Obviously, the Celtics don’t want to think about a backup plan in case they don’t sign Gordon Hayward. They’d rather prepare for his arrival as their starting small forward.
But very few free agents get out of Miami, which is where Hayward was Saturday, without committing to a contract. The Celtics are preparing for Hayward’s arrival Sunday with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, and the rest of the contingent, hoping to receive a commitment from the All-Star.
But what if this doesn’t work out? The Celtics’ summer will be considered a failure, true, but what should they do next? The answer is, very little.
If Hayward goes elsewhere, there is no reason to react with a haphazard signing just to appease the fan base. If the Celtics were to lose out on their top free agent target, it’s simply time to move forward with the team they have now, perhaps seek a shooter to come off the bench, such as Nick Young.
This is not a talent-laden free agent class. Stephen Curry re-signed with the Warriors and Kevin Durant will follow him. Blake Griffin re-signed with the Clippers. The Celtics don’t need Kyle Lowry and wouldn’t invest a max contract in Paul Millsap.
Danilo Gallinari will be 29 in August and hasn’t played more than 71 games since 2010. And there is little reason to offer him a $20 million-plus contract when Jae Crowder can be just as efficient for $7 million per season.
The pressure has been on Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to make a major move because of the assets. He has accumulated so many draft picks that a move eventually needs to be made.
But not now. The Celtics are already a talented club that has a chance to make a run at the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers, of course, will be their biggest competitors in the Eastern Conference, but they are a team in transition with no general manager.
Unless the Cavaliers decide to make a major trade — and like the Celtics, they were in on the Paul George sweepstakes — they will field essentially the same roster as they did last season. That team was plenty good enough to beat the Celtics, but you’d have to think Boston would devise ways to be more competitive should they meet again in the playoffs.
The Celtics’ summer league squad features players who could supplement the bench, such as Ante Zizic, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. And since the Celtics missed out on George, why not bring back Kelly Olynyk on a three-year deal? He grew into his role and he actually was an asset during the playoffs.
If the Celtics can’t get serious upgrades at small forward and power forward, then stick with the incumbents instead of making a rash move. There are teams that get constantly burned for spending their money unwisely just to make a free agent splash.
The Trail Blazers signed Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe to $70 million-plus contracts, were the second-highest spending team in the NBA, were the eighth seed in the playoffs, and were dumped by Golden State in the first round.
The Celtics faithful are waiting for that significant move, as they should be. But last summer Ainge went after Al Horford and scored, and Durant and came close. Horford was the most monumental free agent signing by the Celtics in at least three decades.
So Ainge’s salary-cap management did result in a major move. Next summer, the Celtics have to decide whether to re-sign Thomas and Avery Bradley to long-term contracts. So if Hayward passes, then why blow salary-cap space on a player who may turn into a regrettable signing.
The club added German forward Daniel Theis on Saturday to a two-year contract, the first year guaranteed. So there is depth in the frontcourt to replace the departing Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. And, as it stands, the Celtics are good enough to compete with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
They are hardly on the Warriors’ level, but no team is. The NBA has become a free agent contract wasteland because of the increased salary cap, with teams feeling as if they have offer bloated contracts to avoid the salary floor. The 76ers just signed sharpshooter J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract, meaning he makes nearly three times what Bradley earns and is six years older.
Instead of simply settling for a consolation prize by bringing in a second-rate player to an above-market contract, Ainge should remain calm, use his better judgment, and make tweaks to improve an already talented roster until that desired player becomes available.
Right now, the Celtics are solely focused on signing Hayward, who left Miami without accepting a contract offer. So there remains a chance he chooses Boston.
But if he doesn’t, there’s no reason to panic. The Celtics need to continue their baby steps to elite status until they are confident that difference-making player is available and ready to come to Boston.