When you are a kid, nothing beats your birthday—the anticipation, the party, the cake, and especially the gifts. Ripping open the wrapping and that sense of pure joy of getting a new toy was unmatched. As you get older, you gain perspective, and priorities change. It is still fun to receive things, but (generally speaking) you don’t need as much.
The Boston Celtics have grown out of their rebuilding phase. They’ve already unwrapped their biggest offseason gifts in the last two years. Some of them just haven’t been fully enjoyed yet. (Like getting a snowboard in July, we just have to wait a little longer.) This offseason could still have some plot twists and surprises, but I kind of hope it doesn’t. All I want to do is bring back this team and see how far it can go.
Still, it is my job to set the table for this NBA free agency feast, so let’s look at what’s on the menu this summer (from a Celtics perspective, of course).
Marcus Smart - restricted free agent
The question of the summer is how much Marcus Smart can get in the restricted free agent market. In theory, most teams know that the Celtics value Marcus very highly and are likely to match any reasonable offers. However, all it takes is one team to make an above-market offer that would force the Celtics to make a tough decision.
And just what is his market value to the Celtics or another team? There’s the rub. Who can put a number on intangibles? Drew Doxy put it this way in our Exit Interviews series:
If you’re looking for box score improvements from Year 3 to Year 4 for Smart, you’re not going to find anything significant. Many of his numbers are regressions, and his FG% and 3FG% are only slightly better than last year. But if you’re looking for box score improvements, you’re missing the point. Next season, there’s a chance Smart’s box score numbers continue to decrease, especially if the team keeps Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris. As long as his plays continue to lead to wins, that’s what matters. As Smart approaches free agency this summer, we’ll see how much both he and the organization value winning.
Keith Smith had this to say about Smart in his offseason primer:
Smart in a lot of ways is the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately all that grit and hustle doesn’t come with a reliable jump shot. Smart is one of--if not the best--perimeter defenders in the entire NBA. He’s also a much-improved playmaker at the point guard position. But the question remains: How much money can you commit a player who can’t shoot? Recent reports are that Smart wants a big contract. The challenge for Smart is that this market won’t likely bear that out. Expect the Celtics to be patient with Smart. Boston isn’t using cap space this summer, so they have no reason to rush a decision.
So it may take a while for this to sort out. An added wrinkle to watch is how Smart’s future plans play into how the team intends to use Terry Rozier—not just on the court (where minutes will need to be distributed to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward) but perhaps in the trade market (you can’t pay everyone). But that’s another article for another time.
Aron Baynes - unrestricted free agent
Mr. All of Australia was one of many unsung pleasant surprises this season. He was an excellent anchor for the defense and set hard screens on offense. He even added a corner three-point shot in the playoffs. The Celtics would very much like to bring him back. Once again, however, the question is in the price. Sam Sheehan breaks down the financial implications:
Baynes will be in line for a pay raise, and the Celtics can offer him about $5.2M before needing to dip into their mid-level exception. The Celtics could use the full mid-level exception to give Aron (or any other free agent) around $8.6M a year, however, that would hard cap the Celtics and place spending limits on them in deals for possible superstar players that may arise during the year. Additionally, any money given to Baynes takes away from funds that could be offered to the (arguably) more important Smart. If you, like me, think the Celtics will stay below the tax this year, this is a tight window to operate in.
Aron Baynes could theoretically get more money elsewhere, but the market is pretty tight, and centers are less valued and seemingly easier to come by these days. So I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Baynes back in Boston on a reasonable deal that both sides can feel good about.
Filling in the rest of the roster
The Celtics have already come to an agreement with one free agent, Brad Wanamaker:
The former University of Pittsburgh star played one season in the NBA’s G-League in 2011-2012 before going overseas. Wanamaker played in the Turkish League and EuroLeague this past season, averaging 11.5 points and 3.5 assists in 69 games.
Boston will also have decisions to make on Shane Larkin, Jabari Bird, Jonathan Gibson, and Abdel Nader. Who will make the roster, who gets a two-way contract, and who becomes a camp casualty?
Something to keep an eye on near the end of free agency as the money dries up around the league: veterans unable to sign big deals that want to play for winning teams and chase after a title. The Celtics are in position to contend for a title and could be just the right situation to entice a still-valuable role player to accept the veteran minimum to play for Brad Stevens.
Boston has a tremendous amount of depth across the board, but they can always use shooting, ball-handler depth, and perhaps a veteran big man.
Keep it simple (tl;dr)
When it all boils down to it, the Celtics roster that is already in place should be good enough to contend for a title in the upcoming year and for the foreseeable future. Nothing is guaranteed, and there are legitimate issues that could arise from having too much talent and not enough minutes or shots (or eventually money) to go around. But these are good problems to have, and, for the moment, the safest plan is to run it back and see how this all really fits together before making additional changes.
The past two years have gifted the Celtics with stars both young and old (Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum). If the Celtics can simply keep Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, they can consider the summer a success. Leave the free agent toys to the kids, and enjoy the moment with this team.