BOSTON -- The NBA offseason is in many ways, even more entertaining than the actual season when teams play basketball. From the rumors to the speculation to the.... rumors and the speculation... it's a soap opera that cannot be matched.
And then the free agents actually sign or trades don't go down and it all, of course, doesn't live up to the hype. Such is life. But we'll be soaking it up every step of the way, and things should get really interesting when free agency tips off Thursday evening at 6 p.m.
The Boston Celtics probably won't be involved in the big-name free agents or blockbuster trade chatter, but they do have some work to do this summer. They came up just two wins shy of winning a title, but the team's issues were on full display as they dropped the final three games of the season. Brad Stevens and company cannot get complacent, and need to keep adding to what is already in place.
The great news is that what is already in place in Boston is pretty damn good. The Celtics have a dynamic young duo to build around in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, both of whom continue to get better every year. Marcus Smart, Robert Williams and Al Horford round out a strong starting five, and Derrick White, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard are good options off the bench.
But after Tatum and Brown played some ridiculous minutes throughout the regular season and the playoffs, and after they looked gassed during the NBA Finals against the Warriors, it's clear that the C's need to get deeper to give their stars a rest throughout the season.
How can Stevens get it done? Boston ownership is willing to spend, but Stevens doesn't have a ton of cap space, and only the midlevel exception. But he does have a massive collection of TPEs, which could give him an avenue to bolster the Celtics roster for the 2022-23 season.
Here's a quick breakdown of Boston's offseason ahead.
Most of the roster-building is done, as the Celtics currently have nine players signed to guaranteed deals for the next season. That doesn't include Al Horford, who will likely have his option picked up or work out a multi-year deal to stay in Boston.
Al Horford ($26.5 million -- $19.5 million guaranteed)
Sam Hauser ($1.6 million -- $300k guaranteed)*
Nik Stauskas ($2.2 million -- non-guaranteed)
Malik Fitts ($1.8 million -- non-guaranteed)
Juwan Morgan ($1.8 million -- non-guaranteed)*
You can also add JD Davison to those battling for a spot on the Boston roster, after the Celticswith the 53rd overall pick last week. Boston has until July 15 to figure out what to do with Stauskas, but he's the only player with a guarantee deadline in the mix.
The team declined Sam Hauser's option on Wednesday ahead of the start of free agency, but reportedly intends to sign him to a long-term deal.
The Celtics will easily surpass the projected luxury tax line of $149 million and will be facing life as a hard-capped team when they go over the tax apron of $155.7 million. But ownership has made it clear that they'll spend in order to keep the team in contention -- and help them get over the hump.
Boston's needs focus mostly on depth. There's a big need for wing depth, someone who can give Tatum and Brown some rest during the regular season (and in the playoffs) so they're not crawling to the finish line again. Yes, they're both young, but it'd be nice if they have a little more left in the tank next postseason.
There is also a need for some more depth with their bigs. Horford, Rob and Grant Williams, and Daniel Theis are a solid collection of big men, but it isn't enough. Horford is going to be 37 and just played some huge minutes, and he'll likely be sitting out back-to-backs again next season. Rob Williams is a difference-maker on the floor, so the Celtics need to do everything they can to make sure he's on the floor at the most important moments. Some scheduled off-nights throughout the season should help.
Some more three-point shooting and another playmaker would also be fine additions to the Boston bench.
Free agency tips off Thursday, June 30 at 6 p.m., which is when teams and players can start negotiating contracts. Deals can be agreed to, but they won't become official until July 6.
You've probably heard a few big names get thrown around over the last week. Names like Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal. They'd be welcomed to Boston for sure, but there is no real path to get them to Boston without surrendering some serious assets in a trade. Either one would likely require the Celtics to break up their current core.
So set your expectations lower. Much, much lower. The Celtics have just the taxpayer mid-level expectation to offer up this summer, which is worth $6.392 million. Luckily they're a team flirting with title contention with two budding stars and an extremely likeable coach, so the Celtics will be able to attract veterans looking to win.
The Celtics are reportedly looking at T.J. Warren and Danilo Gallinari with their MLE. (Gallinari is expected to be bought out by the Spurs after being dealt by Atlanta in the Dejounte Murray trade.) Either would give Boston a veteran option off the bench that can knock down shots from deep.
Patty Mills is an intriguing option as well after he declined his option in Brooklyn. He could knock down threes off the bench and is a solid facilitator, plus he has a long working relationship with Ime Udoka from their time in San Antonio.
Brooklyn's Bruce Brown is also familiar with Udoka, not to mention he's a Boston native, and would be a solid two-way addition to the backcourt. The same could be said for Gary Harris, who probably wants to move to a winning team after spending the last season-and-a-half on the Magic.
As far as big men, Los Angeles' Isaiah Hartenstein won't sell any tickets, but the seven-footer is coming off a career year for the Clippers. The 24-year-old has bounced around four different teams during his five NBA seasons, but averaged 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds over 68 games for Los Angeles last season. He's a solid passer who could help give Rob Williams and Horford some rest in the Boston frontcourt.
But the Orlando Magic emerged as the favorite to sign Hartenstein after they decided to let Mo Bamba hit free agency. Maybe Bamba can be a fit in Boston, but he's probably looking for more than the MLE.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Otto Porter are other names that have been connected to Boston ahead of the start of free agency.
Here is where Stevens can do some real damage. He has eight Traded Player Exceptions that he can use, including a massive one that expires in mid-July. With TPEs, you either use them or lose them, so Stevens will be hard at work looking for the best way to utilize those exceptions:
- Evan Fournier - $17.1 million (July 18)
- Juancho Hernangomez - $6.9 million (January 19)
- Dennis Schroder - $5.9 million (February 10)
- Bol Bol - $2.2 million (February 10)
- P.J. Dozier - $1.9 million (February 10)
- Bruno Fernando - $1.8 million (February 10)
- Enes Freedom - $1.7 million (February 10)
- Tristan Thompson - $1.4 million (July 7)
Chances are some of those smaller ones will come and go without being used. But that Fournier exception could help Boston make a big acquisition this summer, with names like Utah's Jordan Clarkson, Orlando's Terrance Ross, Washington's Kyle Kuzma, Atlanta's Kevin Huerter, and Los Angeles' Marcus Morris getting mentioned as potential pickups.
The Celtics don't have a lot to work with this summer, but they also don't have too much to do. They will head into next season as title contenders and are just looking to round out the edges, which will make them an attractive destination to veterans looking for a new home -- and a shot at a ring.
That doesn't mean that Brad Stevens will just sit back, because one thing the Celtics cannot do this summer is get fat off last season's success. They can't just rely on everyone currently on the roster getting better; they need to put everyone in the best possible position to succeed. Adding more depth at important spots on the roster is the key to all of that come next season.
The Celtics will mostly look the same, but hopefully they'll be a much deeper and stronger group when the 2022-23 season tips off.
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