The offseason is upon us, and that means rumors and speculation will dominate the headlines. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz will likely undergo major changes, but for the Boston Celtics, that won’t be necessary.
Boston is coming off an impressive run to The NBA Finals. Although they fell short of their ultimate goal, this run proved that their current core has what it takes to compete for the title. And better yet, all ten of their primary rotational pieces are already under contract for next season. In fact, the only player on the Celtics not under team control this summer is big man Luke Kornet.
However, while the Celtics’ roster likely won’t see any big time changes, that doesn’t mean they won’t be trying to actively improve. Boston’s lack of true depth showed up in The NBA Finals, and President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens noted this during his end-of-season interview.
“I felt like our depth was really good through the East. And then obviously, we struggled off the bench in The Finals,” said Stevens. “So, as you kind of go through and look at the big picture of it all, there’s no question that, again, whether that comes from the guys that are within the program now… or that comes from outside, we’re going to do we’re going to try to do both well.”
After the quartet of Derrick White, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, and Daniel Theis, the Celtics didn’t have anybody they could turn to. As Stevens mentioned, this worked out well during the majority of the playoffs, but when those players went cold in The Finals, Boston’s depth was exposed.
In turn, adding a couple more depth pieces would go a long way to improving Boston’s chances. If nothing else, the extra help would take some of the weight off of the Celtics’ stars during the regular season.
At their disposal this summer, the Celtics will have a myriad of TPE’s. There’s a $17.1 million Evan Fournier TPE, a $6.9 million Juancho Hernangomez TPE, and a $5.9 million Dennis Schroder TPE. They have a bunch of other small ones, but they all won’t expire until next season. In addition, Boston will have their taxpayer MLE available to them, which will clock in at just over $6.3 million.
Keith Smith mentioned a few potential needs in his Celtics offseason primer: wing depth, an extra big, and additional playmaking. So, with their available options, what players could the Celtics target this summer?
Cody/Caleb Martin (via MLE)
Either of the Martin brothers would be a phenomenal fit on this Celtics roster. Both are set to be free agents this summer, although the Heat just extended their qualifying offer to Caleb Martin. It’s looking like he could be heading back to South Beach, so Cody Martin would be the more likely target for Boston.
In his 71 games played for the Hornets last season, Marin averaged 7.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.2 steals on 48.2% shooting from the field and 38.4% shooting from behind the three-point line.
On a Hornets team with little-to-no defensive presence, Martin was the glue that held them together. His defense was often called on by James Borrego when Charlotte needed a spark on that end, and the former coach even said that they needed him to “be our best defensive guy.”
With Charlotte’s spending habits being aired out like dirty laundry, it would be unsurprising to see Martin move teams this summer. And while he’s easily the more likely option for Boston, either he or his brother would be a great fit.
TJ Warren (via MLE)
This is a much riskier option for the Celtics to take. TJ Warren has played just four games in the last two seasons. The last time he strung together more games than that was in The Bubble (where he turned into Michael Jordan).
That being said, Boston could use that to their advantage. Warren will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and since he’s such an unknown, his market value will definitely be down. There’s always a chance he signs a similar deal to the one Victor Oladipo inked with the Heat last summer, but he may command a bit more money than that.
If the Celtics can get him on a deal that fits into their MLE, it could be worth the risk. At his best, Warren is a lethal scoring threat with an improved three-point shot. And at 6’8, he plays just enough defense to fit into Boston’s scheme.
Duncan Robinson (via TPE)
The idea of a trade for Duncan Robinson has been floated around recently. His value is at an all-time low after struggling to earn playoff minutes on the Miami Heat. However, while most people see that and believe Robinson had an awful year, that’s not entirely the case.
Robinson wasn’t nearly as effective as he has been in years past, and yes, his shooting percentages did drop. But a “bad” year for Robinson equated to him shooting 37.2% from distance on 7.9 attempts per game. He also shot 38.3% in the playoffs.
In actuality, the Heat just found a cheaper, better defensive option than Robinson in Max Strus. And now that they have him on the roster, paying Robinson a ton of money to get replaced in the rotation doesn’t make much sense.
While Robinson’s lackluster defense could scare some Celtics fans away, it’s important to remember that Boston has enough defensive talent to mask Robinson. He doesn’t have to play 35 minutes a night, but just having a sharpshooter of Robinson’s caliber on the roster to play around 20-25 minutes would be extremely valuable — especially considering the Celtics probably wouldn’t have to give much away to acquire him.
Gary Harris (via MLE)
In the latter half of his stint with the Denver Nuggets, Harris emerged as one of the best 3&D players in the business. But then his three-point shooting started to go downhill, leading to him getting traded to the Orlando Magic. However, this past season, he found his footing again just in time to hit the free agency market.
There’s a good chance Orlando looks to bring him back, as they’re short on wings themselves, but Boston should at least inquire about his services. At 6’4, he’s a bit short to play the three, but he makes up for it with stellar perimeter defense. Combine that with his revived shot, and he’d be a solid bench piece for Boston.
An extra big
Isaiah Hartenstein (via MLE)
It’s probably smarter for Boston to use their MLE on wing depth, but if they wanted to go the route of securing an extra big man, Isaiah Hartenstein could potentially be had for the full MLE. He wrapped up a quietly productive season with the LA Clippers, and while they’ll likely look to keep him around, they may not be willing to offer him their own MLE.
Hartenstein was a sneakily good defender in his limited role in LA. In fact, among players to challenge at least 150 shots at the rim, his 47.5% opponent’s field goal percentage topped the league rankings. The 7’0 big man plays with great energy and is still only 24 years old.
He’s a decent enough offensive option, too. Hartenstein averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists for the Clippers last year on 62.6% shooting from the field. And although he didn’t attempt many threes (30 total), he shot a decent clip (46.4%).
Again, Boston will likely look to target wings with their MLE, but if nothing stands out to them, Hartenstein would make a solid backup. Signing him would also likely allow the Celtics to move on from Daniel Theis, whose salary they could package with other pieces in a larger deal down the road.
Damian Jones (via MLE)
After spending the beginning of his career with the Golden State Warriors, Damian Jones struggled to find a home. But during his time with the Sacramento Kings last year, he showed that he could provide some value as a backup center. He struggled to earn minutes to start the year, but by the end of the season, he was a regular part of Sacramento’s rotation.
Jones appeared in the Kings’ final 11 games, averaging 27.3 minutes per contest and starting nine of them. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.4 blocks over that time span on 71.1% shooting from the field.
This stretch will likely give the Kings some incentive to keep him around, but if they decide to prioritize bringing in veteran help this summer, there’s a small chance Boston could snag him for a reasonable price. At 6’11 and turning 27 years old, Jones could be a reliable backup option in brief stints for when Robert Williams takes his rests.
Dwight Powell (via TPE)
Adding Dwight Powell would take up a large chunk of the Fournier TPE, as he’s set to make $11 million this upcoming season. However, he’ll be on the last year of his deal and would make for a quality backup center option to help take the load off of Al Horford and Williams.
He started 71 games for the Dallas Mavericks last season, but with their latest addition of Christian Wood, they may be willing to part ways with him. Powell doesn’t excel in any one area but is simply a solid, all-around option at the center position.
Plus, he’s reliable. He played all 82 games for the Mavs last season, which should be music to Celtics fans’ ears. Having someone as consistent as Powell would benefit Boston’s bench simply because he would be available to play wherever he’s needed.
John Butler Jr. (or any other undrafted free agent)
This may be a personal pick, but Butler (in theory) could be a decent backup for Williams in a few years. After the draft, Stevens stressed the notion that Boston can afford to develop a few players in the coming years. Butler is an athletic, shot-blocking, 7’1 big man who plays with constant energy. He’s not ready to contribute right away, but again, having someone on the roster who can at least mimic what Williams brings would be a useful commodity.
In general, scouring the undrafted free agent market may be Boston’s best bet at finding a third or fourth-string center. If they use their TPE and MLE on wings and guards, their opportunities to add quality big men will decrease. Butler can shoot, and although he needs developing, he’s the perfect player to take a chance on. At the very least, adding an UDFA to a two-way deal at the center position could be useful.
Looking at young, hungry players that can eventually develop into a backup would be a smart idea, especially at the big man position. With Horford getting up there in age, Boston will have to add center depth soon, but for now, the Williamses and Theis can probably hold down the fort.
Bruce Brown (via MLE)
Okay, so it was difficult to figure out where to place Bruce Brown. He’s not really a wing, but he’s also not the typical playmaker that fans think of when people scream for additional playmaking. However, his passing ability would be very useful off the bench.
Brown has quickly turned himself into one of the best Swiss Army knives in the league. He’s played a crucial role for the Nets for the past few years, and there’s a decent chance he simply chooses to return. But if he has any interest in playing for his hometown team, the Celtics could offer him the full MLE in an attempt to draw him out of Brooklyn.
The 6’4 guard/wing/center is one of the most versatile role players in the business. His cutting ability makes him lethal off the ball, he’s a solid ball-handler due to starting his career as a point guard, and his shooting has improved enough to the point that he needs to be respected from distance.
And on top of all of that, his defense is good enough to fit in seamlessly with Boston’s switch-heavy scheme. Brown has to be toward the top of Boston’s dream target list, but it’s all a matter of what teams are willing to pay him.
TJ McConnell (via TPE)
In the same vein of Morris, there’s TJ McConnell. There are the obvious questions of whether or not the Celtics would be willing to pay a third-string guard over $8 million, but at the same time, he fits into the Fournier TPE and would give the team a big-time playmaking boost.
McConnell has never been a three-point shooter, but that’s also never been the role he’s been asked to play. He’s a pest on defense, as he led the league in total steals two years ago. Plus, with Indiana heading toward a mini rebuild, they could be open to trading him for salary relief. But again, paying that much money for a depth guy may not be toward the top of Boston’s priority list.
Jevon Carter (via MLE)
Boston may not even have to use the MLE to sign Javon Carter, who ended last season with the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s fairly undersized at 6’1, but in terms of defensive-minded point guards who would fit into Boston’s system, there aren’t many better than Carter. He’s one of the better guard defenders in the league, especially when looking at reserves.
Carter has never been known for his playmaking, but he’s certainly a capable passer. He was one of the more effective players in Milwaukee’s series against Boston until Mike Budenholzer shut him down in favor of George Hill. The Celtics could try to poach him to be their third-string guard, and they may only have to hand him a veteran minimum contract.
Avery Bradley (via MLE)
It says MLE, but Bradley will probably end up getting signed to a league-minimum deal, which would be an even better deal for Boston. Brad Stevens has already made a habit of bringing back old faces (Al Horford and Daniel Theis), so why not do it again? Despite the Lakers’ struggles last year, Bradley actually posted solid numbers.
He shot 39.0% from distance on 3.4 attempts per game and averaged 22.7 minutes per contest. His role would likely be even smaller than that in Boston, so if he can simply shoot the ball well and play the same, quality defense that he’s played for his entire career, he would make a solid third-string point guard. (And it would also allow Boston to focus on spending their real money elsewhere.)
The wing position seems to be the spot where Boston could use the most help. After that, adding extra depth at the guard and center positions will be next. And while they don’t have any actual cap space to work with, their MLE and TPEs give them some pretty intriguing options.