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Celtics Free Agency Preview: Fireworks Or Another Letdown?

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Here we go again.

While most of us iron out the final details for our 4th of July plans, hoopheads everywhere are making sure their phone chargers are near by and they have plenty of band aids just in case they hit the refresh button one too many times leading up to the real fireworks.

After a predictable season of the actual NBA basketball, now comes the fun part. Shortly after midnight, the soap opera known as the NBA offseason will begin.

It should be another interesting summer for the Boston Celtics, one that will either end in jubilation or frustration. The pressure is on Danny Ainge and company, who are determined to add a pair of stars, whether that comes from handing out a max contract or a blockbuster trade -- or both. There's been plenty of smoke surrounding the team since they fell to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and there's some actual confidence that they'll once again do something to improve the team after they landed Al Horford last year at this time.

But, then again, Celtics fans are used to disappointment in July. They left for the Hamptons last season with hopes of bringing Kevin Durant back with them, but we all know how that turned out. Horford was a nice consolation prize, and without him they wouldn't have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. But this is a crossroads kind of summer for Boston, when they'll either move all those chips to the middle of the table or sit back and continue to build for the future in a time when the Warriors and Cavaliers don't rule the realm. They have the established players and the young pups to do either, and we know Ainge is more than willing to deal after trading away the No. 1 pick last earlier this month. But can he find the right deal?

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The rumors and hot takez have been out there for weeks, but July 1 at 12:01 am is when NBA Free Agency officially begins. Teams and players can agree to terms starting in the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning, though contracts cannot be officially signed until July 6.

Here's a quick roundup of players who could be wearing Green next season, or if you're a glass half empty kind of person, all the players we've wasted weeks discussing:

The Fireworks

Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward greets Isaiah Thomas at the 2017 NBA Skills Challenge during All-Star weekend. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Hayward is one of the biggest names out there this summer, and the Celtics are among the favorites to sign the free agent Jazz forward.

Hayward, 27, is coming off of a career-year in Utah, earning the first All-Star nod of his seven-year career. He's an all-around offensive player who can create his own shot, something the Boston roster currently lacks other than Isaiah Thomas. He's also a good enough defender in his own right.

And maybe you've heard that Hayward went to Butler, and played under Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. That an enormous advantage for Boston (and by enormous, we mean not very big, considering he's played under Quin Snyder longer than Stevens).

Boston is one of three teams he'll meet with when free agency gets underway, with the Jazz and Miami Heat also in the running. This sets up another battle between Ainge and Heat president Pat Riley, which you can never really predict.

Paul George

Paul George (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The George trade talk began on draft night but quickly subsided. It ramped back up the following morning when WBZ NewsRadio's Adam Kaufman reported the Celtics were aiming for a Hayward-George offseason, and it's been going strong ever since.

Though George is a free-agent-to-be, he'd be the stud scorer Boston needs alongside Isaiah Thomas. It's a huge gamble if George doesn't sign an extension, and if he does Boston would likely have to gut their roster, as ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote about on Friday. Still, if the Celtics can get him without giving up their best assets, it may still be worth it.

But that doesn't seem to be the case based on recent reports (read: what Ainge has leaked out), with the Pacers demanding the 2018 Nets pick and the Lakers/76ers/Kings pick and a pair of starters. That doesn't mean a deal can't get done, but with the Lakers, Cavaliers and Wizards among the other teams interested in George, Indy's asking price may not budge.

The Celtics should be able to make the best offer for George's services, but we'll have to wait and see if Ainge is in a gambling mood this offseason.

Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Griffin was seen as Boston's "Plan B" if they can't sign Hayward, but he's now the Clippers' "Plan A" following their trade of point guard Chris Paul. That means he'll probably be getting a max deal this summer, which may be too rich of an investment for the Celtics if they want to keep their options open for the next few years. The Suns are also reportedly high on Griffin this season, and Ryan McDonough has made it a point to stick it to the C's this summer.

There's no doubt the rebounding-deficient Celtics could use a player like Griffin, a five-time All-Star. He's not the greatest rebounder in the world, but would no doubt be a solid addition to play next to Horford down low.

He's just 28, but injuries are the big concern with Griffin. That fear may outweigh the potential upside in the end.

Plan B (And C, And D)

If the Celtics miss out on Hayward and Griffin, and George is traded elsewhere or remains on the Pacers, it will be a big fat failure for Ainge and the front office. But it will be even worse if he goes out and signs someone just to sign someone, inhibiting them from taking another shot next offseason.

That means there's a chance we see the same roster as last season (now with Jayson Tatum, of course). Should things go to a dark, dark place for the Celtics, here are a few backup options the Celtics could add:

Danilo Gallinari

Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Italian Stallion isn't going to be cheap, costing somewhere north of the $20 million range annually, and like Griffin he's battled a rash of injuries the last few seasons. But Gallinari would add some instant offense to the Celtics lineup. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 18.2 points and shot a career-high 49 percent for the Nuggets last season, and Stevens would have a lot of fun having a versatile forward in the lineup.

He's not the big trophy of the offseason, but wouldn't be a bad consolation prize if the Celtics miss out on all the big fish.

Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

A backup plan for their backup plan, Gay may be worth a one-year investment to provide some offense. Plus, the trend with Gay is that the team he leaves gets better the following season, which could mean great things for the Celtics in 2019 if they land him on a one-year pact.

J.J. Redick

JJ Redick
J.J. Redick (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

A pure shooter who can score points in bunches. It'd be tough to fit him in on the crowded roster, but he'd be another guy who can hit shots for the C's.

James Johnson

James Johnson (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The 30-year-old journeyman could be a cheaper option for the Celtics, who must love the 6-foot-9 forward's versatility. Johnson played a lot of point-forward for the Heat last season, and can essentially play any position on the floor. It looks likely that he'll re-sign with Miami this summer.

Tony Allen

(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

The former fan favorite and defensive wizard is a free agent, and though a reunion in Boston is unlikely, it's fun to dream. It'd be great if he could get ring for his other pinky with the C's.

Kelly Olynyk

Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk celebrates after Boston beat the Washington Wizards in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, anything is possible.

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