It was 16 months ago that Celtics majority owner Wyc Grousbeck promised “fireworks” for his organization, a series of roster changes that would alter the direction of the franchise, making the Celtics Eastern Conference contenders again.
Although the organization has been well managed, the roster upgraded, and the playoffs have been reached under the watch of coach Brad Stevens, the word “fireworks” has drawn sarcasm because of the lack of a blockbuster move.
While the Celtics have significant salary-cap space and trade exceptions to use, chances are they may be left out of the market for premier free agents such as Kevin Love (Cleveland), LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland), Draymond Green (Golden State, restricted), and Jimmy Butler (Chicago, restricted).
It’s not that these free agents are against Boston, but some are expected to return to their teams and Aldridge is likely headed to the San Antonio Spurs.
Boston has been a tough sell to free agents in the past, and while the prospects of landing a big name is better since the organization has been reinvigorated with Stevens, the prospects of winning a championship just aren’t there yet.
What may stop the Celtics from acquiring a marquee talent through trade may just be what prevents them from acquiring a major free agent: a capable, proven supporting cast. The best player for the Celtics to sell the idea of being the primary option is Love, who visited the city last summer, enjoyed himself, spoke to Rajon Rondo, and visited several nightspots.
Love took pictures with Harvard students. He was a man about the town and was welcomed. But the Cavaliers’ run to the NBA Finals may have changed Love’s mind about staying there, despite a role he doesn’t fully embrace.
Does Love sign a multiyear deal with a team that appears primed to win a championship with him as the third option? Or does he come to Boston as the No. 1 scorer and a chance to be the next great Celtic?
It will be up to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Stevens to convince him of the latter, and they can begin making phone calls to free agents Tuesday at midnight. Free agents aren’t allowed to sign contracts until July 9, but agreements in principle can be reached as soon as Wednesday.
One player to watch is Memphis center Kosta Koufos, who is solid but won’t make Boston fans forget about the Bruins’ sudden rebuild or the Red Sox’ woes. Koufos, 26, left Ohio State after his freshman season in 2008 and has played with four teams in seven seasons.
He has been a capable backup for Memphis, averaging 5.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks in 16.8 minutes per game the past two seasons. The Celtics want a difference-making interior defender and Koufos may be their most attainable target, and he has said he enjoys Boston.
Netting a superstar is difficult unless you draft them in the lottery or are based in an attractive free-agent destination. Boston is competing with the Lakers and the Knicks, both of whom are seeking big men, and despite the fact the Celtics are more advanced in their rebuilding stage, the team can’t compete with the lure of New York or Los Angeles.
This doesn’t mean the Celtics can’t attract a major free agent, it just will be an arduous task. And Ainge won’t spend money just to spend it, meaning he won’t pay over market value for a player. That wouldn’t be prudent.
Many current and soon-to-be free agents, such as LeBron James, are returning to their teams. The Celtics do have the option of making a maximum contract offer to a restricted free agent, such as Butler or Green, and hope the respective teams do not match.
If the group of players the Celtics are pursuing don’t work out, the team should hold onto its money for next summer with the expected salary-cap bump via the new television contract.
Another potential candidate to come to Boston is Portland big man Robin Lopez, a considerable upgrade from Koufos who could be a starter immediately. Lopez is unlike his brother Brook Lopez, a finesse scorer who lacks rebounding skills. Robin Lopez is anything but finesse, a solid finisher around the rim and a decent free throw shooter.
That’s the type of player the Celtics should heavily pursue beginning Tuesday at midnight.
These aren’t exactly fireworks, but if they aren’t to be had, the Celtics have to take the necessary steps to improve, even if they are little ones.
The Celtics may not score big this summer in free agency, but that doesn’t mean the organization isn’t working diligently.
While the Celtics’ young core is potentially talented, it doesn’t seem to be enough to attract an All-Star caliber veteran who wants to compete for championships immediately. That likely won’t occur in New York and Los Angeles, either, but those cities sell themselves.
If Stevens is able to persuade one of those big names, it will be his most impressive coaching accomplishment so far.