Believe it or not, Kevin Durant isn't the player to hit the market this summer, and the Celtics may have some spots to fill with three contracts expiring.
As the Celtics season comes to a close after losing a 6 game bar fight with the Atlanta Hawks, our attention quickly turns to free agency as the Celtics are in position to improve on an already competitive roster. The Celtics have about $52 million on the books right now leading into a season where the salary cap will rise to about $89 million. Oh, and Kevin Durant is going to be a free agent, too.
Now, we can’t assume Kevin Durant is going to leave Oklahoma City, but we also can’t assume he’ll stay. While Durant himself has said much about his future plans, Kendrick Perkins, who played with Durant after being traded by the Celtics, spilled the beans a little bit in an interview saying “He’s got a few teams that he will be looking at.” Do the Celtics have a real shot at signing Durant? Maybe, but don’t get your hopes up. No matter how bright the future is, it doesn’t change history, and history indicates that free agents generally aren’t interested in signing here, no matter how good the team is. Danny’s biggest free agent haul was made possible by the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to the 2007-08 season, which convinced the likes of Eddie House, James Posey, and PJ Brown to hop on the hype train. Other than that, the biggest names to sign in Boston were old Rasheed Wallace, super-old Shaq, and mid-life crisis Stephon Marbury. Don’t forget the time the Celtics made the playoffs four years in a row from 2001-2005 (included a trip to the ECF) and still didn’t lure anybody to play alongside Paul Pierce. We like to dream big, and we also appreciate the Amir Johnson signing, but we shouldn’t be disappointed when Durant doesn’t walk through that door.
With the contracts of Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, and Tyler Zeller running out, Danny might look towards some other free agents as replacements, especially if he does manage to acquire another star player. (Boogie trade, anyone?) Even with eight picks in the upcoming draft, building through free agency would allow them to become contenders sooner rather than later, and those picks might be better served in a package sent in exchange for said star player. So who, besides Kevin Durant, might the Celtics want to consider?
1. Mirza Teletovic – unrestricted
Teletovic shot 39.3% from deep last season, which is dead even with his career average. As a 6’9” player (same height as Sullinger) he also grabbed 3.8 boards per game. The Celtics’ lack of shooting prowess was an issue all year, and the Atlanta series really drove the point home. Sullinger’s weight has been a concern for a while, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he fails to reach an agreement with the team if his next contract has a weight clause in it. Teletovic is 30 years old, but doesn’t play a game that would be hindered by age. I think he should be near the top of Danny’s list.
Source: Kim Klement - USA Today Sports
2. Ersan Ilyasova – unrestricted
Ilyasova is another forward who can stretch the floor. At 6’10” he averaged 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 37.1% from long range on an average of 3.5 attempts. Orlando is one of the many young and exciting teams in the Eastern Conference, but they ended the year with a 35-47 record. Obviously every team in the east can’t finish with a good record, but trading Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings is a step backwards for them in my opinion, and Ilyasova could fill a need on a team like the Celtics who are on more of an upward trend. Ilyasova is 28 years old, so an Avery Bradley-type deal wouldn’t be so bad with the salary cap going up. If we’re still lacking shooters after deep into free agency, I think he’s worth strong consideration.
Source: Matthew Emmons - USA Today Sports
3. Josh Smith – unrestricted
Yes, I’m serious. I know his stock is extremely low right now, but with the Rockets going down in flames I think he’s worth a look. Smith is only 30, and his lack of production could easily be just as much a product of his surroundings as it is his own attitude. I can’t make sense of what happened in Detroit, but let’s not act like he’s the only player to not work out well with the Clippers (e.g. Lance Stephenson) and the Rockets (e.g. 75% of their roster). While Smith is not a good shooter, he is a super-athlete who can finish plays at the rim and receive outlet passes on a Celtics team that can run a fast break off an opponent’s made basket. With strong rebounding guards like Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier on the floor, Smith would have ample fast break opportunities on long defensive rebounds. He could also shore up the defense in a smaller line up with Kelly Olynyk or Tyler Zeller if he sticks around as a decent shot blocker. If Evan Turner walks away for a big contract, we’ll need someone taller than 5’8” who can finish plays at the rim and I think Smith could be that guy. I wouldn’t go anywhere near a long-term deal, though.
Source: Michael Scotto, AP
4. Arron Afflalo – player option ($8 million)
Afflalo can decline his option with the Knicks this summer, which he may be inclined to do after being relegated to the bench. I don’t expect he’d be looking to hop to another team’s bench, which is where the Celtics would put him, but I also doubt many teams will offer him a spot in their starting line up. He had about as many 2-8 shooting games as he had 9-13-type performances, and that kind of inconsistency makes it hard to start for a competitive team. Afflalo could possibly start for a team that needs scoring far more desperately than Boston, but I think Danny Ainge should still make a pitch to him if the free agent pool starts to dry up. Players that can generate their own offense are hard to come by and he could pick up where Turner left off if he decides to leave. I may be underrating Afflalo a bit, as he shot 44% from the field and 38% from deep last season, but his inconsistency is more worrying than Smith’s in my opinion, as Afflalo was theoretically a better fit for his team as a scoring threat to take pressure off Carmelo Anthony.
I don’t suspect that the Celtics want to get much older next year, but picking up a 30-year-old with playoff experience could be just what they need to play a more stable playoff series. The difference between the home Celtics and the road Celtics was night and day, and we all know they don’t plan on adding all eight of their draft picks this year to their already deep roster.
I personally think there’s a less than 10% chance that Durant signs in Boston, especially if Miami becomes an option. We’ve already seen what happens when star players join Dwyane Wade (don’t forget about 2006 with Shaq). Wade is 34 now, but I’ll believe he’s too old when I see it. I don’t think the Lakers are an appealing option for anyone right now, and I don’t see how the Warriors could sign him without giving up too much. If he does leave OKC, and Miami decides to pay Whiteside, and Chris Bosh is healthy, then I think his best opportunity on another team is Boston. If Boston pulls off a trade for Boogie Cousins, I would go so far as to say there’s a 15% chance they land Durant, but that’s as high as I can go, because if a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with a rookie Paul Pierce isn’t convincing, then I don’t know what is.