The trade deadline came and went with the Boston Celtics doing nothing. This has a lot of people very upset because they had big expectations for a guy like Paul George or Jimmy Butler, but the team still has a talented roster to go along with cap flexibility and top draft picks in each of the next two seasons.
Hope wasn’t lost today, and maybe Boston won’t compete for a title this season but there really wouldn’t have been a trade out there that could have helped them catch Cleveland anyway. That Cavaliers roster is not getting any younger though and they’ve shown over the past few seasons that they’re very injury prone, so here’s a realistic offseason for the Celtics that could help them close that gap and eventually surpass Cleveland as kings of the Eastern Conference.
Draft Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz
This isn’t like last season where the big prize was Ben Simmons in a clear cut top pick, but one of these two Pac-12 point guards will be the first guy off the board in June. Some people will want Ball, others will want Fultz but the important thing is for Ainge to wind up taking whoever he feels is the best available player.
Sign Gordon Hayward
A lot of people were upset when Ainge didn’t throw a ton of assets around at the deadline last year, but his reward for patience was getting Al Horford in free agency. The same thing could happen this summer with Hayward set to test the market and Boston will be attractive to him for many reasons, including the fact that Brad Stevens was his college coach.
Sell Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder
Hayward takes Crowder’s starting spot away and you really don’t want Crowder on the bench to take away from the growth potential of Jaylen Brown while whoever you take with the top pick can take Smart’s spot as the third guard. This allows the Celtics to be sellers while also improving their roster. It would be easy to package these two guys together for a power forward that could start in free agent-to-be Amir Johnson’s spot, upgrading the position. Boston might be able to get a protected pick back in return as well depending on the guy you target. Regardless of who they wind up getting, packaging those two together will surly bring back a player who is an upgrade over Amir Johnson.
Renounce the rights to Kelly Olynyk
This one really hurts. Boston has arguably been playing their best basketball of the Brad Stevens era – going 17-6 since New Year’s Day – and Olynyk has been a huge part of that, averaging 11.7 PPG over that stretch with a 58.6% mark from the floor to go along with 6.0 RPG and 2.3 APG in a bench role. The seven foot Canadian is also averaging 12.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 2.1 APG wile shooting 61.6% from the field over the Celtics recent 10-2 stretch. But he’s going to command a big raise despite being just a restricted free agent this summer and with Hayward coming in plus the deals of Bradley and Thomas expiring after the 2017-18 season, it would just be too hard to tie up too much money with Olynyk.
Unleash Ante Zizic
The 23rd overall pick from the 2016 NBA Draft will be a great way to help make up for the depth lost by having to watch Olynyk walk. He’s been a huge surprise for the Darussafaka Dogus in Turkey this year and he’s quickly looking like one of the biggest steals from this past draft, leading to an international scout to say he’d be a top ten pick in the 2017 draft even though it’s a much deeper field. The 20-year old Croatian center is a rebounding and shot blocking force who could really play big minutes for the Celtics on a cost controlled, rookie scale deal.
Sign Thomas to a mini-extension
Isaiah Thomas is scheduled to head into a contract year next season and he’s clearly underpaid with a cap hit of just $6.3 million. While Thomas has stated the Celtics “better bring out the brinks truck” during their next contract negations, Ainge might be able to hold off free agency for their All-Star point guard an extra year by offering him a new contract this summer that gives him a respectable pay raise for the 2017-18 season while also tacking on an extra year. This is essentially what the Oklahoma City Thunder did with Russell Westbrook over the summer when they agreed to pay him a little more in what would have been his contract year but also got next year guaranteed on top of that.
Resign James Young and maybe one other guy
Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green and James Young are all set to be free agents while Tyler Zeller has an $8 million team option that likely won’t be picked up this summer. The team will have a solid core of Horford, Bradley, Hayward and Thomas at this point plus Jaylen Brown, a top pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, Zizic and an unnamed power forward brought back from selling Crowder and Smart. Ainge won’t need to buy big with the rest of the roster but bringing back Young – who is still only 21-years old while just starting to show some promise over the past few games – will make sure there isn’t as much turnover on the roster. You could also bring back Gerald Green at the veteran minimum for depth and leadership.
Be smart with Timberwolves second round pick
The Celtics will have one of the top picks thanks to the Brooklyn Nets but they’ll have to wait a little while after that to make their next selection, which will be the Minnesota Timberwolves second round pick. The Timberwolves currently have the sixth worst record in the NBA, so that will give Boston something around the 36th overall pick. This will likely be the last opportunity Ainge has on draft night to come away with a player who would be able to make an impact right away, because the other two second round picks that the team currently owns are both projected to be among the final six picks of the draft and will likely wind up being players that get stashed.
Call upon Yabusele and Nader
While international scouts have quickly fallen in love with Zizic this season, the two other 2016 picks that Boston stashed are also doing quite well as Yabusele was an All-Star in the Chinese league and Nadar was an All-Star in the D-League. It will be hard to not get carried away with the numbers they’re both putting up on first place teams, but the competition level in China and the D-League is still a step down from the EuroLeague where Zizic is. Despite this, Ainge should still sign them both as they’ll provide cost controlled depth with players who each have a little upside to them. The summer league will likely be a huge factor in determining if Ainge does offer them both contracts or try to find some bargain bin veteran to fill spots at the end of the roster.
2017-18 BOSTON CELTICS ROSTER
Unnamed Trade Acquisition
FIRST TIER BENCH PLAYERS
Ball or Fultz
SECOND TIER BENCH PLAYERS
2016 MIN 2nd