The Boston Celtics entered a frenzied first week of free agency with four existing players under contract and a huge wave of uncertainty over the team's future. In a span of seven days, the Celtics' roster has begun to come into focus with a look that is fairly similar to the team eliminated in seven games by the Miami Heat. Below is an assessment of the recent activity by Boston and a look ahead for the remainder of the summer.
"Big Ticket" Punched
Team president Danny Ainge stated early that the return of Kevin Garnett was the team's top priority. Simply put, had Garnett decided to retire or even worse leave town, the Celtics would have had to shift more into rebuilding mode as opposed to re-tooling. With Garnett back for a more favorable contract (three years, $34 million), Boston could look to fill remaining areas of need and build around Garnett, Pierce and Rondo for the next two to three years.
Draft for need
The old adage of drafting the best player available happened to also coincide with the team addressing key needs for their roster. At the time of the draft, only JaJuan Johnson was a player over 6'7" who was under contract for the next season. Even if Garnett was to return, the team needed to build with some solid players to build for the future.
The addition of Jared Sullinger was made possible due to a questionable back problem; one that the Celtics' medical staff felt was not severe. Sullinger is a polished and accomplished power forward who can score with his back to the basket as well as hit perimeter shots.
In Fab Melo, the Celtics obtained a defensive presence who may take some time to develop; but has the potential of being a Kendrick Perkins-like player for Boston. The drafting of Kris Joseph in the second round adds a four-year college player with solid athleticism and good perimeter game. With Pierce approaching the twilight of his career, the more able bodies that can back him up the more the team can preserve their captain for the playoff stretch.
"The Jet" has landed
With Ray Allen's return status questionable, the Celtics made a bold and wise move in obtaining Jason Terry; luring the sixth man extraordinaire to a three-year mid-level contract. The Celtics maintained that their plan included Terry and Allen both being in the fold for next season; with Avery Bradley missing time due to surgery, there were plenty of minutes to go around. If nothing else, Terry makes for a suitable backup for Boston; as he provides offensive production to a bench that sorely needed it all of last season.
Reinforcing the frontcourt
With Garnett returning, the Celtics needed to add some size and versatility to their frontcourt. The additions of Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, and Kris Joseph through the draft were encouraging, but the re-signing of Brandon Bass and Jeff Green add proven younger legs who can spell both Pierce and Garnett next year. These additions along with the returning big man JaJuan Johnson gives Boston something that they have not had in years; younger legs less likely to break down over the course of an 82-game season.
Bass expressed an appreciation for his role in Boston and the contending status of the Celtics both now and in the future. His play in 2012 was one key reason that the team advanced so far this past season. His signing adds stability to the power forward position and brings back a player who works hard but also within himself.
Jeff Green has yet to get a full season to prove his real worth to the Celtics. This season Green will get that chance; as the versatile forward is returning to Boston after heart surgery last season. With a four-year deal expected to be announced soon, the Celtics now have a player who can spell Pierce for some significant minutes while also being a great running mate for Rajon Rondo on an improved fast break. The jury is out as to whether $9 million per season is a reasonable price for Green, but the front office feels his value has yet to be witnessed by the Celtics' faithful and did not hesitate to get this deal done.
Boston Celtics' fans were somewhat disheartened to learn of Ray Allen's departure; more so for his choice of destination (Miami Heat) than the departure itself. With the team seeking to shop Allen's services for the past two seasons; along with their decision to go with Avery Bradley as they starting guard of the future, it was going to be a difficult sell for Boston to convince Allen that he is still as desirable as ever. Couple that with Miami's lure of another championship and his role as perimeter marksman, Allen decided that the grass was greener in Miami than it was with the Celtics.
Fans will likely take Allen's departure as a betrayal; but simply put, Allen saw a veteran team come up short over the past few years while the front office decided that he was expendable. I for one would have loved to see Allen retire as a Celtic, but I was also realistic that his return was a 50-50 proposition at best.
With several key areas of need addressed, the Celtics still have work to do before this team arrives to training camp in October.
With Avery Bradley likely to miss all of training camp and potentially the first month of the NBA season due to double shoulder surgery, there is a need to add more backcourt depth. Jason Terry's arrival will help spell some of the concerns; but for this team to be deep enough to contend for a conference title, another player will need to be brought into the fold.
With limited money available, the Celtics are hopeful that E'Twaun Moore will impress in the NBA Summer League and assume a greater role next season. With limited money available to obtain an impact player for the backcourt, Boston will either have sign veteran minimum players or look to move one or more of their current players for a player they covet.
Boston may be forced to look from within to fill their remaining backcourt role; with Mickael Pietrus being a veteran who knows the system and can defend both shooting guard and small forward positions. Keyon Dooling did not impress last season but could be retained for a veteran minimum contract and fill an area of need until Bradley returns from injury.
Two names that could remain on Boston's radar include Memphis shooting guard O.J. Mayo and Houston Rocket guard Courtney Lee. Since both players made more money last season than the Celtics can afford this off-season, their availability with either be due to a severely shrinking market or creative maneuvering by Boston to trade for their services.
I would be surprised to see the Celtics make a big splash to obtain a more prominent free agent for a reserve guard spot in Boston.
Greg Stiemsma is a player who the Celtics would like to retain, but the team does not possess "Bird Rights" on him; meaning that they can offer little compensation to counter and contract in excess of minimum dollars. With that in mind, there is a strong likelihood that last season's rookie surprise will wind up elsewhere.
The team can look at Chris Wilcox as a low cost, high reward player to come back on a veteran minimum. While healthy last season Wilcox was a favorite target for Rondo, by running the floor for easy baskets. Another player from last year could be brought back to add depth to the frontcourt. Ryan Hollins is entertaining veteran minimum offers from other teams in the league and may be interested in a return to Boston is one is available. While not a game-changing player, he was a good energy player who provided solid spot minutes for the Celtics in the 2012 playoffs.
The Celtics could look to an assortment of journeymen frontcourt players but will likely find little value available and look to the versatility they have in Bass and Green, along with the developing JaJuan Johnson to assume a more prominent role. Last year's late-season signing of troubled but athletic big man Sean Williams may still pay dividends. Williams will play in the Summer League and get a chance to prove his initial first round draft status was valid. In limited minutes last season, the 6'10" forward/center looked lost in the Celtics offense but will now benefit from a full training camp. As Stiemsma did last season, the defensive-minded big man could be this season's surprise addition.
In today's NBA, the prototypical center is more a thing of the past and more agile players can fill the void. With Green, Bass, Johnson, Sullinger, Melo and a player of Wilcox's caliber, the Celtics may be as deep as they affordably can be at this time.
On a scale of 1 (dismal) to 10 (optimistic), I would rate the Celtics' off-season activity at a solid seven. Despite having a significant amount of salary cap space; there was not a significant level of talent upgrade available over retaining many of their existing players. Remembering that this team was 12 minutes away from a third NBA Finals appearance in five seasons, and that the landscape next season is potentially an open field again to return to the conference finals; re-tooling this summer was a wise move.
The Celtics head into Summer League play with a roster that is far more complete than it was just seven days ago. The development of players in the summer competitions will likely be the final point with which Danny Ainge determines what players will round out his 2012-13 roster.
A week ago the Celtics were a franchise in limbo; one who's championship run appeared to be over. With the moved made to date, there is still a measure of optimism that the Boston Celtics are a team that is re-tooling for another conference title; and with a few small tweaks may be well on their way.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; witnessing five of Boston's 17 championships. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
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