As the clock struck midnight July 1, opening the NBA’s free agency season, the Celtics started working the phones.
Led by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens, the team contacted more than two dozen free agents, including Celtics guard Avery Bradley, Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, Lakers guard Kent Bazemore, and Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, according to league sources.
One league source said both Stevens and Ainge separately contacted Hayward, a former star at Butler when Stevens coached there. There is mutual interest for a possible reunion in the pro ranks, league sources said.
The Celtics face considerable obstacles in obtaining Hayward, which makes it unlikely he’ll wind up in Boston. First, without retooling their current roster, the Celtics lack the salary cap space to offer Hayward a large contract. Second, the Jazz do not seem willing to do a sign-and-trade deal, which could be Boston’s only viable method of acquiring Hayward.
The Jazz know Hayward, who averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.2 assists last season, is in high demand. They extended a qualifying offer to him, making the 6-foot-8-inch Hayward a restricted free agent, allowing Utah to match any offer, which the team has adamantly stated it will do.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey also said the likelihood of Hayward returning is “very, very strong,” according to a recent report in Deseret News, which also cited anonymous sources saying the Jazz intend to offer Hayward a contract early in the free agency negotiation period.
During their initial contacts with free agents, the Celtics didn’t make any offers or enter into contract discussions, league sources said. And even if the team reached a handshake agreement on a potential deal, nothing will become official until the NBA’s moratorium is lifted July 10.
However, it appears more likely the Celtics will add players via trade than free agency, given the team’s current financial situation. With cap holds, the Celtics are projected to be over next season’s projected salary cap of $63.2 million, meaning they’ll have to use exceptions to sign players.
Even though teams will contact free agents this time of year, it’s not as though that team has a legitimate chance to sign that player at the moment. Teams often reach out at this point if only to let the player know they’re interested in their services, a move to help establish a relationship that could lead to a future partnership.
The most likely impending move for the Celtics pertains to Bradley, their 2010 first-round draft pick whom Ainge recently said the team views as a key part of its future.
The Celtics extended a $3.6 million qualifying offer to Bradley, making him a restricted free agent. Bradley also was contacted by the 76ers, according to Yahoo Sports. The Celtics and Bradley’s camp are expected to enter into heavier negotiations soon.
For the Celtics, this is not only a free agency period but a time when the team is pondering potential trades that will help speed their rebuilding process.
One potential deal still looming for the Celtics, and handful of other teams, involves Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love.
Though the Timberwolves were once thought to have a trading partner in the Warriors, that deal fell apart, which gives hope to other potential suitors for Love, including the Celtics, who consider themselves one of a few teams in the mix.
A timetable for when the Timberwolves might again engage in serious discussions concerning Love is unclear, just as it’s unclear if the Jazz have fully committed to dealing Hayward.
The entire landscape of the NBA won’t be truly settled until big-name players such as Love, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James find landing spots.
Until that happens, many teams are in somewhat of a holding pattern, including the Celtics.