According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics and Nuggets are the betting favorites (+475) to raise the Larry O’Brien next spring. Denver is the obvious choice out West as the defending champs will return with their starting lineup intact. After getting ousted in the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games. Boston on the other hand has already made a franchise-shifting trade, sending Marcus Smart to Memphis and acquiring Kristaps Porzingis from the Wizards.
On the eve of free agency, the big question is whether President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens and the Celtics front office has done enough? Jaylen Brown still has another season left on his rookie extension with presumably a supermax contract coming next month. Boston does have other decisions looming though.
First and foremost is Grant Williams’ restricted free agency. The team extended a qualifying offer to the four-year pro on Thursday as a matter of formality. Here’s former CelticsBlogger and Spotrac’s Keith Smith on what could be the Celtics’ biggest decision over the next few days:
As for the rest of the roster, the Celtics are right up against the super tax line. That means they are basically re-signing Grant Williams, moving him in a sign-and-trade or losing him for nothing. Even if Williams leaves town, Boston may not find enough wiggle room to use the $5 million Taxpayer MLE.
If Williams signs an offer sheet, Boston will have 24 hours to match, but regardless of that outcome (and whether or not they’ll be armed with the taxpayer mid-level exception, they’ll still have the rest of the roster to fill out. Here’s the current depth chart at head coach Joe Mazzulla’s disposal:
Ball handlers: Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, Payton Pritchard
Wings: Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Sam Hauser, Justin Champagnie (non-guaranteed), Jordan Walsh (drafted)
Bigs: Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Robert Williams, Luke Kornet (non-guaranteed)
That could be up to five roster spots up for grabs heading into the offseason with several questions to answer. Will Brogdon be healed — physically and mentally — after nearly being traded to the Clippers? Can Pritchard slot in as the third guard in the rotation? Could the Celtics use another wing to shore up their depth behind the Jays? Should the back end of the roster be used for regular season depth and development or fortified with ring-chasing veterans? Will Blake Griffin be the face of the Bus 1 Boys again?
Before free agency starts at 6 pm EST, here are some suggestions from our CelticsBlog staff:
Jeff Pratt: A rotational wing is the most pressing need on this roster. I understand concern over the lack of backcourt depth after trading Marcus Smart, especially considering the ambiguity surrounding Malcolm Brogdon’s injury. That said, I’m going to operate under the belief that Brogdon will be ready to go for the start of the season — as has been reported — and Payton Pritchard will still be around to bolster the backcourt. While I’m a fan of Sam Hauser, it’s clear this roster needs a third wing with playmaking capabilities to take some of that burden off of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Two names come to mind that Boston could target with the taxpayer mid-level exception, if Brad Stevens opts to use it. The first is a reunion with Josh Richardson, which I’m certain many Celtics fans would welcome with open arms. Richardson only played 44 games in Boston, but his effort and production on both sides of the floor made him a mini fan favorite. JRich can handle the ball, create his own shot, and step up to the challenge of guarding an opposing team’s best wing/guard. He was quite productive in San Antonio last season before being traded to New Orleans, where his role diminished to an extent. At only 29 years old, Richardson still has plenty left in the tank.
If Richardson does not wish to pursue a reunion in Boston or he ends up being priced out of the taxpayer MLE, another player I’d like the Celtics to look at is Torrey Craig. Nothing about his game pops off the screen, but he’s an incredibly reliable 3&D wing. On a Suns team that struggled significantly with injuries last season, Craig was a staple of consistency and health. The 32-year-old played 79 games for Phoenix and started 60 of them, averaging 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest while shooting a career-best 39.5% from three. He may not be flashy, but his skillset and availability are exactly what the Celtics need.
Tim Sheils: After acquiring Kristaps Porzingis, I think the next pivot for Boston would be to shore up on the wing behind Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Despite the added depth with Malcolm Brogdon, the Celtics felt thin at times and lacked some size, especially with Danilo Gallinari sidelined. A traditional wing that could eat some regular season minutes and spot starts as necessary would do wonders for Boston, and there’s a few reunions that would make a lot of sense. Both Josh Richardson and Javonte Green should be targets for the Celtics that would mesh well and provide some serious depth behind Brown and Tatum. Either is achievable, either with the veteran minimum or taxpayer MLE, if the Celtics do a little maneuvering. Honestly, I would be shocked if neither ended up in Boston, especially with Javonte and Jayson being so close and in terms of cost. It feels like a no-brainer.
Harris Rubenstein: I think the rumblings of Javonte Green making a return to Boston is a good idea for both sides. Boston needs cheap, capable players who can fill in for an injury in a pinch. Green can shoot the 3-ball well (37% last season) and is a decent enough defender that he can hang on an NBA court during the regular season. Plus, might also help to bring in a familiar friendly face with Smart gone. Familiarity is a good thing, He could be a nice locker room edition to help mitigate the fallout.
Jack Simone: In terms of legitimate free agency targets who could get rotational minutes on the Celtics (as an eighth or ninth man), Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig are my summer crushes. Both play high-level, high-intensity defense, can knock down threes, and probably won’t be too expensive. That being said, it seems likely that both will return to their respective teams (the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns). A Javonte Green reunion would also be fun, as he could actually help the Celtics out with rotation minutes at the three/four.
But as far as the Bus 1 Boys go, please bring Malik Fitts back. There was nothing I enjoyed more than watching him hit a quick air guitar celebration on the sidelines. In fact, just bring in Fitts and Matt Ryan. Get the band back together. Outside of the reunion train, though, Jay Scrubb, who will be playing Summer League for the Celtics, could be intriguing. His athleticism and cutting are similar to Green, and he’s still only 22 years old.
Bobby Manning: Of all the reunions listed above, Javonte Green intrigues me most. He can play, Brad Stevens loved him and he looks like a free agent who could slip through the cracks of interest and receive a minimum contract. The Celtics need some depth at the wing position, even considering Sam Hauser’s increased reliability, to relieve Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown through the course of the season. Green played an excellent complementary role next to Chicago’s stars and already did the same in Boston. Bench excitement? He’ll bring that, too. Tatum’s friendship is a bonus. Other names: Georges Niang as a sharpshooting Massachusetts native, Oshae Brissett as a Syracuse alum and Jalen McDaniels.
Adam Taylor: Finding a backup wing has been the biggest area of need over the past 12 months. We thought the Celtics were going to get something done around the February 9 trade deadline, but no dice. I like Torrey Craig as an option with the Tax-Payer MLE. However, a reunion with Javonte Green does make a ton of sense. Green would also add some much-needed athleticism to Boston’s bench rotation and could provide new wrinkles to Joe Mazzulla’s offense as a small screener with genuine verticality on the roll.
If we wanted to get a little bit more creative, taking a closer look at Nickeil Alexander-Walker could be a smart play for a buy-low, sell-high move. Since entering the NBA, Walker has spent 54% of his minutes at the two, 36% of his minutes at the three, 7% of his minutes at the four, and 3% of his minutes at the one. Alexander-Walker also shot a career-high 38.4% from deep last season. The Minnesota Timberwolves recently opted against extending him a qualifying offer, so Alexander-Walker may be available for a reasonable price. With a developing jumper and some positional versatility, there could be some sense in making Alexander-Walker a target.
Other than that, just give me all the Jordan Walsh minutes possible, bring back Green, and re-sign Blake Griffin so we can enjoy some more immaculate vibes next season.
Bill Sy: The punitive nature of the new CBA shook some fruit loose off some NBA trees. The Celtics probably aren’t in the market for cap casualty veterans like Taurean Prince, Malik Beasley, or Eric Gordon, but there are plenty of options in that second chance draft. Four seasons in New Orleans didn’t enamor Jaxson Hayes with the Pelicans and he’s now a free agent. The former #8 pick is bouncy and strong and a good candidate for a look-see deal. Darius Bazley was born in Boston and after a rocky start, shot 37.7% from behind the arc last season. He’s got decent length at 6’8 with a 7’0 wingspan to be a switchy defender on the perimeter and rim protector in the paint.
And as many of you know, I’m a sucker for reunions. Go get Javonte Green, Brad. Also, nothing would warm my heart more than Jeff Green coming back to the Celtics in his third (kinda) stint. I also would love to bring back Dwight Powell. He had a cup of coffee in Boston before being traded to the Mavericks with Rajon Rondo. He’ll most likely be re-signed by Dallas, but that’s a call I’m making.