Today is the last day of June. At the stroke of midnight, NBA free agency begins. Will the Boston Celtics be able to land a max level free agent for the 2nd year in a row? Will they be able to follow up that move with a blockbuster trade as well? If so, when will it all happen? Here are a few things to watch for.
It seems like every year we see some free agent agreeing to terms on a contract just minutes after midnight. How that happens without tampering happening is anyone’s guess but it happens somehow. It is worth noting that agreements can’t be officially signed until the moratorium ends (midnight July 6th). So frequently you’ll hear news break that Free Agent X has agreed to terms, then days later you see news that that same player has officially signed.
Expect Hayward to take his time:
All eyes in Boston are focused on Gordon Hayward. I wouldn’t expect a quick decision from him though. He’s already outlined a plan to visit Miami and Boston and talk with Utah (in some order) before making a decision. There are a lot of moving parts and he’s likely going to want to hear from teams what their next-steps plans are. Utah has to decide what offer to give to George Hill, who Hayward enjoys playing with. Miami seems like the 3rd choice here, but you can never completely count out Pat Riley. As for Boston, the much talked about next step could very well be Paul George. But that’s complicated too.
About Paul George:
The Celtics will be hesitant to give up significant assets for George without having confidence that he’ll sign long term (likely next summer). The case for selling George is easier if you have Hayward in place already. Of course the case for selling Hayward is easier if you have George in place. Also, everything could fall apart if the Pacers ultimately decide to send him somewhere else (and they absolutely should explore all their options). Obviously there are a lot of moving pieces here.
Ok, then what about Blake Griffin?
Griffin is certainly a very reasonable backup plan. Of course no free agent wants to be told they are a backup plan. With the deck cleared in Los Angeles it seems like the Clippers could be gearing up to build around Griffin... or they might pivot and blow things up entirely. The Heat are rumored to be interested in Blake, which makes for an interesting dance between the Celtics, Heat, Hayward, and Griffin. The Suns have emerged as a team that may chase Blake as well.
What about our own free agents?
Most of our free agents are destined to be let go, if only to free up cap space. Amir Johnson has already gotten some rumored interest from Toronto and one would think that Jonas Jerebko could land on his feet somewhere. The Celtics, as expected, gave Kelly Olynyk a qualifying offer which they can rescind if they need the cap space.
What if plans A, B, & C fall through?
If Gordon Hayward decides he can’t leave Utah and Blake Griffin prefers warmer climates and Paul George manages to steer himself to Hollywood, what options are left for the Celtics?
There’s a chance that the Celtics could pursue lower tier free agents like Paul Millsap or Danilo Gallinari, though probably not for the full max. The Celtics could also decide to tie up Kelly Olynyk for a market value deal and run back a similar team to the one we saw this past year (with rookies like Jayson Tatum and Ante Zizic playing a role).
Of course the Celtics could still trade with their considerable pile of assets, but if George, Butler, and others are already off the table, who’s left to spend those assets on?
What other teams should we keep an eye on?
Every team is trying to win the offseason. Houston is always creative and ambitious. The Suns seem eager to take the next step forward. The Clippers have some interesting decisions to make. The Cavs and Warriors also have difficult decisions on how to stay on top. On the other end of the spectrum, the Nets could be big players in the restricted free agency game. The Sixers might finally be ready to spend big on win-now type players. The Pistons might be looking to shake things up as well. The Spurs always have something up their sleeve that nobody sees coming. These are the teams that come to mind, but there’s always some team that comes out of nowhere and makes a big offseason splash.
It should be a fun summer. The first few dominoes have already fallen (Sixers/Celtics trade, Chris Paul trade). When the clock strikes midnight, the rest of the offseason kicks into high gear. As usual, check back early and often right here on CelticsBlog for rumors, breaking news, and in-depth analysis.