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While the sting of losing to a Cleveland Cavaliers team down two games to none to start the Eastern Conference Finals may be fresh, it's not to early to start thinking about revenge.

And what better way to garner it than to run the key pieces back in an effort to take Banner 18 to Boston a little less than a year from now?

Certain players on the roster are heading into free agency, and while some may have played themselves into believing they are worth more than they can get, one of the most important - if quiet - figures of the 2017-18 Boston Celtics season may be able to be resigned relatively cheaply.

That potential signing is Aron Baynes, whose defense and emerging three-point shot should be among if not the top priority to bring back next season. The Greg Monroe experiment wasn't a disaster, but in a league moving on from his style of play, he also hasn't been able to help Boston, either.

Marcus Smart, while among the league's best defenders, brings a lot of intangibles to the table, and not all of them positive. The Celts will have the option to match what he might command on the open market, but are likely hoping he won't make more than the taxpayer mid-level exception (about $8.8 million next season) - it only takes one GM to decide he's a missing piece they need to blow that ship out of the water, though.
Shane Larkin is also up for a new deal, and might actually face a similar situation, as Boston would likely only offer a veteran minimum deal. But in a league with no shortage of rotation-level one guards, he won't be a crucial priority either, and the likely free agent field being fairly deep means there's a shot at running back nearly the entire team save Monroe.

With the hangover after the 2016 TV money spending spree still depressing nearly every team in the league's cap, only about ten teams can get to above that $9 million-dollar mark, and you can make the case there's a better option for every team with money out there. LeBron James and maybe even Chris Paul can opt out of their current deals (Kevin Durant could as well, but I think he's the least likely high-end talent to do so in years, barring a loss to the Cavs), and Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Clint Capela, and DeAndre Jordan are all virtual locks to command a deal before any of Boston's free agents are likely to.

Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, JJ Redick Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas will probably consider similar or greater interest, and Tyreke Evans, Derrick Favors, Trevor Ariza, Enes Kanter, Jusuf Nurkic, Will Barton and Zach LaVine may be in the mix also - and this does not take into account some of those teams with cap space wanting to bank it for the following summer. So, with so many competing players and so few landing spaces available barring sign-and-trades (I think we'll see at least a few this summer), retaining Smart and Baynes may be possible.
Given Boston's returning roster, however, I believe Baynes should be the priority, as crazy as that sounds - but the one-year deal the Celtics gave him may not be enough for the upcoming season, as they cannot pay him more than 120 percent of last season's salary, having been signed for only one season (with one exception, discussed later).This presents something of a challenge, as a big like Baynes who has shown a surprising nimbleness on defense as well as a promising shot from deep is quite valuable, and would probably earn more than double his current salary on an unimpinged market.

A potential workaround, however, is in years and not dollars - a multi-year deal at his maximum-allowed increases could offer him about $25 million over four years, with a mutual option in the fourth year that would give him over $18 million in guaranteed money through the 2020-21 (age 34) season. Boston could potentially also use the mid-level exception with him if Baynes does receive a deal above what Boston can legally pay him with one year of service, though in that case it'd likely be shorter than the workaround deal ending in 2021.

He'll likely be a negative asset by the end of that deal, but between his shooting, defense and cap growth, not terribly so, and would give Boston a matchup tool nearly perfect for pairing with Al Horford in some lineups, or backing him up in others. If the Cs have a shot at using the mid-level for more money but less years, that would probably be a solid option as well, as it would allow greater flexibility in the future capwise, even though it would probably start the clock on repeater tax status sooner.



Baynes might not be as emphatic on the court as Smart, but he does a lot less dumb stuff off it, and while Smart might be right that few players in this league have the same, uh, nose for defense, it's pretty clear Aron does, and unlike Marcus, can see the big picture, too.
For more stories by Justin, click here.


Image: Brian Babineau/NBAE
Video: MassLive
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 5/29/2018 02:08:00 PM Edit
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