As another summer free agency frenzy opens, Ainge kicks back

A. Sherrod Blakely
NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON – Each of the past two summers, the Celtics have been at the front of the line when it comes to attracting the attention of the top free agents.

The reason was clear – they had lots of money to spend.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and assistant GM Mike Zarren had carefully crafted the roster for years in advance with an eye towards the summers of 2016 and 2017 to strike gold on the free agency market.

They did just that in signing a pair of foundation-type players in Al Horford (2016) and Gordon Hayward (2017).

Couple that with trading for Kyrie Irving last summer, along with the impact of young players Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and it's clear that the Celtics are not in the market for making any blockbuster deals this summer.

And as much as Danny Ainge likes the available talent in free agency now, he loves his current roster even more.

"It's easier when you have three guys [Irving, Hayward, and Horford] already that you got from the years before and you have budding stars in young players [Brown and Tatum] that are progressing," said Ainge when asked about the temptation to pursue big-name free agents this summer. "We don't have the cap space and we don't really have a need. We have really good players. We have to surround them with role players with the rest of our roster that have a chance to win."

And there lies the challenge for Boston heading into NBA free agency which begins 12:01 a.m. tonight.

Boston's primary focus is to re-sign Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, two key members of a team that was a win away from advancing to the NBA Finals.

Smart is a restricted free agent, so the Celtics can match any offer sheet he is given.

Baynes is an unrestricted free agent and will draw some interest, but most league executives anticipate the 6-foot-11 center will be back in Boston next season.

The Celtics are likely to try and get Smart's deal done first, knowing its potential impact on their mid-level exception.

Boston currently has a non-luxury tax player mid-level exception that's worth $8.568 million.

Re-signing Smart might push Boston's payroll into the luxury-tax zone, which would reduce the amount of their mid-level exception to use toward signing another player or players, to $5.53 million.

Beyond the re-signing of Smart and Baynes, along with the one-year deal agreed upon with 28-year-old Brad Wanamaker of the EuroLeague, Boston will have a relatively quiet free agency period, which says more about how strong their roster is currently constructed than anything else.

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