Boston Celtics: Kevin Durant, Free Agency, and the Draft

Apr 13, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens reacts during the first half of a game against the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens reacts during the first half of a game against the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, giving GM Danny Ainge a head start on what should be a very busy offseason.

The Boston Celtics head into the NBA offseason with more promise than any team not named the Warriors, Cavs, or Spurs.

The team finished the season in a 4-way tie for the third best record in the eastern conference, and now head into the offseason with cap space that would allow for two max-contracts, a draft pick that has a high probability of landing in the top 3, and a ton of young assets at their disposal.

Could this be the offseason we have been waiting for?

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Every year for the past 3 seasons there has been vigorous hype surrounding the Celtics in the offseason. The team is always mentioned in rumors tied to big name players, and you always hear the team floating around in trade talks around the league. However, the Celtics have failed to set off those “fireworks” that Danny Ainge once spoke of. That’s not to say the team has failed recent offseasons, but they have yet to make the franchise altering move that can take this team from good to great.

That could all change this summer.

Sure, we’ve heard it before. But the Celtics haven’t had this type of flexibility before. At least not in the last 15-20 years. The Celtics seem more primed than ever to make a big splash in the offseason and that could happen in a variety of ways.

The draft, free agency, and trade market are all connected. Picks can be traded, trades can lead to big free agent signings, draft picks can lead to potential superstars and all of those avenues are wide open for Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics currently hold 8 picks in the upcoming draft including 3 first rounders. The most attractive pick obviously being the Nets pick, which carries a 15.6% chance of being the number 1 overall pick in the draft. In addition to the Nets pick the Celtics also have a first rounder from the Mavs which should be pick number 16, as well as their own which will be around pick 23.

The pick from Brooklyn has a 31.3% chance of being a top 2 pick, and a 46.9% chance of being in the top 3. Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are penciled in to go 1 and 2, but that doesn’t mean the Celtics will necessarily use the pick if it falls in that range.

The team already has a plethora of young talent and Danny Ainge may see a top 2 pick as an opportunity to acquire an already proven superstar. Perhaps the missing piece to put this team over the top. Hypothetically speaking, if the Celtics land the number 1 or 2 pick you could see Ainge try to shop that pick for a player like Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins or maybe even Paul George.

Doing so would surely make the Celtics a much more attractive destination for an unrestricted free agent. Someone like, I don’t know, Kevin Durant?

Boston Celtics
Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Celtics have a reputation for not being able to land a top free agent. A reputation that in my opinion is a bit undeserved. The Celtics haven’t had the cap space to lure top free agents in years. During the Paul Pierce era the Celtics were over the cap or right near it nearly every season. That didn’t stop Danny Ainge from assembling a team of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Reason being, superstars want to play with other superstars because it gives them a better chance of winning a title.

Now Danny Ainge has the cap space as well as the trade assets to assemble the team of his liking, and I believe he is going to do just that.

On lottery night, May 17th, if the Celtics pick ends up being number 1 or 2, expect Danny Ainge to move that pick and expect him to start preparing his pitch to Kevin Durant. Durant hasn’t ruled out Boston, in fact he’s only spoken highly of the city, organization, and the fans. He is a player who has enjoyed his time in smaller cities such as Seattle and Oklahoma City, and he has a great appreciation for the history of the game. Something that plays into the Celtics favor.

If Durant has the opportunity to join forces with another superstar in Boston, giving them a big 3 of their own, he may just jump on it. Not to mention, players around the league have expressed how much respect they have for Brad Stevens and view him as one of the best coaches in the game, and a coach who players want to play for.

I can almost guarantee Durant wants to get out of the western conference. The road to the NBA Finals is much tougher in the west having to go through teams like Golden State and San Antonio who are set up for long term success. The Cavs are the only truly “great” team in the east and even they have shown signs of weakness and vulnerability. A Celtics team with the likes of Durant, Cousins/Butler, and Isaiah Thomas would surely give Cleveland a run for their money and perhaps even knock them off of the eastern conference pedestal that they’re on.

Experts have been quick to rule out Boston as a landing spot for Durant, but to them I say, not so fast. This is a place where, if paired with another young superstar, Durant could have a legitimate shot at another title run. He is only 27 years old. Cousins is 25 and Butler is 26, if KD is paired with either of those guys they could be a dominant team for many years to come.

The Celtics will make a strong run at Kevin Durant and I believe that they will attempt to acquire another superstar to do so. But that is just one possible scenario for this offseason.

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If the Celtics can’t swing a deal for a superstar with the Nets pick, Danny Ainge could elect to make the pick. If that’s the case, Brandon Ingram is the best choice for the Celtics.

His game resembles that of Kevin Durant’s and if he lives up to the potential he could eventually be an All Star caliber player and a dominant scorer. He is long, athletic, and has the ability to hit long range shots. His physical measures are extremely similar to Durant’s. Standing at 6’9″, a hair under 200 pounds, and a wingspan of 7’4″, the only thing separating the two is that Durant has lived up to his potential and Ingram is still a prospect.

Using the pick to draft Ingram would leave the Celtics with ample cap space, and still allow them the ability to sign a max-level player. Drafting Durant’s prodigy would certainly rule out the likelihood of the team bringing in KD himself, but there are other solid free agents available that they could make a run at.

The Celtics need a big man and there a few free agents that would make sense for the team to fill that need. Al Horford is the first that comes to mind. He is not a dominant player by any means, but he is a solid big who would provide a presence down low for a team that is lacking in that area. He is a solid two way player who can defend the rim on the defensive end and has the ability to score in the post as well as stretch the floor on offense.

The second player that comes to mind is Hassan Whiteside. This season Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per game. The 26 year old 7 footer is a dominant rim protector who established himself as one of the best Centers in the league this season. With those sort of numbers Whiteside will most definitely be searching for a max-contract this offseason and the Celtics would have the ability to offer that to him, the big question is do they want to?

He has had two productive seasons in the NBA, but he also has maturity issues and has dealt with some knee issues. Signing Whiteside could be a potential risk for the Celtics, but there is no denying that he would certainly fill a major need for the team.

The worst case scenario for the Celtics is that the Nets pick drops to the dreaded 4-6 range. The likelihood of moving that pick for a superstar is virtually non-existent as there’s just not enough value in this draft for that sort of transaction. If this is the hand the Celtics are dealt it would be in the teams best interest to draft either Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield.

Along with needing a big man, the Celtics also need a guy that can shoot the 3 consistently. Murray and Hield both have the ability to fill that hole. While the Celtics are stacked at the guard positions they still lack a scoring threat outside of Isaiah Thomas. This scenario is not an ideal one for the Celtics but still could allow them the opportunity to pick up the scorer and three point shooter that they desperately need, and both Murray and Hield have the potential to be very good NBA players.

I lean toward Buddy when it comes down to the debate between him and Murray. Buddy showed that he has an assassins mentality that resembles many of the leagues great scorers, and he is a guy who has progressed in each of his 4 seasons in college. He has shined on the brightest of stages and has taken over big games. But, there are some downsides in other areas of his game. Defensively he’s not great, and he’s not the best when it comes to creating his own shot. He typically shoots best coming off a screen or spotting up, which could alter his ability to score at the NBA level.

boston celtics
Apr 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield (24) and head coach Lon Kruger during the second half against the Villanova Wildcats in the 2016 NCAA Men /

Murray, while a still a great shooter, isn’t the dynamic scorer that Buddy is but makes up for that by being solid in other facets of the game. He is better defensively and can create his own shot a bit better than Buddy can. Either of these guys would be valuable picks for the Celtics, but certainly don’t come off as franchise altering players.

This is all a guessing game at this point. Until we figure out where exactly that Nets pick will land there’s no telling how this offseason will play out for the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge will have his options and a number of different roads to take, and he has done a pretty good job to this point of putting the Celtics in a position to succeed. There is no reason to believe he won’t continue with that plan.

In addition to the guys I named previously, here’s a list of some other free agents that could be on the Celtics radar this offseason.

  • Harrison Barnes – Barnes is a good player who is currently an afterthought behind Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on the Warriors. He is a versatile player who has a nice blend of athleticism and scoring touch and could be a solid number 2 option. He is a restricted free agent however, and the Celtics would most likely need to offer him a max-contract to pry him away from Golden State.
  • Jamal Crawford – Perhaps one of the best bench players in league history, Crawford has the ability to take over a game with his scoring ability. He is 36 years old, so any deal would likely be a 1 or 2 year contract at a pretty high salary, my guess is somewhere in the 10 mil. per year range. If the Celtics fill their need of a big man but fail to find a scoring threat in the draft or free agency Crawford could potentially be a solid plan B for the C’s.
  • Ryan Anderson – Anderson isn’t the type of big man the Celtics are necessarily looking for but he does fill the need for a knock down three point shooter. He averaged 17 points per game this past season and has the ability to really stretch the floor on offense. He could be a solid fit for a Brad Stevens system that likes to do just that.
  • Kent Bazemore – The Celtics learned in the worst possible way just how much of an impact Kent Bazemore can have on a game. He is an all around player who can get it done on both offense and defense and plays with a lot of energy. I wouldn’t classify him as a top tier free agent but he could certainly be a solid addition to any team.
  • Joakim Noah – Noah is 31 years old and has been marred by injuries in recent seasons, but if he can find a way to stay healthy and remain on the floor he could be a solid piece on a contending team. He can defend the paint, rebound, and is perhaps one of the best passing big men in the league. He has a high motor and an energy level that can really uplift a team. He certainly won’t be demanding a high salary and if the Celtics can lure him in at a low number he may be worth the risk.

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It was a disappointing end to a solid season for the Boston Celtics, but the team is only getting better. They have the assets and the necessary cap space to make a big splash in the offseason and bring this team to a contending level. As fans the only thing we can do now is sit back and wait. The Celtics will be a busy team this summer and it should be fun to see which direction Danny Ainge decides to go.