Most Intriguing Free Agents Boston Celtics Could Sign with Mid-Level Exception

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIJune 3, 2013

Feb 25, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Earl Clark (6) warms up before the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.  The Nuggets won 119-108.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

For a team that Danny Ainge claims is "more than one player away" from title contention, the Boston Celtics' salary cap situation is pretty unenviable.

Beyond just the uncertainty around the future of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the team has significant money tied up in the likes of Jason Terry, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee, all of whom were less than impressive during the 2012-13 season.

In fact, if the Celtics do not make some changes in the offseason, they will be in the luxury tax with a payroll of over $76 million. That would leave them with the mid-level exception (MLE) as the primary way to bring an impact player to Boston.

However, just because the team would have limited options does not mean that there is no way for the C's to improve while keeping their core intact. In fact, there are a number of free agents available who could bring valuable talent to Boston and not hurt them too much in the salary department.

As we gear up for the most turbulent offseason in recent Celtics history, let's take a look at five intriguing free agents the team could snag with the MLE once the free-agency period begins.

Statistics courtesy of and

 Anthony Morrow

Anthony Morrow had a dreadful 2012-13 season, splitting time between the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks while averaging just four points and 0.7 rebounds per game. However, he is just 27 years old and prior to this year had established himself as a reliable double-digit scorer.

For his career, Morrow has averaged 10.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 42.4 percent from beyond the arc. He is one of the game's premier outside shooters, and he has never shot below 37 percent for a season from three-point range.

Morrow just finished the final season of a three-year, $12 million deal, but given that he is coming off of a career-worst year, it is possible that Boston could snag him for the mid-level exception.

At 6'5" Morrow has good size for a shooting guard and is able to get his shots off over defenders. He moves well without the basketball and is a deadly spot-up shooter on the perimeter.

Boston desperately needs a scoring punch off the bench for the 2013-14 season, and that is a role Morrow is certainly capable of filling. He is not much of a shot-creator or a penetrator, but Morrow is capable of reacting to a close-out or using a fake to get a clean look inside the arc.

In the 2011-12 season with New Jersey, Morrow attempted 10.6 shots per game, 8.2 of which were either three-pointers or jump shots from 16-to-23 feet.

He's not much of a defensive presence, but for a team that could use someone capable of scoring points in bunches and spacing the floor, Boston could certainly do no worse than Anthony Morrow, particularly if it opts to deal one of the shooting guards already on the roster.

Earl Clark

Size is at a premium for this Celtics squad, and whether or not the team keeps the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett core together for another year, targeting a young big man is a necessity this offseason.

After three seasons as a little-used backup for Phoenix and Orlando, Earl Clark was thought of as little more than a throw-in piece in the Dwight Howard trade. However, when injuries sidelined Pau Gasol, Clark emerged as a strong contributor for the Los Angeles Lakers during the regular season.

On the year, Clark averaged 7.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 33.7 percent from deep. 

At 6'10" and with an impressive shooting touch out to the three-point arc, Clark is capable of playing both forward spots as needed. He has the strength to play down low and the quickness to cover small forwards out on the perimeter.

Perhaps most importantly, Clark is only 25 years old and coming off of the first season where he played consistent, meaningful minutes in the NBA. He has plenty of room to develop and could be a valuable piece for the Celtics going forward. 

Coming off of a two-year, $2.4 million contract he signed back when he played for the Magic, Clark is certainly due for a raise. He posted career highs in points, rebounds, assists and made three-pointers with L.A.

Clark needs to work on picking his spots and not being so reliant on his mid-range jumper, particularly given his athleticism. For the 2012-13 season his PER was just 12.47, but efficiency issues are common for young players when adjusting to a more significant workload.

With the futures of Garnett and Pierce both in serious doubt and a major hole in the frontcourt for Danny Ainge and company to address, Boston would be wise to pursue a versatile combo-forward who can shoot and rebound, meaning that Earl Clark might just be their guy.

Though his postseason performance—3.5 points and three boards on 36.8 percent shooting—certainly left something to be desired, Clark would be an ideal addition to the Boston roster. 

DeJuan Blair 

The 6'7" center is a rare breed in the NBA, but DeJuan Blair's ability to score inside and rebound the basketball has helped him carve out a pretty nice niche opposite Tim Duncan in the paint.

The emergence of Tiago Splitter for the Spurs has forced Blair into a reduced role, and it is likely that he will look to find a new home following San Antonio's finals run.

For his career, Blair has averaged 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 52.8 percent from the field. The fact that he's putting up those numbers in just 18.9 minutes of work speaks to his natural talents, but also his repeated issues with foul trouble and staying in the good graces of Gregg Popovich.

Blair is a true throwback center, operating best down low and banging in the paint for baskets and tough rebounds. Despite his relatively small stature, he is a great offensive rebounder, averaging 2.2 per game for his career. 

Boston is one of the league's worst teams at getting second-chance points, and having a true glass-eater like Blair would be a huge boost. Blair's total rebounding rate of 15.6 ranks him ahead of the likes of Kevin Garnett, Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Unfortunately, Blair's size renders him pretty ineffective as a shot-blocker, and he has never found much of a role with San Antonio in the postseason, averaging just 3.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 24 career playoff games.

To make matters worse, his individual defense ranges from acceptably bad to atrocious at times.

Still, Blair would be a nice piece to play alongside Garnett in the paint. He could take some of the rebounding pressure off of KG and give Boston some much-needed help on the interior.

Blair earned just $1.05 million for the 2012-13 campaign, and while a pay raise is inevitable, the 24-year-old big man could be an instant impact player for the Celtics if they choose not to pursue a center through the draft.

Tony Allen

This may be wishful thinking from a Celtics fan who pines for the glory days of 2008, but wouldn't it be nice to see Tony Allen back in green? While it is not likely that Allen returns to the team that drafted him back in 2004, it is far from impossible.

With the Memphis Grizzlies, Allen finally gained recognition as one of the league's top perimeter defenders, resulting in three straight All-Defensive selections, including two First-Teams (2012 and 2013).

Allen possesses tremendous defensive instincts, always manages to stay in front of his man, knows when to be physical and can read passing lanes as well as anyone in the league. He is capable of guarding the NBA's best point guards, shooting guards and small forwards as needed.

Though he's not much of a shooter, Allen contributes in other ways too. He averaged 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game for Memphis in 2012-13 while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. 

He is one of the strongest guards in the league and is underrated as a rebounder to boot. Allen crashed the glass hard in the playoffs, grabbing 6.1 caroms per game as the Grizzlies reached their first ever Western Conference Finals. 

However, the problems with bringing Allen back are obvious. He is 31 years old and is going to see his physical abilities diminish over the next few seasons.

Because of his inability to shoot from outside, defenses will be able to collapse in the paint, and Rondo has typically played best with a backcourt partner who can shoot the ball. 

There is also the not-insignificant matter of finding enough minutes for Allen, which is the reason he departed in free agency in the first place. The Celtics have an abundance of shooting guards on the roster right now, so while bringing Tony Allen would be fun for old times' sake, do not expect to see the prodigal son return.

Andray Blatche

Until this season Andray Blatche was more well-known for his ridiculous antics than his play on the court, but after being amnestied by the Washington Wizards in the 2012 offseason, Blatche remade himself into a supersub for the Brooklyn Nets.

Blatche played just 19 minutes per game for the Nets, but he averaged 10.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and one assist while shooting a career-best 51.2 percent from the field.

Primarily playing behind All-Star big man Brook Lopez, Blatche settled less for jump shots and spent more time in the post than he did in his Wizards years.

While Blatche is a very talented player (he averaged 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds for Washington in 2010-11), he often lacked motivation and looked uninvolved on the court.

Playing for a playoff contender rejuvenated Blatche, as he used his athleticism, length and soft touch in the paint to provide Brooklyn with a scoring punch off the bench.

The 6'11" big man is capable of playing both power forward and center and is a strong offensive rebounder as well.

Blatche skipped college and has been in the NBA for eight seasons, but he battled immaturity during the beginning of his career. Still, it is easy to forget that he is only 26 years old and was in an extremely dysfunctional environment playing in the nation's capital.

Away from the circus that is Washington Wizards basketball, Blatche posted an extremely impressive PER of 21.98, good for 14th in the league and above the likes of Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Al Jefferson.

For the 2012-13 season, Blatche earned just $1.15 million, a product of his being amnestied by the Wizards, who are still paying him for the five-year, $35 million contract he signed with Washington.

Though Blatche is still just an average interior defender, he could be an ideal fit in Boston as long as he continues to mature. His ability to play the 5 and net second-chance points would take pressure off of KG and allow the team to slide him back to power forward more. 

Signing a player with as much baggage as Andray Blatche is always somewhat of a risk, but for just the mini mid-level exception it could be well worth the possible reward.

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