5 Realistic Targets for Boston Celtics to Chase During 2015 Offseason
No, this list does not include LaMarcus Aldridge, or Draymond Green, or Kawhi Leonard.
The Boston Celtics are an attractive free-agent destination with Brad Stevens at the helm and a successful 2014-15 season under their belt, but Boston simply can’t bank on one of the summer’s top stars.
Despite the franchise’s historic success, they have never been able to attract a marquee player in free agency, and that isn’t likely to change this offseason.
However, there are still a number of quality pieces available, both on the market and through trades, that the C’s could realistically snag.
They are flush with assets to use in a deal and have max cap room to offer.
This offseason doesn’t boast any top-five talents likely to change teams, but there are a number of players out there who could significantly raise Boston’s ceiling.
Taj Gibson (Trade)
2014-15 stats: 10.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.2 BPG, 50.2 FG%
While there haven’t been any explicit rumors linking Taj Gibson to Boston, Grantland’s Zach Lowe posited a possible Avery Bradley-for-Gibson swap back when Chicago was eliminated from the playoffs. Lowe writes, “The Celtics need a little more force on defense from someone in their big-man rotation, and they’ll have a glut of perimeter players once James Young earns playing time.”
Gibson would instantly become Boston’s best frontcourt defender, providing them with some much-needed rim protection that no one on the current roster is capable of. He’s athletic enough to play effective help defense and is no slouch guarding one-on-one either.
He held opposing 4s to a 13.4 PER and centers to a 14.5 PER, according to 82games. Gibson is also quick enough to switch onto guards in the pick-and-roll and contain them. He can cover explosive point guards like Jeff Teague and force them into tough, contested jumpers.
The Celts have struggled defending pick-and-rolls because their big men aren’t mobile enough to stay with perimeter players, allowing open drives to the basket.
Gibson isn’t a three-point shooter, but he is decent enough from mid-range to force opponents to respect him. Additionally, with the league getting smaller, the 6’9” Gibson could potentially play most of his minutes at the 5. He’s strong enough to guard most centers, and he is a strong rebounder on both ends.
He’s owed nearly $17.5 million over the next two season and is highly valued by Chicago, meaning he won’t come cheap. Fortunately, the Celtics are flush with assets and might be able to put together an enticing package.
A combination of one of their stretch-4s and a first-rounder, or Bradley and a first-rounder, could be enough to get the Bulls’ attention, particularly if Fred Hoiberg wants to change Chicago’s identity to be more free-flowing and offense-focused.
Kousta Koufos (Unrestricted Free Agent)
2014-15 stats: 5.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.8 BPG, 50.8 FG%
Backing up Marc Gasol didn’t afford Kosta Koufos much opportunity to shine, but he remains one of the league’s more intriguing prospects at the center position. He has made the most of limited minutes on both ends of the court, and he is a true 7-footer who plays with grittiness and physicality.
Koufos is a nice pick-and-roll finisher who doesn’t do anything outside of his skill set and could bring an added interior presence to the C’s offense. Per Basketball-Reference.com, he made 62 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket last season, and 84 percent of his attempts came from 10 feet out or closer.
He isn’t an elite post player, but he has a decent hook shot and solid hands around the hoop. His one-on-one defense is decent, holding opposing 5s to a 15.3 PER, according to 82games, but his best work comes as a help defender and rim protector.
The C’s have sorely lacked someone protecting the paint since Kevin Garnett left in 2013, and the 26-year-old Koufos could potentially fill that role well.
Additionally, the promise of starting could be a big lure to get Koufos in green. ESPN’s Marc Stein writes, “It's no secret within team circles that Koufos, while appreciative of the various tricks he's gleaned as the understudy to Gasol and Z-Bo, wants to be an NBA starter.”
Koufos earned just $3 million in 2014-15 and is surely due for an increase. Fortunately, the Celtics have the cap space to sign him to a deal up to eight figures without worrying too much about preserving future flexibility. His presence could create a bit of a logjam in the frontcourt, but he figures to be a natural fit alongside shooting big men like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.
If the Celtics strike out in their pursuit of a superstar, expect them to set their sights on Koufos.
Maurice Harkless (Trade)
2014-15 stats: 3.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.7 APG, 39.9 FG%, 17.9 3P%
Maurice Harkless was buried by the Orlando Magic last season, yet he still presents significant upside for a team like Boston that could use an upgrade at the 3. The 6’8” Harkless has had consistency problems during his three years in the league, but has a few legitimate skills that could help the Celtics.
Despite his rough shooting splits from 2014-15, he hit 38.3 percent of his triples as a second-year player and has proven to be consistent on catch-and-shoot opportunities from the corners. He doesn’t have much of a mid-range shot, but Harkless does a nice job attacking the rim and is particularly adept at baseline drives.
For his career, Harkless has attempted 51.3 percent of his shots within three feet of the hoop, per Basketball-Reference. He needs to get a little better at finishing up close, but a player that motivated to get to the basket would be a good fit in Stevens’ offensive system.
Defensively, Harkless can make some risky plays at times, but he’s a nice shot-blocker from the wing, and he has the length to cover 2s, 3s and 4s as needed.
The Magic are now under the direction of Scott Skiles, who has a notoriously short temper and likely won’t jibe well with Harkless. Orlando also has Aaron Gordon, who had flashes toward the end of an injury-plagued campaign, and may retain Tobias Harris, leaving few minutes free at small forward.
If Boston is interested, Harkless could likely be acquired for a pretty reasonable price. A second-rounder or two—maybe just a cheap contract—could be all it takes. He’s under contract for just $2.9 million next season and has a $4 million qualifying offer for 2016-17, making him a low-cost option. Harkless likely won’t be the long-term answer at small forward, but he would be a nice backup behind Crowder.
Greg Monroe (Unrestricted Free Agent)
2014-15 stats: 15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 49.6 FG%
A long-rumored Boston target, Greg Monroe has finally hit free agency and remains a very realistic possibility for the franchise. Per the Racine Journal-Times’ Gery Woelfel, Monroe is likely to choose between Boston or the New York Knicks.
Monroe has a throwback game that may seem a little obsolete in today’s league, but he has still proven to be highly effective.While not a good shooter, Monroe is excellent facilitating around the elbows and posting up down low. He’s terrific hitting cutters for open layups or finding shooters on the outside.
He has been particularly efficient as a center, where his PER last season was a staggering 26.8, according to 82games. Monroe would be Boston’s best rebounder, capable of hauling down boards in large quantities on both ends. He’s a legitimate 20-20 threat when he gets enough minutes.
Having a big man like Sully or Olynyk alongside Monroe would be a nice fit offensively, as their shooting would open up room for him to work down low. After sharing a crowded lane with Josh Smith (prior to the Rockets trade) and Andre Drummond last season, he’ll surely appreciate having plenty of space to post up.
Monroe can act as a reliable option when Boston’s threes aren’t falling, and he does a decent job running the floor for a big man his size.
The problem with Monroe, as NESN’s Zack Cox notes, is that he doesn’t address Boston’s biggest need: shot-blocking. “Monroe would be an upgrade over all current Celtics big men, but he’s not the prototypical rim protector the C’s so sorely lack and likely would be a pricey acquisition after reportedly desiring a max contract from the Pistons,” Cox writes.
There is no way the team could survive defensively with two of the Sully-Olynyk-Monroe trio.
Last season, Monroe allowed an 18.0 PER to 4s and a 19.9 PER to 5s, according to 82games. He struggles in man-to-man defense and doesn’t have the lateral quickness or leaping ability to make much of an impact as a help defender.
There are other players who would be better fits for Boston like LaMarcus Aldridge or DeAndre Jordan, but based on mutual interest and Monroe’s offensive talents, he wouldn’t be a bad fit with the C’s, even if it meant they’d have to win every game 120-119.
Tobias Harris (Restricted Free Agent)
2014-15 stats: 17.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46.6 FG%, 36.4 3P%
The Celtics need an upgrade at the 3, even if they retain Jae Crowder, and Tobias Harris is one of the few restricted free agents who seems to be legitimately in play this summer.
While he’s strung together a few good seasons with Orlando, the Magic also have Gordon, and there’s a chance Skiles could want to give Harkless another chance before deciding on his future with the franchise.
Harris has the potential to be a go-to scorer for Boston, and at 6’9” he is capable of sliding up to power forward in smaller lineups. He posted a respectable 16.0 PER at the 3, but excelled at the 4 with a 19.1 mark, per 82games.
Harris is a good enough outside shooter to keep defenses honest, and he’s more than capable of reacting to a closeout and driving to the basket. He’s also a very solid finisher around the basket. He shot 68.7 percent within three feet of the basket last season, per Basketball-Reference.
The 22-year-old forward still has plenty of room to grow as a player and as a scorer. He only took 14 shots per game in 2014-15 and could see his numbers spike with an increased workload.
There’s some understandable concern that Harris could turn into Jeff Green 2.0. He’s an athletic combo forward who has dominant flashes, but the reality is that Harris is more consistently aggressive.
It’ll likely take a max or near-max offer, but Boston has the flexibility to extend him one without making it impossible to keep their own free agents. While there is a risk that Harris never matures into more than a good-stats, bad-team guy, he has the potential to mesh nicely with the Celtics’ young core and give their offense a serious boost.