable chicken wing establishment by others, Williams was forced to quarantine for 10 days upon his return to the NBA bubble. The Clippers promising season went up in smoke shortly thereafter. Then, Williams was roped into drama regarding Kawhi Leonard’s load management in which he was said to have taken issue with the way the Clippers star player took games off; a report Williams denied. True or not, the Clippers may feel inclined to shake things up and recoup some of the assets they lost in the Paul George trade last summer. If that is indeed the case, Boston could desperately use the services of the perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Whereas the Clippers ranked 1st in bench points per game last season, the Celtics ranked 29th. Assuming Los Angeles re-signs Montrezl Harrell, they should have plenty of offensive firepower even without Williams. Landry Shamet and any other veterans they sign this offseason should be able to pick up some or most of the slack Sweet Lou would leave behind. If the Clippers start shopping Williams around the league, the Celtics should be first in line.
Photo: (Mark J. Terrill – AP Photo)