The MUCH too early look at Boston's likely summer free agent targets

It's no secret the Boston Celtics are in the hunt for a max contract free agent this summer.

With the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place, and a projected $103 million cap to work with, it's going to be a challenge to get to that much cap space, though it just might be possible. Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green and James Young are on expiring deals, and the final year of Tyler Zeller's contract is non-guaranteed, plus Kelly Olynyk could be let go to free up roughly $31 million in cap space.

Big questions surrounding exactly how the new "two-way"contracts will affect cap space, whether players like Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele come over to play in the league, and what the cap hold amount is for the Brooklyn draft swap may be could actually turn out to be the deciding factor with whether Boston can meet its free agency goals this summer, and could dictate whether the team decides to do another partial rebuild after next season. The roughly half-million dollars separating each pick's value could be the difference between the room to land a prime target free agent this summer, barring salary dumping.

Thankfully, there may be no better front office at working the rules to their advantage than Boston, though with a new CBA in place, the learning curve may be a factor. With so many question marks hanging over the offseason, let's take a quick look at who might be on Danny Ainge et al's radar:

The incredibly unlikely

1. Stephen Curry - unrestricted: Almost no chance he changes teams, but weirder things have happened, and anything but a ring this season might be enough to give teams - especially one like Boston - a puncher's chance if something (I should stress this is like a .5% chance) goes down to make other pastures look...greener. On the incredibly small odds he did end up with Boston, moving Isaiah Thomas to the 2 and Avery to the second unit as a 6th man could work, at least in theory.

2. Kevin Durant - player option: Plug in everything I just wrote about Curry, except Durant's fit would make more sense as an ostensible four - virtually ideal, assuming Al Horford can get past playing nominal center and Jae Crowder last summer's snub. Don't get your hopes up - again.

3. Chris Paul - player option: yet again, I could use the same verbiage for Curry here, except that Paul is BARELY in the "incredibly unlikely" category because 1) he will almost certainly NOT be winning a ring this season, 2) new CBA rules make retaining him easier for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 3) if he did change teams, it would probably be to a contender who need an All-Star point guard - not one that has one, and cheap at that. And, of course, like Durant, he'd have to opt out.

The somewhat unlikely

4. Blake Griffin - player option: If Griffin doesn't make All-NBA this season, he won't be as likely to be retained by the Clippers - unless his surgery goes well, and he does make all NBA. But if it doesn't, he might not - and he might not be worth what we'd have to pay then to sign him. Unless his shooting improves, which it has been recently. And whether he opts out or not depends on Chris Paul, their season, his health - so many questions. We'll have a clearer picture come April here.

5. Gordon Hayward - player option: Recent drama aside, Hayward may be on the move, but doesn't play a position of need, and with a wide-ranging skillset without any one elite skill, this former Brad Stevens coachee seems unlikely to be the wisest of targets for Boston to pursue.

6. Kyle Lowry - player option: He WILL opt out, but almost certainly just to get more money from the Toronto Raptors, who won't be likely to sign anyone at the one worth letting him walk for, save perhaps above-mentioned Chris Paul. Save that unlikely move, you can expect him to stay in Toronto, though there's an outside chance he ends up in his hometown of Philadelphia. He doesn't really make sense with Boston's crowded backcourt, either, and isn't good enough to try it out, though pre-deadline trades could change things.

Great fits, poor chances

7. Paul Millsap - player option: As we've noted, Millsap would be a great fit in Boston, but - as you correctly pointed out to us - may be a better idea to pursue in free agency due to his age and likely cost in a trade situation. For now, he's making noise like he would prefer to stay in Atlanta, but if that changes, it could make retaining assets and building through drafts and smaller trades - the likely best options under the new CBA - a good direction, staving off a partial rebuild in 2018-19. Don't think there aren't other teams with similar ideas though - plenty of them are watching his situation very closely.

8. Nerlens Noel - restricted: Very similar situation to Millsap, except his talent level is several levels lower, though he's young and could one day approach such levels IF his health stays good, which is a legitimate question given the repeated knee problems Noel has had. Conventional wisdom regarding his trade value has kept him - probably to his chagrin - with the Philadelphia 76ers, but if he panned out, might do the same thing Millsap could, with a longer window for contention should a top-three pick turn into a star for the Celts. The downside, though, is that contention would still be three-plus years away, past Horford's likely prime years.

You can probably see there aren't a lot of realistic options this summer, particularly in light of the new CBA diminishing the chances for signing a top-tier talent with so many draft picks and players to sort out for Boston. It may mean Danny will be more disposed to overpaying to get that one big piece to the Banner 18 puzzle via trade. With draft picks looking to be more valuable than maybe ever before, retaining core players in such a deal - even in an overpay - may not only be possible, but preferable for all involved.

What do YOU think Boston should do this offseason? Target one of these guys? If so, which and why? Go all-in for a trade? Build through the draft? A combination of these methods? Let us know in the comment section below!

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