NBA free agency begins at 6 p.m. Monday, but Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens did not wait to start reshaping Boston’s roster in his first offseason in this new post.
Since the Celtics’ season ended just over two months ago, Stevens has traded starters Kemba Walker and Tristan Thompson and acquired Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando.
Aside from Horford, whose salary for 2022-23 is partially guaranteed, the players Boston added are all on expiring contracts, and league sources have indicated that Boston is likely to look to move Dunn in another deal. But the Celtics are clearly looking to maintain future flexibility, potentially putting themselves in position to make a more seismic splash next summer.
Still, with All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown beginning to enter their primes, Boston’s brass is hardly considering this a throwaway season.
“With regards to what we want to add to our team, it’s pretty consistent,” Stevens said. “We need to be mindful of our near- and long-term views, and at the same time add hopefully an edge and some experience to our team. When I say experience, I mean just the savvy of someone who has been through it before that will help everybody around our guys better. That’s an important thing for our team as we move forward. The fit is important, what people bring to the table from those attributes is important. That’s what we’re looking at.”
The Celtics’ options will remain somewhat limited, though.
According to a league source, the team is losing confidence in its ability to re-sign veteran wing Evan Fournier. The Celtics acquired Fournier from the Magic in exchange for two second-round picks in March. The move was completed to bolster Boston’s playoff push, and because it would give the Celtics the ability to sign Fournier to a long-term deal this summer despite being over the salary capsince they would hold his Bird Rights.
Fournier may command a salary of around $19 million per season, which is likely beyond what Boston is willing to pay. The Celtics’ acquisition of Richardson on Saturday was also an indication that Boston is prepared to move on from Fournier. This path also helps with Boston’s future flexibility, even if the preference is to bring back Fournier.
The mid-level exception will be the primary means of acquiring a key bench piece. Boston is currently hovering just above the luxury-tax line, and it could still be in position to use either the full $9.5 million mid-level exception or the smaller $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level. Boston will most likely offer the taxpayer mid-level to avoid triggering the hard cap.
According to a league source, the Celtics prefer to pursue a player with extensive experience and are focused on adding size and shooting. Forward Jeff Green is believed to be a primary target. Green played for the Celtics from 2011-2015, including a season and a half with Stevens as his head coach.
This past season Green averaged 11 points and 3.9 rebounds for the Nets, where new Celtics coach Ime Udoka was an assistant coach . Also, Green’s agent, Jason Glushon, represents Brown and Horford.
Green could elect to stay with Brooklyn, which would likely offer the best path to a championship. But Nets stars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden are all eligible for massive extensions this offseason so finances there could become complicated.
The team could also pursue Spurs forward Rudy Gay and former Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk, according to a league source.
Olynyk’s strong finish to last season after being traded to the Rockets could keep him out of the Celtics’ price range, but Olynyk loved his time in Boston and kept a home here after departing in 2017. Gay, meanwhile, played for San Antonio while Udoka was an assistant there. He made 38.1 percent of his 3-pointers last season.
Backcourt options include players such as Spurs veteran Patty Mills—who was also coached by Udoka—and former Celtics guard Avery Bradley, according to a league source.
“We have a good foundation,” Stevens said on draft night. “We know who we are building this thing around and we know what we are trying to accomplish. At the same time, we have to make sure we are making continuous forward strides and it’s really important that we bring in the right people that can help accentuate each other.”