Could Paul Millsap be headed to Boston this summer?
With an injured point guard, two aging stars, a draft pick in the middle of the first round and very little salary cap space, they enter the free agency carousel with considerable needs but few options.
Will Kevin Garnett retire, or be traded? Will Paul Pierce's contract get bought out? Will Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry get sent packing? The answers to these questions obviously weigh heavily on president of basketball operations Danny Ainge's short-term agenda.
Keeping in mind all possibilities within financial reason, the following list details which moves Boston is most likely to explore this summer, from least likely to most probable. It considers what each player would bring to the Celtics, and why their particular skill set and market value will be most appealing to Ainge.
All statistics generated using NBA.com/stats and ESPN.com.
If Oden can stay on the court, he's a great option for the C's.
With a career marred by injuries, Greg Oden comes with a bevy of warning signs. However, he could end up being a very effective big man for a very affordable price.
All signs suggest that Oden's rehab and attempted comeback has gone smoothly, with reports even indicating that he looks like he's in great shape. That's a good sign—a healthy version of the former No. 1 pick offers an interior presence unlike any current Celtic.
For starters, he's 7'0” and weighs 285 pounds, bigger and taller than the entire C's roster. He rebounds well (7.3 boards per game in 82 career contests) and scores efficiently (57.7 percent shooting, good for 9.4 points in 22 minutes per game). The Celtics were one of the worst teams on the glass last year, and struggled to find points in the paint.
He also averaged 1.4 blocks during his professional career, which Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge would certainly welcome, especially if Garnett moves on.
If Oden can stay away from the knee problems that have hampered his career, he could find a nice home in Boston.
Paul Millsap could be the Celtics' next big sign-and-trade.
NBA fans continue to discuss the possibility of Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson coming back to Boston. But the more likely sign-and-trade involving the Jazz would be power forward Paul Millsap.
Somewhat of a no-frills type of player, Millsap provides a great work ethic, a durable body and the ability to score.
In seven seasons, the 28-year-old has only missed 18 games, unprecedented in this day and age. He's a career 12.4 points and seven rebounds a game guy who consistently hovers around 50 percent from the field.
He doesn't set the world on fire as far as max contract guys are concerned, but he does a lot of things really well. He runs the floor, defends well and plays intelligently with the ball in his hands.
If Pierce's contract gets bought out for $5 million of the $15 million he would be owed next year, Millsap would be a great avenue for Ainge to explore by dealing Courtney Lee or Kevin Garnett. Rajon Rondo would love driving and dishing to a 6'8”, 245-pound scorer with sure hands.
Boston's status as a big-market team would boost Millsap's exposure and would finally land him on All-Star ballots on a consistent basis. He's a humble, blue-collar player who needs Boston as much as Boston needs him.
Al Jefferson would be a great center for a couple of years, but he seems like a risk down the line for the price tag attached to him. The 28-year-old former Celtic made $15 million in 2012-13, and will likely bring in closer to $20 million a season as one of the top players in this free agent class.
Rather than bringing back "Big Al," the Celtics are better off going after a center like Gorgui Dieng in the NBA Draft, and focusing on more affordable free agent contracts this offseason.
Pekovic would easily require the largest jersey in Boston.
Speaking of more affordable big men, Nikola Pekovic comes off the Minnesota Timberwolves' books this offseason. The big Montenegrin center would be a perfect addition to the Green.
A commanding presence, Pekovic stands at 6'11” and a burly 290 pounds. He knows how to box out with power, and makes opponents earn their points near the hoop.
Pekovic's size and scoring ability would open up lots of opportunities for the Celtics, primarily the ability to push Jeff Green into a slashing power forward role.
Boston would clearly still need to shore up a lot of cap space for the 27-year-old bruiser with three years of NBA experience. His 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game both led the Wolves this season, as did his whopping 20.3 player efficiency rating. He also shot .520 from the floor and averaged nearly a block per game.
Pekovic leaves a bit to be desired defensively, and his rebounding could still stand to improve if he wants to be considered a marquee guy. He also can't handle the ball very well. But he can catch it in traffic, a must with Rondo and this Celtics squad.
This team immediately improves by leaps and bounds with this overpowering bruiser. He can't knock down midrange jumpers, but Boston doesn't need a shooting center. They need a guy like Pekovic who converts on nearly 66 percent of his chances in the basket area.
Jarrett Jack is a pure point guard and a pure scorer.
If the Celtics learned anything during their rough NBA playoff loss at the hands of the New York Knicks, it's the fact that all professional teams need a professional point guard. After Rondo and Leandro Barbosa both went down with ACL injuries earlier in the year, Boston was left with Avery Bradley as the floor general.
That didn't work out so well. In the games that mattered the most down the stretch, turnovers came more often than assists. Boston must deal with this dilemma as soon as possible, and the Golden State Warriors' Jarrett Jack is the leading option.
The 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year candidate developed some strong offense in arguably his best year as a pro. He established a lethal pull-up jumper, hitting 40 percent of his attempts from three, and shooting .452 overall from the field. He also averaged 5.6 assists and 0.8 steals in less than 30 minutes per game off the bench.
Jack would provide the Celtics with veteran knowledge and some valuable ball-handling skills. He also knows how to create offensively, something that would help a squad like Boston which forgot how to score at certain points this season.
An offense centering around Jeff Green would require two solid point guards, so even when Rondo returns from his partial ACL tear, Jack would be superb. If Boston can afford to grab him, they should absolutely pull the trigger. They might be able to sign him to a mid-level exception, unless the success he and the Warriors garnered this postseason leads to increased offers around the league.
Tiago Splitter would be a welcome addition down low for the Green.
While the sheer mention of Tiago Splitter as a top probability for the Celtics' offseason might illicit some rolling of the eyes, it couldn't make much more sense.
In only about 25 minutes a game this season, Splitter averaged 10.3 points off 56 percent shooting for the San Antonio Spurs. He also grabbed 6.4 boards and logged 1.6 assists and 0.8 blocks per game.
For a guy standing at 6'11” and 240 pounds, he has good footwork and natural intelligence. He plays a very physical brand of basketball, and finishes well near the hoop. The third-year guy could be a breakout candidate in Doc Rivers' system.
Splitter played 81 out of 82 games this season, proving that the Brazilian is as healthy and durable as any center in their late-20s. His free throw shooting has improved substantially (74 percent), as has his man-to-man defense (96.1 defensive rating). And the kid not only shoots 57 percent for his career—he posted an 18.72 player efficiency rating on an upper echelon team this season.
Flashing great hands and mobility, the pros outweigh the cons with Splitter. He only made $3.9 million this season, so he could just be the most affordable option in a crowded big-man market. Expect Ainge to take a long, hard look at the restricted free agent if San Antonio declines to make him a $5.87 million qualifying offer.
Notes on other potential options:
David West, PF: Proven scorer and big body down low, but too old and injury-prone for Ainge to consider offering big money. West made $10 million this season, and turns 33 in August.
Chris Kaman, C: Intriguing option considering his size, rebounding and intelligence. The German bruiser could be worth a mid-level exception if Boston could pull it off.
J.J. Redick, SG: Sharpshooter who has always been considered one-dimensional, at least until a breakout 2012-13 season. A much better option than Avery Bradley at the two, but not nearly worth the big bucks he'll be expecting.
Kyle Korver, SG: A more affordable option than Redick in the sniper role, Korver could fit in well with the Green if Jason Terry and/or Courtney Lee get sent packing this summer.
Devin Harris, PG: Reliable veteran to back up Rondo. Intelligent and very quick for a 30-year-old, with 14.6 points and five assists per 36 minutes this season.