The Boston Celtics are leading the Eastern Conference right now, but they still don’t feel like true title contenders to a lot of people.
This is a roster that still has room to improve and the summer of 2017 will be a big one for Danny Ainge. He has a very high lottery pick to play around with thanks to the Brooklyn Nets and the team also has tons of trade assets to make a big deal as well as cap space to bolster the depth on the roster.
Most discussions regarding what the Celtics will do this summer are heavily centered around those first two items; the draft and the trade market. There are even times when they cross and you start talking about trading that top draft pick. But there are still a lot of interesting names that are set to hit the open market and it goes well past All-Star Gordon Hayward, who seems to be the top free agent target for Boston.
The free agency class is stacked with interesting players who can come in at a reasonable prince and make a big impact for a contending team and they all deserve a strong look.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
It’s almost hard to believe that Randolph is wrapping up his 16th year in the NBA, but he’s still getting it done for the Memphis Grizzlies by averaging 14.0 PPG and 8.2 RPG. The veteran power forward has only been to the conference finals once in his long career and there doesn’t seem to be a realistic path for the Grizzles to get there next year, so he might be willing to leave Memphis after eight years for a better shot at a deep playoff run and Boston could really use a player like him. Randolph has taken a reduced roll this year at the age of 35 – averaging his smallest minutes total since 2003 – but his 17.4 rebounds per 100 possessions is actually the second highest total of his career. This would be a huge upgrade for the Celtics, who are currently led in that category by Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson, who each average just 11.3 rebounds per 100 possessions. He would have to be willing to give up a ton of offensive touches though if he came to Boston. Despite playing 24.3 minutes per game, Randolph attempts 13.1 field goals per game. This is more than Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart, all of whom log over 30 minutes per contest. If he’s willing to come in and just be an upgrade over Johnson – who is a free agent this summer – and sacrifice his scoring, this would be a great pickup for the Celtics.
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Boston definitely does not need another point guard on their current roster, but there might be a need for a veteran like Mills next year depending on what happens this summer. The current contracts of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart all expire at the same time and because they’re all very underpaid for their respective production, it will be almost impossible to resign them all down the road. This makes trading at least one of them away and if such a deal comes in a blockbuster where you lose out on the opportunity to draft Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, adding another guard through free agency would suddenly be an option. Mills is in many ways like the point guard version of Kelly Olynyk. A very productive offensive minded bench player who can score double-figures while only playing around 20 minutes or so. He’s shot at least 40% from three in five of his eight NBA seasons – including a 41.4% mark from beyond the arc this season – and the ability to consistently score in short bursts is something that the Celtics haven’t seen from Terry Rozier yet. This move would handcuff Rozier’s future a bit, but if the team wants to commit to going as deep as possible in the playoffs next year then signing somebody like Mills to slot in ahead of Rozier would be the right move.
Jeff Green, Orlando Magic
Signing Jeff Green would be a big “rich get richer” move for Ainge and it could really catapult the Celtics offense. Green might be having one of the worst years of his career right now, but he’s still averaging over 20 points per 100 possessions and his versatility would allow Brad Stevens to really cut some of the offensive dead weight out of the rotation. Jonas Jerebko is dead last on the team in points per possession and the only other guy that Terry Rozier has beat is the little used Jordan Mickey. Neither of those two players are overly crucial to the team’s play on the defensive end of the floor and Rozier is very rarely the only point guard on the floor when he does play, so bringing Green back to Boston to be a pure bench scorer might help Boston – who is currently eighth in the league in scoring – rise even higher on the list. The issue is that you’ll have to convince Green to leave money on the table in order to come back to city where he spent parts of four seasons, five if you count the season he missed with a heart condition. Orlando gave Green a one-year, $15 million contract last offseason just because they had the open cap space and weren’t going to be able to convince any better player to sign with the Magic. There will be bad teams offering him a lot more money then Boston can give him just because they’re in the same situation Orlando was. Think about how many bad teams there are that wouldn’t be hurt by handing an athletic swingman like Green a bunch of money for just a season, while opening the door to flip him at the deadline to give a contender some depth? There’s a lot of teams like that and one of them will make that big offer.