Big Al would be fun for the Celtics. But three years from now could be painful.
The Boston Celtics clearly have a lot of work to do this offseason, with very little cap space. Injuries and large veteran contracts further complicate an already murky scenario, so every free-agent acquisition counts.
Earlier in the week, I highlighted the five most likely options for the Celtics on the open market, explaining why each of them would be a good fit in the short and long-term future.
Now it's time to pinpoint which free agents the Celtics must avoid in order to remain competitive now and down the line.
The following list consists of realistic free-agent targets, based on rumors, salaries and team needs. It also explains why Celtics management should avoid offering any of them contracts to play for the Green.
All statistics are from ESPN.com, NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com.
Quick-slashing D.J. Augustin would be a mistake for Boston.
Since Boston's first-round elimination at the hands of the New York Knicks, fans know all too well that this C's team needs another point guard. Without Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley took the helm—and proceeded to post a pitiful 0.73 assist-to-turnover ratio and minus-20 points differential in the postseason.
Boston will look for an affordable veteran point guard with court vision. Defense, intelligence and scoring ability will be a bit more important than quickness and penetration, especially once Rondo returns. Therefore, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge should pass on D.J. Augustin's services.
Augustin, who the Indiana Pacers reportedly floated in February and who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer, certainly has talent. In his first four years in the NBA as a Charlotte Bobcat, he averaged 14.3 points and 5.9 assists per 36 minutes.
However, his production declined as George Hill's backup in Indy this season. He failed to eclipse five points per game, shooting a career-low 35 percent on the year. He also managed only five assists per 36 minutes, his lowest since 2009-10.
In addition, Augustin's defense has always left a lot to be desired. Despite his quickness, he struggles to stay in front of opponents and often gets beat when gambling for steals. At 6'0”, 183 pounds, he frequently gets targeted (and scored on) by larger guards in the post.
Augustin made $3.5 million this season. Even if his price tag remains the same, it's too much for Ainge to pay for someone who doesn't fit the Celtics' style or specific needs. The Los Angeles Lakers, who eyed the 25-year-old in February, will probably grab him anyway.
J.J. has become a versatile player, but he won't soon be a Celtic.
Many Celtics fans seem to have an affinity for Milwaukee Bucks sharpshooter J.J. Redick, who enters free agency after his best season as a pro.
The not-so-secret admiration for Redick probably has something to do with Ray Allen's departure to the dark side last year—and the subsequent three-point woes Boston suffered in 2012-13.
The Celtics sat in the middle of the pack (15th) from long range, shooting 35.8 percent on the season. With Ray Allen the year prior, they ranked seventh. They could definitely use a marksman.
But Redick, who made $6.19 million this season, will be expecting a raise after posting career highs in points (14.1) and assists (3.8), and tying highs in defensive rebounds (two) and steals (0.5). His all-around game has improved by leaps and bounds, and his agent will push him away from the “one-dimensional player” stereotype that haunted his first five years.
Even if Redick took a pay cut to join the Celtics, he would be out of their range. Boston should target a mid-level exception guy like Kyle Korver, who would bring veteran leadership, solid three-point shooting off the bench and some defensive skills.
Korver shot 45.7 percent from three this season (tops among the 50 players who attempted 300 or more), compared to Redick's .366 mark. He grabbed two more rebounds a game than Redick and averaged 0.5 more steals and blocks as well. Oh, and Korver made $1.19 million less.
As a 10-year veteran with various suitors, including the Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets, Korver would likely opt to ink a deal for at least the full mid-level exception, worth about $5.15 million. That may still end up too rich for Boston's blood, but it's much more desirable than a $7 million deal for J.J. Redick.
One of the ways Boston could shore up some cap space now and down the line would be to waive Jason Terry and essentially “stretch” his contract into dead money over the next five years. This would provide the opportunity to go after Korver.
Smith is a beast, but is he the future of the Boston Celtics?
Josh Smith, Korver's teammate in Atlanta, expects the big bucks this summer. He has already insinuated (and later denied) that he wants a max contract, which would range about five years and anywhere between $74 million and $100 million total.
This is just absolutely out of the question for Boston. Despite the fact that Smith and Rondo are close friends, it just wouldn't add up.
Even if Ainge waives Paul Pierce and buys out his contract for $5 million, and Kevin Garnett retires (freeing Boston of his contract), the Celtics would only have about $10 million of space in a $60 million cap. And that's with the seven empty roster spots Ainge would have to fill.
Boston could attempt a sign-and-trade with Pierce in order to obtain Smith. But with their cap space and team needs, Atlanta probably won't have much interest in acquiring an aging veteran small forward.
For the Celtics, adding Smith would require waiving some of the better offensive players, then trusting the mid-level exception qualifiers long-term. Not to mention, it would mean putting all of Boston's eggs in the basket of a player with no significant postseason success. Smith has never even taken a whiff of the Eastern Conference Finals.
There's plenty to like about Smith, including his size (6'9”, 225 pounds) and ability to play many positions. He handles the ball well for a big man and creates off the dribble almost as effectively as he posts up. He's got a good motor and great strength, and makes crisp passes.
The lefty comes off a year in which he averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals. He does just about everything well. But he doesn't do anything well enough to pay him $100 million.
The biggest turn-off remains his penchant for firing 20-to-25 footers with plenty of time on the shot clock. For a player with loads of potential, he just completely abolishes the playbook when he wants to shoot. Boston already had one Antoine Walker—even if Ainge can pull a sign-and-trade, he should avoid causing 'Toine 2.0.
It's easy to like his game, but D-West has no future in Green.
Pacers power forward David West offers a great skill set offensively, so a number of teams are on notice.
He can shoot the ball extremely well from short to mid-range. His 6'9”, 250-pound body demands respect in the post and on the glass. He even has a good handle.
However, his pros do not outweigh the cons, especially for Boston. For one, he turns 33 years old in August and has a rough track record with injuries. He hasn't been available for an entire season since 2009-10.
And he will surely attract more lucrative offers than just the mid-level, having played such an integral part for a deep playoff team.
In fact, reports indicate that the Los Angeles Clippers have already targeted West once he becomes available. Apparently, even though they already have Blake Griffin, they like the look of West's 17 points, 7.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game.
So why compete with them? The Celtics don't have the cap space for West, and after rookie Jared Sullinger's back heals, they won't have any real need at the power forward spot.
Plus, regardless of 20.15 player efficiency ratings, nobody ever plopped the words “33-year-old” or “injury-prone” in the same sentence as “rebuilding.” Most fans would rather retain Kevin Garnett than bring in another 30-something big man.
If the Celtics do decide to target a power forward, they are better off going for the more affordable and more athletic Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz. However, the real gap Ainge must address, either through free agency or the NBA draft, is the center position.
Big Al might want back... but can Boston afford him?
Speaking of centers, former Celtic Al Jefferson comes off the books for Utah this summer. Many B/R readers have already suggested the Celtics should do what they can to go after him, but it looks like a risky deal.
“Big Al” blossomed into a star after departing Boston for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the KG trade six years ago. Since that deal, he has averaged 19.5 points and a hair under 10 rebounds per game, as well as 1.5 blocks and 0.8 steals. He hasn't shot lower than 49 percent during that span.
Nobody's refuting Jefferson's talent. Or the fact that he would “love” to return to the Celtics. The biggest concern with Al involves the level of salary he will likely expect.
Widely considered one of the most attractive big men on the open market, he will likely garner the last big contract of his career. Suffice to say, it will be well over the $10 million Boston would be left with, even with a Pierce sign-and-trade.
If Ainge can somehow bring Jefferson in, it would obviously fill an immediate need down low. Plus, it would get people in the TD Garden seats, which otherwise might be difficult without Pierce and KG.
But if his main priority is to stay competitive for as long as possible, getting the team in the same salary problem he just solved could prove disastrous. After this year, the “win or deal with the cap issues later” approach might not work again.
More realistic options include San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter, Al-Farouq Aminu of the New Orleans Pelicans or Chris Andersen of the Miami Heat. Quality options exist in the NBA draft as well, including Gorgui Dieng and Kelly Olynyk.
Other former Celtics Ainge should avoid:
Nate Robinson, PG: Had a great year in Chicago and even competed for Sixth Man honors, but still plays too much one-on-one to fit in this young Doc Rivers offense.
Tony Allen, SG: Celtics fans would love to see the return of his lock-down D, but his offensive woes would only make things worse for this Boston team that occasionally forgets how to score.
Chauncey Billups, PG: Older and more beat up than years past, and Chris Paul still loves the veteran. He convinced management to pay Chauncey a $4 million extension last year—they only got 22 games out of him (and 20 the year prior).