With NBA free agency just days away from opening, as the league year will flip from 2017-18 to 2018-19 on July 1st, it’s time to take a look at which players might be on the move. After making the biggest free agent signings in franchise history the last two summers in Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, the Boston Celtics are expected to have a much quieter offseason.
The Celtics don’t project to have any cap space and dodging the luxury tax is probably more of a goal than adding any sort of high-priced talent. That said, there will still be some movement, so we’re going to preview free agency here at CelticsBlog with a Boston slant!
The first way we make this free agency preview Celtics-centric is to look at it in the way Brad Stevens defines positions:
· Ballhandlers – These are not only the guys with the ball in their hands, but the guys who defend the opposing team’s traditional point guards.
· Wings – Your classic shooting guards and small forwards grouped together, as Stevens uses them interchangeably.
· Bigs – Here we have the power forwards and centers. Again, Stevens uses these positions largely interchangeably.
· Swings – We won’t do a preview for this one, but these are guys who can swing between spots. We’ll notate them like this: *(can swing between wing and big)
The next way we make this all about Boston is to tailor our rankings in a way that makes sense for the Celtics. Sure, they’d love to be in the mix for LeBron James and Kevin Durant as free agents, but that isn’t going to happen. Instead, we’ll look at those players who might have a shot at wearing green and focus our efforts there.
On to the wings!
1. Jabari Bird – Restricted Free Agent: Bird played for Boston on a two-way contract after the Celtics drafted him in the second round of the 2017 NBA Draft. He showed promise in the NBAGL with the Maine Red Claws and had some flashes in a late-season call-up with Boston. He’s regarded as a good shooter and smart ball-mover. He needs work on the defensive end of the floor, but has the tools to develop there.
The Celtics tendered Bird a qualifying offer last night, so they’ll have matching rights on any offer sheet he signs. It’s unlikely he’ll return to Boston as a two-way player again. This time around Bird is likely to get a standard deal that comes with a shot at competing for a roster spot.
2. Tyreke Evans *(can swing to ballhandler) – Unrestricted Free Agent: Boston was linked with Evans at the trade deadline, but the Memphis Grizzlies chose to keep him. Assuming the Celtics are able to keep the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception whole, they could get back in the mix for Evans as a free agent. He’s an accomplished scorer and can play some backup point guard in a pinch. Evans has the type of versatile scoring game that the Celtics have lacked off their bench since Evan Turner left town. If he’s willing to play for something in the $5 million or so range, expect Boston to at least have a conversation.
3. Avery Bradley/Gerald Green – Unrestricted Free Agent: Let’s call this the “Old Friends” section. Bradley hits the market at an unfortunate time. There isn’t much cap space to go around, and he’s coming off a season-ending injury. When healthy, Bradley is a lockdown defender at the guard position. He’s also a better shooter than most give him credit for. He can’t really swing over to play the point on offense, as witnessed by the Celtics multiple attempts to make him a lead guard. Bradley is similar to Evans, in that he may need to settle for a chunk of the MLE with a team on a 1-year or 1+1 deal. Bradley can then prove he’s healthy and hit a more robust market in 2019.
Green is probably out of the mix for the Celtics as well, as they could have brought him back last year and chose not to. But he’d be a good fit as a bigger wing, providing depth behind the team’s topline starters. Green has also shown a willingness to play a depth role as a bench shooter/scorer with inconsistent minutes. That was his role with Boston in 2017 and with Houston in 2018. He’d also likely come to the Celtics for the veteran minimum, which would help alleviate tax concerns.
4. Wayne Ellington – Unrestricted Free Agent: Ellington is interesting as a player who has blossomed later in his career. After being asked to do a lot of different things in his early years, Ellington has been allowed to focus on doing what he does best over the last few seasons: shooting the ball. He doesn’t bring a whole heck of a lot to the table beyond shooting, but he does that very, very well and every team needs shooters. The Celtics bench unit doesn’t project to have much shooting, and Stevens could draw up a handful of sets that utilize Ellington in a big way.
5. Mario Hezonja/Glenn Robinson III – Unrestricted Free Agents: In the bigger wing category, Hezonja and Robinson could both benefit from a change in scenery. Hezonja never really developed in Orlando, but still has all the potential in the world. Boston’s system of development and playing to a player’s strengths could work wonders for him. Hezonja can shoot the ball some and has shown a small amount of ability to play both point guard and power forward. He’s still completely lost on defense at times, and is prone to periods where he turns it over a lot and takes bad shots. But if the Celtics trusted Stevens and his staff to get him there, he’s a worthy gamble as a “second draft” player.
Robinson got hurt and missed most of last year, just as he was coming into his own as a player. He’s got terrific size on the wing and could hold his own in Boston’s “switch everything” defensive scheme. On offense, he’s got a developing shot, which complements his already strong game getting to the hoop. He could be a candidate for a 1-year deal, with the idea of him blowing up as a player.
6. Tyrone Wallace *(can swing to ballhandler) – Restricted Free Agent: Wallace was a success of the two-way contract structure last year, but it kind of backfired. When he played better than expected, the Clippers lowballed him on an offer to convert to a standard NBA contract. Wallace passed on that and was then trapped in the NBAGL, after using the entirety of his 45 NBA days as a two-way player. Los Angeles is expected to tender him a qualifying offer, as they don’t want to lose his rights for nothing. If a team crafts a smart offer sheet, the cash-strapped Clippers could be forced to let him go. Wallace would fit in Boston as a bigger playmaker on the wing, as sort of a Tyreke Evans-lite player.
Bonus. Kyle Korver – Trade: Korver is still one of the NBA’s best shooters, even at his advanced age. Like Ellington above, he doesn’t do much more than shoot, but few have done that better in the history of the game. If LeBron James leaves the Cavaliers, they have little need for a veteran like Korver. The Celtics could put together a small package and bring Korver to Boston to play the designated shooter role.
The wing position is loaded with options for the Celtics. They have great depth on the wing already in Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, with Marcus Morris behind them. But the way the roster is shaping up, Tatum and Morris may end up playing more as bigs than as wings. And there is always the chance that “Trader Danny” will ship someone, or multiple someones, out of town. Either way, the roster can always use more depth along the wing.
With several great options, ranging from high-priced veterans to bargain level players, expect the Celtics to be active in this market. And at the end of the year, we’ll probably all laugh and shake our heads at whatever steal they come away with.