With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford bolting for Boston’s Eastern Conference rivals — Irving for the Nets and a four-year, $142 million deal; Horford for the Sixers and a four-year, $109 million offer — the Celtics managed to fill one void by landing Hornets guard Kemba Walker, but will be hardpressed to fill the other in the frontcourt.
With Horford’s time in Boston now over, and the trade of center Aron Baynes to the Suns last Thursday, the Celtics’ frontcourt will be thin, and there won’t be many conceivable avenues to bolster it.
The Celtics will welcome back second-year big man Robert Williams, who showed tantalizing glimpses of athleticism as a rookie but remains somewhat raw. Also, the team on Saturday reportedly extended a qualifying offer to backup center Daniel Theis, making him a restricted free agent.
Since the Celtics will have been operating as an under-the-cap team prior to signing Walker to a four-year, $141 million max contract, they will have only the $4.8 million room exception to offer to a free agent, as well as multiple veteran’s minimum contracts.
That will price them out of the upper tier of big men, but this free agent class is deep, so there will be plenty of decent options.
Although Williams could take a second-year leap, he will not be a perimeter threat this season. And Boston’s offense has thrived under Brad Stevens when bigs like Horford or Kelly Olynyk are able to spread the floor by popping outside and drilling 3-pointers. The problem is that most 3-point shooting big men will fall outside of the Celtics’ price range.
Boston’s hope, according to sources, is that the promise of playing time as well as the chance to join a surefire playoff team will be enough to convince a player to sacrifice a bit of salary in order to join the team. Here are some options that they might consider in the coming days.
C Enes Kanter — Kanter is not much of a perimeter threat and he is a below-average defender, but he is an elite rebounder and strong finisher who would provide some toughness in the paint. He is also known as a great locker room presence.
C Robin Lopez — Lopez hardly ever gets to the free-throw line but is a sturdy defender. His twin brother, Brook, has turned into a powerful 3-point marksman. Maybe he can share some tips?
F Trey Lyles — The Nuggets on Saturday tendered Lyles a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. He might be slightly out of Boston’s price range. Lyles is still just 23 years old and has shown that he can be a capable marksman, but played just 17 minutes a game for Denver last season in large part because his game has yet to grow.
C Willie Cauley-Stein — Cauley-Stein’s camp openly pushed for the Kings to renounce their rights to him, but the team ultimately gave him a qualifying offer that made him a restricted free agent. Cauley-Stein, who averaged 11.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for Sacramento last season, is not a polished scorer.
C/F Kevon Looney — The Warriors have openly stated that they hope to re-sign the 6-foot-9-inch forward, who played through a broken collarbone in the NBA Finals. He will be one of the more sought-after big men on the market, and Boston could ultimately be priced out.
F/C Kyle O’Quinn — O’Quinn played just eight minutes per game for the Pacers last season. But he is a good passer and defender and would be a solid locker room presence. He would not be a perimeter threat, however.
C Nene — On Saturday, ESPN reported that the veteran big man had declined his $3.8 million option with the Rockets and will become a free agent. He will be 37 years old by opening night, but could be a decent option for a veteran’s minimum who can provide leadership and a big body off the bench.
Others to watch: Nerlens Noel, JaVale McGee, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Kenneth Faried.