Often, for a basketball team, finding that perfect fit can be more about a player’s personality and attitude than it is about athletic ability or a specific skill set.
When building toward a championship, the type of players you want are the players who do everything they can for their team, the game and their communities. Players who are champions both on and off the court.
Danny Ainge, who was a member of one of the most team-oriented squads that ever played the game, seems wholly aware of this. The Celtics have stated their intentions of looking for high-character guys. They’ve also said they’re looking for players who might have a chip on their shoulder.
The Celtics have so many options this offseason that it’s almost mind-boggling to figure out what they’re going to do. Besides draft picks, trade targets, and contract negotiations with existing players, there’s also a well-rounded free agency class to consider with a lot of solid talent that could help Boston take the next step.
Boston will be looking hard at almost everyone available in free agency. Yet with so many similar skill sets across the board, the deciding factor in who the Celtics choose to sign will almost definitely have a lot to do with player personality.
Obviously it’s a top-heavy free agent class with Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Andre Drummond all in the mix. But James and Drummond are unlikely to be going anywhere, and Durant is obviously on top of almost everybody’s list of free-agent targets, so there’s already a lot of material written about the possibility of Durant coming to Boston.
I thought I would have a look at a few players from this free-agent class who would suit the Celtics' style and identity of selfless, team-oriented basketball—players who are not just good guys to have around but good guys all around.
Unrestricted Free Agent - Atlanta Hawks - Power Forward - 6’10" - 30 years old
Personality profile: By all accounts Al Horford is one of the nicest guys in the entire NBA. We’re talking Tim Duncan levels of likeability. He’s held in high regard around the league by players and coaches from all over.
Back when Doc Rivers was still beloved by Bostonians as head coach of the Celtics, Rivers spoke about coaching Al Horford during the All-Star game saying,
"I love him, I love watching him. I was just telling someone, of all the All-Stars, coaching the All-Star team, he was hands down—it wasn't even close—my favorite guy. Just the way he carries himself."
Rivers certainly isn’t alone in his praise for Horford, with teammates and coaches often commenting on Horford’s positive attitude and influence.
But Big Al is more than just a good ‘locker-room guy.’ He’s the type of player who puts in work on and off the court, approaching his community commitments with the same professionalism that he practices in-game.
The Dominican-born forward not only regularly contributes his funds and time to established charities but also runs his own charitable organisation, ‘Al’s Amigos’, which organises activities for underprivileged children.
On working in the community Horford has said, "It’s a blessing to be an NBA player and to be in a position to help other people. It makes me happy to know that I’ve been able to impact people’s lives. I’m committed to giving back to the community and will continue to do whatever I can to help people in need."
All in all, Al Horford seems like a really good guy.
Does he have a chip on his shoulder? With such a positive attitude Big Al might not present himself as someone who acts with the type of intensity that would suggest he’s playing with something to prove.
Yet after years of being considered a star but not a superstar Horford could find a renewed drive to prove the doubters wrong. Especially if he chooses to move to a new setting.
Player fit/team needs: There’s been rumors tying Horford to the Celtics since before the trade deadline, which isn’t surprising. Horford will be a valuable contributor wherever he ends up. He possesses a multifaceted game and is able to do a lot of things very well. If the Celtics do seek him out in free agency I don’t doubt that he is someone who could make the team better.
He’s a frontcourt player who can run and space the floor and a perennial All-Star who has been a key contributor to the Hawks’ success. He’s versatile, smart and has increased his range in recent years.
However, Horford has a history of injuries, and having just turned 30 he could be looking at his last, or second-to-last, contract. He’s not necessarily a dominant player, and despite his efficiency he’s never really proven to be a go-to guy.
His career history reads like that of a good but maybe not great player, which the Celtics have worked wonders with before.
Based on his personality and versatility Al Horford seems like the type of player who would not only fit the Celtics system but could also add to their existing team identity.
Player Option - Toronto Raptors - Center - 6’9" - 23 years old
Personality profile: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Biyombo was born, is one of the most dangerous places on earth. The central African state is almost constantly embroiled in civil war and subject to famine, disease and high infant mortality rates.
Biyombo is extremely appreciative that his skills as a basketball player have given him the opportunity to escape the DRC. Yet he also remains acutely aware of the plight of those who still struggle in his home country and does all he can to give back, returning to the DRC every summer to perform charitable works.
Biyombo has given funds and his time to help build schools and hospitals as well as contributing to help to provide jobs and growth in his home country, where he is hailed as a hero.
As recently as this year’s playoffs Biyombo set up a donation fund where he gave a thousand dollars for every rebound he made against the Hawks.
Biyombo counts fellow Congolese national, Dikembe Mutumbo, as one of his idols, and despite a recent finger-wagging feud, Mutumbo speaks highly of his ‘brother.’
"He doesn't need my permission to do (the finger wag)," Mutombo said. "Bismack is my youngest brother. I have nothing to be mad at him."— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) 25 May 2016
The two have worked together in the DRC on a number of charity projects and clearly feel a certain kinship. Biyombo brings a similarly passionate personality to the NBA to that of Mutumbo, having been inspired by the 90s icon.
Biyombo’s recent success in this year’s playoffs bodes well for the possibility of him living up to the favourable comparison to the legendary Dikembe Mutumbo. Yet a shaky start to his NBA career and remaining issues offensively might hold Biyombo back from reaching his full potential as a basketballer.
Does he have a chip on his shoulder? Did I mention that Biyombo comes from a war-torn country and plays every game with the knowledge that he could have just as easily ended up another statistic of the DRC’s decades-long conflict?
Or that he counts as his biggest idol and inspiration the dominant forward, Dikembe Mutumbo whose attitude and aggressiveness on the defensive end remain highlights of the highlight-riddled era of basketball that was the 1990s?
Yeah, this guy plays with a chip on his shoulder. A guy who once lived off a meal a day in a country where survival was not a guarantee has to play with aggressiveness and assertiveness. Not because he’s playing for his next meal, at least not anymore. these days he’s playing for his kin and countrymen, trying to do as much as he can on the court to fuel his passion projects off the court.
Player fit/team needs: Boston are still in need of a solid rim-protector and Biyombo has proved he could fill that need for the Celtics. Biyombo’s defensive efforts at this year’s playoffs were a revelation to many, garnering him new found acclaim around the league.
He’s athletic, young and defensively minded. In a lot of ways he seems a perfect match for Boston’s fast-paced, hustle-based style of play.
Yet his perceived lack of offensive polish makes Biyombo a gamble for any team. He’s shown he can perform on the defensive end, but most remain skeptical as to whether he can develop an NBA-level offensive game.
For a team like Boston who is still looking for additional offensive weapons to compliment their existing roster Biyombo might not seem like an ideal candidate. Yet he remains a young, capable, player and one who may well be worth investing in.
With the right coaching he could develop into a viable two-way threat, and even if he doesn’t his efforts on the defensive end of the court are so impactful they almost make-up for his offensive difficulties.
If the Celtics do choose to take a gamble on the Congolese-born center they’ll know they’re getting a player whose personality embodies the ethos of the Celtics. Biyombo is someone who is willing to work hard for whatever he can get and give back everything he can.
Restricted Free Agent - Golden State Warriors - Small Forward - 6’8" - 24 years old
Personality profile: Harrison Barnes might not immediately spring to mind when discussing the high-character guys of this year’s free agency class. Not that he doesn’t seem like a nice guy, but perhaps he doesn’t stand out among the pack as anything exceptional.
But Barnes is a quiet achiever. He has worked in the Bay Area with the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Oakland as well as with a number of other youth and community projects.
Barnes regularly goes above and beyond the standard commitment expected of him by charities and charitable organisations and seems to genuinely enjoy giving back to his fans and the local community.
When mega-fan and cancer survivor Cole Vitiritto was granted his ‘wish’ of seeing a live Warriors game, the organisation and Barnes in particular went all out. With Barnes playing the young fan one-on-one at the Warriors practice facility before the pair spent an afternoon goofing around and playing video games together.
Beyond his great work in the community Barnes also shows an outstanding commitment to improving his game in general.
Players and coaches talk about Barnes as someone who is very serious about his job. He often shuns nights off in order to stay late in the practice facility and work on his game.
Barnes has a tremendous attitude, especially for a young player. His commitment to being the best he can be, whether playing basketball or working within the community, is illustrative of his high character.
Does he play with a chip on his shoulder? Barnes is an exciting player to watch at times. But he’d hardly be described as the most intense player on any roster.
If he does choose to leave Golden State then it could go one of two ways for Barnes. Either he plays with the assurance of someone who has already seen championship glory early in their career and lacks the drive to get there again. Or he could want to prove that he’s able to lead a team to the championships himself rather than simply contribute as a role player.
Player fit/team needs: With his youth, exuberance, intelligence and demonstrated commitment, Barnes would be a good addition to almost any roster in the NBA.
Right now Barnes remains a role player, albeit on a championship team, and while he has shown maturity and patience playing from the bench he definitely seems like someone who is ready to step up.
The Celtics already seem committed to keeping Crowder at the small forward position, so a move to acquire Barnes may upset the delicate chemistry the Celtics have worked so hard to achieve.
But Barnes is a player with a lot of upside and untapped potential. His attitude in general is obviously of a championship calibre. Even with all the early success he’s already seen in his career he seems like someone who wants to push himself even further.
If the Celtics are able to get Barnes at anything near a reasonable rate, they’d be crazy not to consider striking a deal. They can always figure out his specific position on the team later.
You get what you pay for:
Besides the player’s analysed above, there are plenty of other players in this year’s free agency class that could be considered really great guys. But due to various factors including fit and suitability, for now I’ve only looked at Horford, Biyombo and Barnes
These three players will all be looking for something at least near the max contract this offseason. With the salary cap increase looming and a lot of teams holding onto extra capital and looking to make a move it’s going to be an extremely competitive offseason.
With his winning personality and versatile playing style, if Horford is signed for under the max contract on a short-term deal that would be an absolute steal.
To me, the value of signing Horford would depend more on the length of the contract than how much he would cost. If there’s the possibility of signing Horford on a two- to three-year deal he might just be worth it. But there’s no reason to over-commit to a guy whose best basketball years may well be behind him, no matter how nice he is.
After showing up big in the playoffs Bismack Biyombo has substantially increased his value entering free agency.
For the Celtics, who are in a position to spend big this offseason, acquiring Biyombo is a definite possibility. But they might not want to take a risk on a player with a limited offensive skill set, especially if he comes with a high price tag.
Meanwhile, with talk circulating that the Warriors are willing to offer big money to keep Barnes around, any other teams that are interested will have to be prepared to pay up.
Committing big money to Barnes will probably be seen as an overpay, at least initially. But investing in a player with Barnes’s ability and maturity could be the type of move that really makes a difference for a team looking to move forward.
It’s funny how all these high-character guys all seem to be asking for high pay cheques, but players of this calibre and character can command high-level contracts.
From good to great:
The Boston Celtics are a franchise renowned for their team-oriented approach. Now, more than ever, with Brad Stevens as the head coach there seems to be a belief in Boston that they could turn any player’s career around. But that’s always easier to achieve when a player comes already equipped with the right attitude.
Whether being doubted because of age, struggling with offensive woes or simply wanting to push for more, Boston is a place where good guys can come to be great.
With the options available to them, almost anything could happen this offseason for the Celtics. One thing that seems certain is that Boston will be looking hard at players who they believe fit the profile of high character guys.
Players who are selfless in life are unsurprisingly selfless on the court. They’re the type of guys who always aim to do everything they can and that’s the type of attitude that can help teams win games and challenge for championships.