As we said a few days ago, the C's salary cap situation for next year is completely up in the air. They may bring Paul Pierce back, they may decline his option and pay him a $5 million buyout, or they may amnesty him and cut bait completely. There is also the matter of Kevin Garnett, and whether he walks away from the game after 18 seasons. The uncertainty surrounding these two future Hall of Famers also casts a shadow of uncertainty over the Celts cap situation and whether they will have absolutely no cap room, or a good amount of money available to make a move.
With all that said, it's never too early to take a look at the upcoming free agent class and start to think about what players fit the C's needs, and price range. At the very least the Celtics will have their mid-level exception (although it's unclear whether they'll have the whole thing or just the mini-mid level), and the ability to bring in minimum salary guys.
And it's not just the Celtics situation that's up in the air, the free agent pool still has to work itself out as well. Here is ESPN's list of free agents this summer. There are 164 players in all on the list, but that comes with a disclaimer; 34 of them are restricted free agents, meaning their current team has the ability to match any offer they receive and retain them. This includes some big names like Wolves center Nikola Pekovic, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings and Kings guard Tyreke Evans. While KG has taught us that anything is possible, it's highly unlikely the Celtics are able to acquire any of these big name restricted guys without their current teams matching. NBA teams match quite often in this situation to avoid losing assets they have under control without receiving compensation (Examples from last summer: Hornets matching Eric Gordon and the Blazers matching Nicolas Batum).
That leaves 130 potential unrestricted free agents, but 33 of them are dependent on whether or not they pick up player options, utilize early termination options, or have team options picked up by their clubs. Players who are overpaid, like Hedo Turkoglu (scheduled to make $12 million) certainly wouldn't terminate their contract because they would take a pay cut on the open market. Others, like J.R. Smith (scheduled to make only $2.9 million) will opt-out of their deals and take advantage of their increased value. So when you're looking at the list keep that in mind.
With all of the different possibilities it's still early to look at guys that could end up wearing green, but it's never too early to look at players that fit the roster's needs, so that's what we'll do. The players will be put into three groups; 1. Big money players to target if the C's part ways with both Pierce and KG, 2. Players to target with the mid-level exception, 3. Players to target with the veteran minimum. Without further adieu.
Big Money Targets
Even if Pierce leaves and Garnett retires it's going to be really difficult for the Celtics to create more than $15 million in cap space. Therefore, max level guys like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are out the window (not to mention the fact that they most likely wouldn't sign in Boston even if the C's had the space), and we'll focus on elite but not quite max level guys. Guys like..
Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
If Boston suddenly has cap space they are best suited to spend it on a big man who is still in his 20's. Jefferson, now 28, fits that model and is coming off of his 6th straight season averaging at least 17 points and 9 rebounds. Throw in his Boston ties and willingness for a Beantown reunion, and you have the most likely big name to end up in green next year. Of course Jefferson is not without warts, namely his defensive prowess and injury history, but when you consider Big Al will probably garner $12-15 million per season, and his fondness for Boston, the good outweighs the bad.
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
Smith is on record saying that he's seeking a max level deal, and if that's the case, good luck to him. I've never viewed J-Smoove as a $20 million dollar player, but at $14-15 million..he's a great guy to have around. Smith, 27, has been amazingly consistent over the past 7 seasons, averaging 16.8 points, 8.5 boards, 3.5 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game over that time period. He is the only player in the NBA to hit those averages since 2006, and it speaks to his well rounded game. His athleticism would be a welcome sight as the team transitions into the 'Rondo era', and his personal relationship with RR (high school teammates) is an added bonus. It would also be interesting to see how Smith's defensive abilities translate to a Doc Rivers system. He has all of the attributes to be a great defender, but his gambling mentality has held him back. It's possible that Doc is exactly the guy to get him to go all in on defense, and get him to finally, mercifully stop shooting threes.
Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs
A man can dream, right? Splitter is a fantastic defensive center with the ability score around the rim, rebound and pass. He, along with Tim Duncan, anchor the Spurs defense and in his 3rd NBA season the 28 year old Splitter saw career highs across the board. It sounds corny, but some players just get the game. They're always in the right place on defense, don't force themselves on the game offensively, and make the right play nearly every time. That's Splitter, and it shows up on the scoreboard. This year, the Spurs were +10.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when he played, and only 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when he sat. Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Spurs are the smartest organization in basketball, and most likely understand Splitter's value to the team as they get set to embark on the post-Duncan years.
Other interesting big money names: J.J. Hickson, David West, Paul Millsap
Quick reminder on how the mid-level exception works, teams above the cap (projected around $60 million) but below the luxury tax (projected in the $71-73 million range) can give players a maximum of 4 years, $21.5 million, or the "full mid-level". However for teams above the tax, the mid-level shrinks to the "mini-mid-level" which is a maximum of 3 years, $9 million. As of now the Celtics figure to be very close to the tax line so it's unclear where they'll stand this summer.
Al-Farouq Aminu, New Orleans Hornets
Another guy I touched on the other day, he would be a fantastic acquisition for a number of reasons. First of all, he's only 22 years old. It's rare that players hit free agency that young, but Aminu, who came out of college after one year, is doing just that. He's also a fantastic rebounder. In fact his defensive rebounding percentage was 26.2% (in other words he grabbed over a quarter of all available defensive rebounds while on the floor this season), the best number among all small forwards. He's also a strong defender and would give the C's a perfect back-up for Jeff Green, offering up a different skill-set but one the team sorely needs.
Samuel Dalembert, Milwaukee Bucks
Dalembert fell out of favor with Milwaukee down the stretch, but has been an incredibly consistent player for much of his 12 year career. He's a known commodity, someone who gives you 25 or so minutes a night with around 7-8 points, 7-8 rebounds and a defensive presence in the middle. His game is not sexy, but $3-5 million in the NBA doesn't buy sexy. He would actually be a better fit if the Celts retain Pierce and Garnett, giving them an adequate center on the roster for the first time since they dealt Kendrick Perkins away (More on Perk in a bit).
Chris Kaman, Dallas Mavericks
I'll admit to having a long standing man-crush on the unfrozen caveman, but if Kaman could be had for somewhere in the $3-5 million range, he's still a valuable player to have on your roster. Just like with Dalembert, Kaman would give the Celts something they don't have right now—namely a true center with a pulse—and could give the team 20-25 good minutes a night for moderate money. He's not a guy you want to count on for big minutes, but his per 36 minute stats this past season (18.2 points and 9.8 rebounds) show that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Jerryd Bayless, Memphis Grizzlies (Restricted FA)
We've been very big man centric thus far, and with good reason. If the KG does indeed retire, the Celts would be down to Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo among players on the roster who are power forwards or centers. To call that horrifying is the understatement of the century. However Danny Ainge has never been afraid to load up on one position rather than balance the roster out, and with Jerryd Bayless hitting the market, Ainge should take a look. Bayless has been great for Memphis after the team traded Rudy Gay in January, putting up 12.3 PPG, 3.4 APG and 2.5 RPG line while shooting 38% from three since January 31st. His acquisition doesn't make sense unless the team rids themselves of either Jason Terry or Courtney Lee, but he's a competent backup point guard who can run an offense and knock down a three. Those are things that Terry and Lee were brought in to do, but were not able to get done. Bayless is a restricted free agent but Memphis is dangerously close to the luxury tax and will most likely let him walk if he gets a multi-year deal in the mid-level exception range.
Other interesting names in the mid-level range: Zaza Pachulia, Marco Belinelli, Tony Allen, Tyler Hansbrough
Minimum salary guys
Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder
Perk fans rejoice! As many folks may know by now, I think Perk is toast. His rebounding and blocked shot numbers have fallen since his ACL tear, and he's not longer as quick (lost lateral mobility post-ACL) or as strong (lost 30 pounds to lessen stress on his knees) as he was in his hey-day. He's also not technically a free agent, but the bottom line is that Perk has 2 years and $17.5 million remaining on his contract and for an Oklahoma City team desperate to stay under the cap, the amnesty clause is calling his name. If Perkins is amnestied, he would go through the waiver process and may get claimed, but considering his poor run in OKC, he may not. If he hits free agency Perk would fill a need as a defensive minded 7-footer on the Celts roster, and while I think there are better options out there, many folks would literally die of happiness if Perkins ended up in green. Consider this my olive branch.
Marquis Daniels, Milwaukee Bucks
Continuing the former Celtics theme, Daniels is the perfect minimum salary wing. In fact, I was pretty angry when the team didn't bring him back last off-season as I always viewed him as superior to Mickael Pietrus because he doesn't shoot as many ill-advised threes and he's a legitimately good defender.
Leandro Barbosa, Washington Wizards
And the trifecta! If there was there anyone not happy with Barbosa's explosive offensive ability in his limited time with the C's, I'd like to hear from them. 5.2 PPG in just 12 minutes, the Brazilian Blur gave the Celts a punch off the bench that they badly missed after his ACL blew out in Atlanta in February. Considering he signed a 1 year deal for the minimum last year and is now a year older and coming off of knee surgery, it's a good bet he could be had for the same next year.
Jamaal Tinsley, Utah Jazz
Yes Tinsley is still alive. I know, I was surprised as well. Tinsley is kind of the Leandro Barbosa of pure point guards, dishing out an impressive 4.5 assists in just 18.5 minutes a game for Utah this season off the bench. The Celts have been completely unable to fill the backup point guard spot for years, and a guy who can come off the pine and run the team while Rondo sits would be a solid acquisition.
Other minimum salary guys worth a look: Lou Amundson, Jason Collins, Shawn Livingston, Jermaine O'Neal (just kidding)
Celtics are in a weird in between position and there is no quick fix, but that doesn't mean there aren't players out there that can help. Take a look at the list and let us know who you think would be a good acquisition.
Follow Mike on twitter - Mike_Dyer13 Michael Dyer 5/09/2013 07:08:00 PM Tweet