The C’s have generally done their work through the draft or trades, but they haven’t really been major players on the open market like the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers, their big-market counterparts.
That could finally change this offseason. Boston is not flush with cap space, but the Celtics are in position—with some clever maneuvering—to make a run at some of the second-tier free agents available in 2014.
They won’t be players for LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but expect to see Boston linked to some of the better players available, particularly after such a quiet 2013 free agent period.
Given that the Celtics are still in rebuild mode, it’s tough to predict whether they will look for young, high upside players, veterans to speed up the process or simply shirk long-term deals altogether, but let’s take a look at five free agents that Boston should be pursuing in the offseason.
5. Paul Pierce
There is certainly an emotional reason to bring Paul Pierce back to Boston after 15 seasons in green, but this would not be a strictly ceremonial move.
Pierce, even at his current age, could bring the Celtics two things they desperately need: shot creation and outside shooting.
Boston’s offense has been horrendous at times this season, and bringing back Pierce would provide the C’s with someone capable of making tough shots and also creating looks for his teammates off the dribble.
Pierce has had a turbulent season in Brooklyn, but he could be a natural fit for Brad Stevens’ system.
His ability to knock down wing and corner threes would help in spread offensive sets, and he is also capable of coming off of screens to knock down jumpers.
For the year, he’s averaging 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists despite battling injuries.
His shooting percentages have also climbed out of the gutter to 44.8 percent overall and 38.6 percent from three, after shooting just 35.4 percent overall in November.
Obviously, at 36 years old Pierce won’t command the $15.3 million he is earning in 2013-14, but there is a chance his name value will drive up offers.
The Brooklyn Nets’ dreadful injury luck has forced Pierce to play out of position at the 4, where he has thrived offensively. He’s posting a 20.6 PER at power forward compared to a 14.1 PER at small forward, per 82games.
His defense and explosiveness have definitely slipped, but Pierce remains a versatile offensive player who could seriously help the C’s again as a starter or a sixth man.
Obviously, there’s a chance that Pierce refuses to return to Boston given his unceremonious departure, but if he’s willing to return for $5 or $6 million per season he could be a nice signing for a year or two.
Also, it would just be nice to see The Truth back in Boston.
4. Avery Bradley
If Avery Bradley’s ankles seemed stable he might be higher on this list, but the 2-guard’s recent injury troubles forced him down a few slots.
Still, Bradley has had a strong 2013-14 campaign, emerging as a more reliable scorer while transitioning to shooting guard basically full time.
Bradley is averaging 14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists, while shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from deep.
He aggravated his ankle injury against the Chicago Bulls, but had been playing well in his return, including scoring 28 points against the Nets.
The shooting guard market is decent this offseason, but the C’s have an edge since Bradley is a restricted free agent and has a clearly defined role in Boston.
When asked about free agency and playing with Rajon Rondo going forward, Bradley told SBNation’s James Herbert, “Hopefully we can stay here together, but only time will tell. It's my last year and I'm a restricted free agent, so we don't really know what'll happen.”
Stevens has effectively moved Bradley off the ball for good after a disastrous start to the year manning the point.
He’s simply not an elite passer, and he sometimes struggles handling the ball under pressure and making more difficult reads on the fly.
Additionally, Bradley has actually been better defending 2-guards than point guards. He’s holding 1s to a 15.5 PER, but 2s to a 12.8 PER, according to 82games.
His full-court pressure remains devastating, but Bradley actually does a good job of using his physicality and quickness to cover bigger opponents.
It’s difficult to get a read on what the market for Bradley will be. He’s just 23 years old and has already made an All-NBA Defensive Second Team, but he has also battled chronic injuries.
However, after dealing Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford, Boston has a clear need at the 2, and bringing back Bradley for something like three years and $18 million would be a wise move.
3. Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward may be a restricted free agent, but the Celtics have a big in with the up-and-coming scorer: Brad Stevens, his former coach at Butler.
Opinions of Hayward’s 2013-14 season are varied, as the 24-year-old swingman struggled with his shot but put up strong across-the-board counting stats.
Hayward is averaging 16.1 points, 5.1 boards and 5.2 assists on the year, but shooting just 41.4 percent overall and 31.3 percent from three-point range.
His percentages are obviously hurt because he has been the Utah Jazz’s primary scorer and a key playmaker, but he has been settling for far too many tough two-pointers.
Per Basketball-Reference, 28.8 percent of Hayward’s shots are coming from 16 feet to the three-point arc, and he is hitting just 40.5 percent of them.
Hayward is a gifted playmaker who can run the pick-and-roll, and break down the defense off the bounce, but he is averaging a career-high 2.8 turnovers per game.
At 6’8” Hayward is capable of playing both the 2 and 3, but he has worked best this season as an oversized shooting guard.
His PER in the backcourt is 18.1, compared to 14.6 at small forward, according to 82games.
The fact that he is a restricted free agent is an unfortunate wrinkle, but with Alec Burks playing well and the potential to add a player like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker through the draft, Utah may be okay with letting him walk.
If the Celts were willing to throw a multi-year, eight-figure deal at Hayward they would likely find themselves facing few other suitors for his services.
Bringing in Hayward and Bradley in tandem would not really make sense, but if the C’s want another facilitator instead of a stalwart defender they could choose to pursue Hayward first.
If he can get his three-point shooting back up to his career mark of 37 percent, then he could make a nice complement to Rondo in the backcourt.
The Jazz could very well decide that the 24-year-old Hayward is worth keeping around, but expect the C’s to make some calls, particularly since they were interested at the trade deadline, per CSNNE’s A. Sherrod Blakely.
2. Greg Monroe
Greg Monroe seems like an ideal fit in Boston, but it’s easy to see how the shortcomings in his game could hurt the C’s going forward.
He has never been a particularly motivated defender; he’s slow on his feet and has averaged just 0.6 blocks per game for his career.
PER-wise, Monroe allows a 21 from opposing 4s and a 17 from opposing 5s, according to 82games.
Monroe has also shown no real progress developmentally since breaking out in 2011-12. His 15.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and two assists per game are all his lowest marks in three seasons.
He’s still just 23 years old and could conceivably improve with time, but his showing is troubling considering that he has already been in the league for four seasons.
Still, despite his shortcomings, Monroe is a gifted player who could lift the Celtics’ ceiling.
His versatile offensive game would slot in nicely alongside Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, both capable floor-spacers.
Sully is a capable post-up player, but he cannot operate on the high post as well as Monroe, who is one of the best back-to-the-basket passers in the league.
With his ability to carve out space and Rondo’s pinpoint accuracy on entry passes, they could potentially form a nice two-man game.
Still, Monroe’s PER of 18.3 is less than that of players like Amar’e Stoudemire and Rudy Gay, and he hasn’t exactly helped the Detroit Pistons return to relevance.
He’s a restricted free agent, so the Pistons could match any offer he gets, but given the struggles of the Josh Smith-Andre Drummond-Monroe trio, it is unlikely that they would be willing to give Monroe $10 million-plus per season.
Monroe was one of the hottest names on the trade market, but Detroit may be happy just letting him walk for nothing.
It would require some financial maneuvering and may hurt the development of Sully and Olynyk long-term, but adding Monroe in the offseason would certainly be considered a win.
1. Lance Stephenson
To put it simply, if Boston can only sign one player this offseason it should be Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson has followed up on a solid 2012-13 season with an excellent 2013-14 campaign, and he looks like a potential top-25 player going forward.
He is averaging 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from distance.
“Born Ready” has even notched a league-high four triple-doubles, including one during a win in TD Garden.
Stephenson is not a flawless player, he is prone to making the flashy play instead of the simple play and occasionally jacking up too many jumpers, but he would make an excellent fit alongside Rondo in the backcourt.
He’s one of the few players in the league who's as capable of grabbing 15 boards or notching 25 points as he is dishing out 10 assists.
As an unrestricted free agent, Stephenson will have plenty of options in free agency, and the major role he could play in Boston may be tempting, especially if the Celts offer a more lucrative deal than the Indiana Pacers.
The desire to win a title may be too much to turn down, but the 23-year-old has plenty of years left in the league and may jump at the chance to lead a squad.
Stephenson’s overall PER of 15.1 might not seem overly impressive, but he boasts a 16.5 when he plays 2-guard, per 82games.
Additionally, he has been solid guarding both wing spots, holding shooting guards to an 11.1 PER and 3s to a 12.7 PER.
It may cost Boston something close to a max level contract, but if the Celtics emerge as a viable suitor for Stephenson, they should do everything possible to ensure he ends up in green.