Danny Ainge laid out the offseason plans for the Boston Celtics in his end of season press conference, saying that the front office will "have a busy summer" and will chase the top-tier free agents.
"We're going to go after any and everybody that we think is a significant player to upgrade our talent," Ainge said. "And when I say upgrade our talent, you've got to be pretty good to upgrade our talent, because we have good players. And so we're going after all the top names on the list and we'll see what happens."
The Celtics will likely target unrestricted free agents Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, and Kevin Love (if he opts out). They shouldn't waste their time on restricted free agents Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Draymond Green, because their respective teams will match any contract offer made.
But maybe it's not so crazy for the Celtics to pry away one of the elite big men.
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"Some players look at the Celtics organization and the tradition and think it's something special, some don't. Some prefer hot weather to cold weather," Ainge said, adding that making money and getting an opportunity to play are the top priorities for players.
"We have to prove to people that we have those opportunities for them to be paid, to play, and to reach their full potential and to win. I think Boston will be a good destination for some."
For example, Aldridge has played in cold Portland for his entire career, has spoken about how much he values tradition, and is reportedly willing to test the free agent waters. Maybe the Celtics can offer him an easier road to the Finals than any other team can, with an elite coach, and the chance to be a Celtics legend with number "12" hanging in the rafters.
But that's just a dream, so the Celtics have to be ready for Plan B. It's more realistic that they end up making a run at the second-tier free agents, as previously covered, so which players could they have in mind?
Here's what Ainge said about that: "We often talk about transcendent players and stars, but I think the hardest skill to find in our league is guys that can score in the fourth quarter, the last six minutes of the game type of scorers. Usually the offensive patterns don't score baskets at that time, usually it's the individuals and the talent and I think that's always a priority, regardless of need by position. But those kinds of players are hard to find and I think that Isaiah is our best at that right now, so it'd be nice to have one or two more of those before the season starts next year, and ideally at other positions."
Let's recap that quote: Ainge says the Celtics want a scorer that...
- Shines in the fourth quarter.
- Plays a position other than point guard.
- Excels outside of the system.
The Celtics have already acquired players who fit the "clutch" criteria: they drafted Marcus Smart and James Young, who both shined in big moments in college, and they traded for Isaiah Thomas, one of the league's most lethal late-game scorers.
Looking ahead to the offseason, which non-point guards also fit that description? Here are some of the "realistic" free agent targets:
Many speculate the Celtics will go after restricted free agents Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton, but Harris fares significantly better late in the fourth quarter and overtime, since his eFG% increases by 2.8%. On the contrary, Middleton's plunges by 7.8%.
This is somewhat surprising, since most of Middleton's game is based on spot up shooting, whereas Harris is asked to create off the dribble. But even in the fourth, Harris shoots three-pointers 3.3% better than Middleton (38.3% to 35%).
One of the knocks on Harris is that the ball has a tendency to stick in his hands, but maybe Ainge doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing, considering his comment about offensive patterns being less successful in the final frame.
Public data isn't available to review this, but there's no doubt the Celtics analytics department has studied everything you can think of. Maybe they found that scoring out of isolation and pick-and-roll is more pertinent to a team's late-game success than their base offense.
As for the bigs, Kevin Love shoots 7.5% worse in crunch time, which doesn't help the existing perception that he isn't a clutch player -- previous studies pegged him as one of the least-clutch free throw shooters in the NBA. Considering his recent injury, it seems less likely that the Celtics will chase him. LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol both suffer subtle dips in production, but it pales in comparison to Love.
Ainge things the Celtics are an appealing franchise that could draw elite players here.
"Most of the guys that have played here love it here and they don't want to leave once they're here. Not all of them are really excited about coming here when they first get here, but by the time they leave they love the organization and they love the city," Ainge explained. "So we need to get the word out, but I think that a lot of agents respect our team and our organization, and our history. A lot of players listen to some things their agents have to say, who have been in the NBA for a long time."
This is a pivotal offseason for the Boston Celtics to accelerate their rebuild and if things go according to plan for Danny Ainge, then Brad Stevens could be coaching a loaded roster deep into the playoffs next year.