The 2014 NBA free agency period officially commenced at 12:01 AM on July 1. The pool of players entering free agency is the most talented since…. well 2010, when LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade all conspired to join forces in South Beach.
This time around, additional names among the unrestricted free agents that add to the intrigue this summer include Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry to name a few. Couple that with restricted names likes Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe; and it’s easy to imagine many NBA teams being extremely active in vying for their services.
As for the Boston Celtics, the franchise entered the summer on the heels of a 57-loss season and is at a crossroads in their rebuilding. After a fairly successful NBA Draft, the team must now focus on significant enhancements to the roster if the Celtics have any thoughts on ascending the Eastern Conference standings.
As for the draft, it clearly lived up to its billing, as the much anticipated event had numerous sub-plots with many teams. Like many of their competitors, the Boston Celtics entered the draft with high expectations; that an elite star would be available to select and possible a franchise-changing trade could be orchestrated involving their present or future picks along with established players.
Team owner Wyc Grousbeck went so far as to tell the media weeks ago that he expects “fireworks” this summer. For such fireworks to exist a major move would be needed. Not from a lack of trying, the Celtics entered and exited the first major off-season phase (draft) leaving with the same selections they entered with; nabbing Marcus Smart (PG) from Oklahoma State and James Young (SF) out of Kentucky.
While I personally preferred selecting power forward Noah Vonleh out of Indiana with the 6th pick, the Celtics did pick two talented players who can certainly boost the Celtics’ roster and make the team more competitive next season. Marcus Smart was widely considered a top five draft talent; one who is a physical player on both ends of the floor. James Young is considered to be a solid shooting forward from Kentucky who will provide perimeter offense for an occasionally stagnant offense.
The selections made raise questions about the long-term status of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. As Smart is considered an NBA-ready talent who can play both guard positions, do the Celtics view him as a point guard who is Rondo’s heir apparent or replacement? As for the defensive Bradley, is his future contract status (restricted free agent) a reason Smart was brought in?
Of the players whom the Celtics could pursue this summer; it is a safe assumption that most of the elite free agents will seek employment elsewhere. This can be attributed mostly due to the team’s current competitive position as well as the tenuous situation with their only current star (Rondo). It has been long speculated that the Celtics will continue to be in the mix as a trade partner with Minnesota for All Star power forward Kevin Love. This should be the franchise’s top priority as his presence would immediately turn around the franchise’s fortunes. A trade for Love does come with a clear risk; Love is not likely to sign an extension after the season and would join Rajon Rondo in next season’s free agent pool.
A trade would make sense as priority number one as Ainge developed the reputation of acquiring assets in order to make future deals. His nickname “Trader Danny” has been earned since taking over the reigns of the franchise back in 2003. Those bold moves led to a title in 2008; and fans should expect more of the same this time around. As Boston is not among the desired free agent destinations, this option becomes even more critical.
If a trade is not viable, free agency then becomes the priority; albeit difficult to execute. Should the Celtics view Rondo as the player they wish to build around; augmenting the team by adding an interior paint presence would be valuable as a backstop for the tenacious backcourt defense of Rondo, Bradley and Smart. In addition, with Rondo’s playmaking skills, a spot up shooter would pay huge dividends. With that in mind, I would anticipate center Greg Monroe (Detroit) and Gordon Hayward (Jazz) as two prominent targets. Monroe is a double-double machine who adds size to the interior, while Hayward is a sharp-shooting wing player who head coach Brad Stevens knows quite well (Hayward played for Stevens at Butler University).
If those restricted free agents are not available, center Marcin Gortat and forward Luol Deng could be viable second options. While Deng is not as good a perimeter shooter, his defense has long been his calling card and would bring solid veteran presence on the floor. Gortat has emerged as a solid NBA center who is an energy guy on the floor.
The third tier of players the Celtics may consider are more limited in skills or upside. Among those players include the names Josh McRoberts, Andray Blatche, Channing Frye, Evan Turner, and Trevor Ariza. While these are not household names, they do bring something to the equation. Of the players listed, Ariza and Frye would be viable third options. Frye is not the paint presence other big men are, but does possess solid offensive skills. Ariza is a solid wing defender with range who would complement the Celtics roster.
Depending on how some of the Celtics own personnel decisions shake out, the team may have as mush at $10 million in available cap space. Player options for that kind of money fall more into the second and third tier free agents. This is why a Kevin Love trade makes so much sense; convert existing assets and bring in an established star. Once in town, the Celtics would have the ability to pay more to retain Love than any other team can. It’s a long shot, but at this stage in the game, Ainge will need to be bold in order to accelerate the rebuilding. One thing is for sure; Ainge is not shy in making bold moves. Perhaps that will again pay big dividends for the Celtics and their fans this summer.
Scott Duhaime is a New England Sports fan and former resident, transplanted to Ohio. Despite his new address, his passion for sports hasn’t diminished, but rather broadened to now cover the Cleveland sports scene. Scott’s sports commitment is best evidenced by his creation and continued contributions to Banner Day Boston and Banner Day Boston Radio.