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Boston Celtics free agent preview: The Bigs

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Retaining Aron Baynes is a top priority for the Celtics this summer

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

With NBA free agency just a day 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 off season.

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 bigs!

1. Aron Baynes – Unrestricted Free Agent: If retaining Marcus Smart is priority #1 for the Celtics this summer, then Aron Baynes is 1A on the list. Baynes swung between the starting center role and playing off the bench, largely dependent on match ups and what personnel was available to Stevens. No matter the role, he gave Boston exactly what they were looking for: size, toughness and solid defense in the paint.

In addition to the somewhat known quantities above, Baynes proved to be a better offensive player than many thought. He is a terrific screener and solid ball mover. He has soft touch inside and is pretty good at catching lobs around the rim. But what was most surprising was his ability to hit three-pointers. Baynes broke this last skill out in a big way in the playoffs. The Celtics will do everything reasonable to retain Baynes, and he’ll be a big part of the rotation if he’s back in Boston.

2. Greg Monroe – Unrestricted Free Agent: Monroe was largely a disappointment after Boston acquired him when he was bought out by the Phoenix Suns. He did fine as a passer, often filling Al Horford’s role running the offense from the top of the arc, but struggled in most other aspects. He didn’t have the impact as an inside scorer or as a rebounder that Boston had hoped for. If Baynes gets an offer that Boston can’t beat, maybe Monroe returns to the Celtics. Otherwise, he’s probably headed elsewhere this summer.

3. Anthony Tolliver – Unrestricted Free Agent: Tolliver is a rugged defender inside, while being able to step out and knock down three-pointers on the offensive end. Essentially, he’s everything teams want from a big man in the increasingly downsizing NBA. Tolliver has played plenty at both the 4 and the 5 over the course of his career. He’s not really a rim protector in the traditional sense as a shot blocker, but he’s one of the better positional defenders in the game. Tolliver is regarded as a smart player and one that fits just about any system.

4. Dante Cunningham *(can swing to wing) – Unrestricted Free Agent: Cunningham has been a solid 3/4 type for years, providing good shooting from deep. He’s not anyone that teams gameplan for, but Cunningham has been a good rotation player for several years now. He’d fit in Boston as a solid replacement for Marcus Morris, if Morris was to move on from the Celtics for some reason.

5. Ed Davis – Unrestricted Free Agents: Davis has been a player Celtics fans have had some eyes on for years. He’s a bouncy, energy big who hits the glass and blocks shots. In many ways, he’s what Boston has lacked for the last few years. If Baynes isn’t re-signed, Davis could make a lot of sense as a replacement of sorts.

6. Kyle O’Quinn – Unrestricted Free Agent: O’Quinn is another guy Boston fans have long had eyes for. He’s a solid offensive player and a banger inside on defense. He’d fit in Boston’s blue collar style quite well. Like some others on this list, he’s really only an option if Baynes isn’t back in Boston, but he’d be a good one.

The big position is loaded with really good options, especially of the role player variety. The Celtics first priority is to bring back Aron Baynes, which would limit their need to add an additional big man. They’ll like start Al Horford as the long big, with Jayson Tatum sliding up to play the other team’s second big. Baynes would be the first big off the bench, joined by a healthy Daniel Theis in the rotation. Guerschon Yabusele and rookie Robert Williams III provide the development depth.

That is more than enough, especially in a league that trends smaller and smaller each year. Things only really get interesting if Baynes leaves Boston. Then Danny Ainge will have to go find a replacement. If the Celtics see Yabusele and Williams as needing a full year to develop, they could then target an additional veteran big to supplement Horford, Baynes and Theis.