Don't expect the Boston Celtics to set off fireworks with any moves this summer at the guard position, but we could see some sparklers. Unless Rajon Rondo is traded, the biggest firework we'll see is the re-signing of guard Avery Bradley.
After selecting Marcus Smart at #6 in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Celtics managed to bolster their backcourt depth, but they still need to fill the role of "sparkplug," a position that Danny Ainge has had every single season of his tenure as general manager. Seriously, just look at that list to the right.
There's no question that Boston will be active in their pursuit of a scorer who can light it up from the guard position; thankfully, there are a load of options in this year's class of free agents. Here are the ten possibilities that best fit the Celtics' system in the fourth part of our Offseason Preview Series:
Avery Bradley (Last Team: Boston), 6-2, 200 lbs (Restricted FA)
2014 Basic Stats: 14.9 pts, 3.8 rebs, 1.4 asts
"I think Avery can be a very key player in us winning the championship. He does things that other players can't do," said Danny Ainge. "I think Avery's a big part of this." It's not a surprise that Boston would like to re-sign Bradley, since he's arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA and he has constantly improved his offense every season of his career, but it's reassuring to know the team feels the same way.
Everyone knows how incredible Bradley is on defense, but his offensive impact often goes understated; while he wasn't the most efficient scorer last year, he was effective. For the first time in his pro career he was expected to be a go-to scorer and he delivered when he had to. His three-point percentage rose to 39.5 percent, which is incredible considering he attempted over 3.3 attempts per game.
Even towards the end of the season, Bradley started draining above the break three-pointers, a development that has been expected for some time. Contrary to popular belief, AB has been a stellar shooter going back to his collegiate career with Texas, so he's right on track with his progress at only 23-years-old.
If Bradley continues to improve his ball handling he could potentially become a much more dynamic scorer, and will the Celtics let go of that potential? Doubt it. Bradley is far too valuable and it would be stunning if he were playing for another organization next season unless an outrageous offer is made.
Concerns about AB's durability are worth discussing, and it certainly lowers his price tag, but that could work to the Celtics' advantage if they are able to retain him for a cost lower than his actual production indicates he's worth.
Isaiah Thomas (Last Team: Sacramento), 5-9, 185 lbs (Restricted FA)
2014 Basic Stats: 20.3 pts, 6.3 asts, 2.9 rebs
Isaiah Thomas is a terrific shoot-first point guard and he'd work extremely well in Brad Stevens' motion offense because of his ability to spread the floor with his shot. In addition, Thomas brings the same versatility Rondo has with the ability to pound the dribble and create a shot for himself or a teammate. Thomas certainly isn't a "better" point guard than Rondo, but his incredible shooting ability adds that one dimension that Rondo still lacks.
Despite the obvious fit, it's difficult to see how the Celtics could realistically acquire Thomas unless it was in a sign-and-trade for Rondo or a big like Jared Sullinger. Unless something is brewing behind the scenes, Thomas will likely be out of the Celtics' price range if he's only expected to be their backup point guard. But if they really are working on a trade, as they were rumored to be last December, then you never know.
Kent Bazemore (Last Team: LA Lakers), 6-5, 201 lbs
2014 Basic Stats: 6.0 pts, 1.7 rebs, 1.4 asts
In a bit of a stunning move, the Los Angeles Lakers didn't extend a qualifying offer to Kent Bazemore, making him an unrestricted free agent. Already, the Boston Celtics are one of the few teams expected to show interest in him, according to Alex Kennedy.
Bazemore is like a lesser version of Lance Stephenson, without any of the personality issues. Like Stephenson, "Bazed God" is a combo guard who can handle secondary pick-and-roll duties and be relied upon to make the right play, whether it's pulling up for a shot, driving to the basket, or passing it to a teammate.
While Bazemore isn't a lockdown defender like Stephenson is, he still plays with enthusiasm, intensity, and love for the game. Bazemore frequently anticipates passes and jumps the passing lanes, and he already has a handful of exciting chase down blocks on his resume. With his size, he could potentially defend three positions.
With a sweet three-point stroke, Bazemore finally began to find consistency with the Lakers, drilling 37.1 percent of his attempts in 23 games. Even though it's quite a small sample size, he may be the type of player who requires an actual consistent opportunity in order to produce with his shot.
There are no guarantees that Kent Bazemore sustains this success, but considering his form and his expected price tag, he's probably worth the risk.
Troy Daniels (Last Team: Houston), 6-4, 204 lbs (Restricted FA)
2014 Basic Stats: 8.4 pts, 1.0 asts, 0.8 rebs
Troy Daniels came out of nowhere and started banging threes for the Houston Rockets during their incredible first round playoff series. With the Rockets focused on clearing cap space, they declined Daniels' team option making him a restricted free agent. While they are expected to retain him, he could interest a lot of other teams because of his incredible stroke from the perimeter.
Jodie Meeks (Last Team: LA Lakers), 6-4, 208 lbs
2014 Basic Stats: 15.7 pts, 2.5 rebs, 1.8 asts
Players that provide a scoring spark off the bench are able to carve out a role in the NBA, but those who do it efficiently are able to sustain long careers; Meeks is the latter, with a career 52.6 eFG percentage, and a career-high of 55.4 last year. If the price is right, it's hard to imagine the Celtics wouldn't at least inquire about Meeks.
Patrick Mills (Last Team: San Antonio), 6-0, 185 lbs
2014 Basic Stats: 10.2 pts, 2.1 rebs, 1.8 asts
Patty Mills made a name for himself with an unbelievable performance in the NBA Finals, but he only did what he has consistently done throughout his entire career: Drain three-balls. With a similar motion offense system, Boston could be a fit for Mills as a premiere bench player who can torch nets, just as long as he balances himself with the solid pure point skills he developed with the Spurs.
Jerryd Bayless (Last Team: Boston), 6-3, 200 lbs
2014 Basic Stats: 9.3 pts, 2.7 asts, 2.0 rebs
Jerryd Bayless has played for five different teams over the course of his short six-year career, in large part because of his shoddy shot selection. Even though Bayless has talent as a scorer, he doesn't play the same efficient style that plenty of the other options on the market do. But since he had some mild success in 41 games with Boston, there may be some interest in re-signing him to a deal.
Bo McCalebb (Last Team: Fenerbahce Ulker), 6-4, 202 lbs
2014 Basic Stats (Euroleague): 11.0 pts, 2.9 asts, 2.7 rebs
Does that name ring a bell? If you're a hardcore Celtics fan it might, because he destroyed Boston during a preseason game back in 2012 for 21 points and 9 assists. McCalebb might be 29-years-old but he brings veteran experience and could certainly interest the Celtics because of his incredible first-step. While he isn't the most efficient shooter, he is able to hit spot up attempts as an off-ball threat.
If you need any verification of McCalebb's talent, it's worth noting that the Spurs tried hard to sign him back in 2012 but were unable to reach an agreement. Now he has a complete contract buyout with no future guaranteed money in Europe, so it's the perfect time for him to make the jump to the NBA, and maybe his last chance considering his age.
Andrew Goudelock (Last Team: UNICS Kazan), 6-3, 200 lbs
2014 Basic Stats (Eurocup): 19.3 pts, 2.9 asts, 2.0 rebs
After rotting on the bench as a rookie under Mike Brown, Andrew Goudelock went to the D-League in 2012-13 and won MVP. And then last summer he made the jump to Europe and immediately took advantage of his opportunity, winning Eurocup MVP.
In both the D-League and the Eurocup, Goudelock proved that he can shoot the lights out, but he also appears to have raw skills as a combo guard. If Boston has interest in the 25-year-old free agent, they'll probably have to outbid a European club, but he could be a fit for the team.
Malcolm Delaney (Last Team: Bayern Munich), 6-3, 190 lbs
2014 Basic Stats (Euroleague): 12.3 pts, 4.4 asts, 3.3 rebs
Malcolm Delaney has won back-to-back-to-back European championships with three different teams and has received loads of interest from the Houston Rockets, who would've signed him at the end of the season if it weren't for the lack of an opt-out clause in his contract.
While all indications point to him being signed by Houston, Boston could have interest in his services, since he is a fearless shooter who can sink shots from all over the court. While he isn't very efficient, his percentages would likely improve in a smaller role that maximizes on his spot up shooting abilities.
What Would I Do?
Priority #1 is obviously to re-sign Avery Bradley to a fair contract, somewhere in the ballpark of $6 to $9 million per. My only fear is that another organization will make an offer that he can't refuse and it's one that the Celtics will be unwilling to match. Even though Bradley has tons of talent, and is still so young, he's not someone I'll willing to break the bank for just yet; the most I'd be willing to go is $10 mil per, but only on a shorter contract.
No matter what happens with Bradley, I'd like to see the Celtics go after another combo guard. Even though a core of Rondo, Bradley, and Smart is extremely strong, I'm still not convinced that Phil Pressey is an NBA player. I like his skills a lot, but I think he can be improved upon.
A player like Kent Bazemore or Jodie Meeks is much more complimentary to Marcus Smart because of the three-point shooting they can provide. Even some of the wings mentioned in my other article can comfortably play the two-guard alongside Smart.
I'd go as far to say that I'd be disappointed if Boston didn't at least attempt to sign one of the many talented combo guards on the market, because it would help to have a "sparkplug" alongside Marcus Smart as he continues to develop his pure point guard skills.
I also included three International guards on this list because I think they are all intriguing options that deserve recognition. Considering Boston's infatuation with scouting prospects overseas, it wouldn't be too stunning if they have been keeping tabs on their development and would consider signing them, even if it were just as a trial during training camp.
All in all, Boston is actually in a pretty good position with their backcourt, provided they're able to re-sign Avery Bradley. But even if they envision Phil Pressey as the future backup point guard, it doesn't hurt to keep building and adding more talented young players.