The 2011 NBA free-agent class is arguably as good as any we have seen in recent years. With up-and-coming young talent like Nene Hilario and veteran talents like Jamal Crawford, a team like the Celtics could benefit from pursuing available free agents.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are still producing, but it is evident that the three are aging. It was apparent in the playoff loss to the Miami Heat that the team needs to add depth off the bench. Acquiring Jeff Green from the Oklahoma City Thunder was helpful, yet there is clearly not enough youth and talent off the bench for the Celtics to beat LeBron James and the Heat.
The two major points the team needs to address are (1) the need for a back-up shooting guard behind Ray Allen and (2) another presence in the frontcourt, whether a back-up for Kevin Garnett or a center.
Here are the top 10 free agents available on the market that the Celtics should pursue this offseason.
After dating Kim Kardashian, Kris Humphries, the next best thing, could be joining the Boston Celtics.
With the New Jersey Nets last season, Humphries posted 10 points and 10.4 rebounds while recording a solid 1.1 blocks per game. He is not a player that demands much offensive attention, yet he is capable of finishing inside and is a coordinated big man in the paint.
Humphries is a strong NBA player because of his ability to rebound the basketball and man-up defensively. A player like Garnett could use a guy like Humphries to come off the bench and give him rest throughout the regular season.
On a team like the Celtics, who define themselves on defense, a player like Humphries makes for an effective acquisition.
Not to mention, he wouldn’t be too costly of a signing, either.
If Danny Ainge decides to go with a veteran player at the power forward position, Kenyon Martin is worth a look or two.
Martin is known for his strong defensive presence as well as his ability to come down with rebounds. He is guy that is a guaranteed six to eight rebounds per game that makes a living off his talent on defense.
Last season with the Nuggets, Martin posted 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. Both numbers are career-lows, yet he averaged just over 25 minutes per game. It was the first time in his career that he hadn’t received starter's minutes.
Could the Boston Celtics steal some talent from the NBA champions?
Winning an NBA title with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks last season, it would seem likely that forward Caron Butler would want to re-sign with the Mavericks. Yet the reality is, Butler was not really an impact in that playoff-run.
Suffering from injury, Butler was not able to contribute to the team during the playoffs. In turn, Marion received extra minutes and performed as well as he could have for the team. Although Butler is in a positive situation in Dallas, he might want to get more playing time with another championship contender like the Celtics.
Butler made up the Washington Wizards team that was an NBA playoff contender years ago, alongside Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. Butler is a talented small forward that likes to score the basketball and play defense. He was one of the few Wizards at that time who could play above-average man-to-man defense.
He would also likely accept a smaller contract, as his incentive would be to play for a championship-contending team like the Celtics.
J-Rich and Ray Allen at the shooting guard position is a combination worth giving a shot.
Jason Richardson is a shooting guard that lights it up from the field, as he and Allen are easily two of the best in the NBA when it comes to shooting the basketball. Richardson played an integral role in helping the Orlando Magic contend.
Last season, he shot just under 40 percent from the three-point range, scored 15.6 points per game, and even managed to grab 4.1 rebounds per game. Adding a talent like Richardson to come in and play behind Allen makes for a one-two punch that could give the Celtics a scoring boost late in games.
Not to mention, as he is 30, going on 31 next season, he is likely to sacrifice some pay to try and win an NBA championship.
Although Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford is a free-agent player that has previously made his fair share of money throughout his career, the bottom-line is that the guy wants to win an NBA championship. Don’t be surprised if you see a talent like Crawford sign for less money with the incentive to play with a team like the Boston Celtics.
Crawford is a prolific scorer that can get it done in a multitude of ways. He can shoot the three-ball, take the ball to the basket, shoot from mid-range and hit free-throws. When it comes to offense, the guy gets it done in a variety of ways.
Not to mention, he is an elusive, quick guard that seems to have a knack for getting to his spots on the floor.
Last season with the Hawks, Crawford averaged 14.2 points and 3.2 assists in 30 minutes per game.
Crawford gives the Celtics a back-up shooting guard for Ray Allen, as well as an offensive threat off the bench down the stretch for the team.
Talk about a young talent that has gone under the radar.
Washington Wizards guard Nick Young is 26 years old and entering free agency just as he is about to start developing into a big-time guard in the league. Last season with the Wizards, Young averaged 17.4 points and shot 44.1 percent from the field.
The Celtics could use a scoring-threat like Young in pursuing a title; time and time again, the Celtics had problems finishing games in the postseason on the offensive end. The Heat were able to consistently put together fourth-quarter comebacks against the team, something the Celtics have to take a look at.
Young is an average defender, certainly not one that is considered a liability. The problem with Young is that he seems to always be looking to get the ball into the basket. However, playing with the bench unit, Young can do that and should give the team a boost off the bench, much like James Posey did in 2008 (minus the strap-up defense).
Yet, at the end of the day, the Celtics have to like a talent like Young—a player that doesn’t shy away from the moment and can give the second unit a consistent scoring threat.
Thaddeus, Thaddeus, Thaddeus.
I’ve seemed to bring up Thaddeus Young a lot in different articles. The forward with the 76ers is certainly a free agent that fits well into the Celtics’ system.
Having a power forward like Young on the team adds depth behind Kevin Garnett as well as another frontcourt defender. In joining the team he becomes arguably the second-best defender in the paint behind Garnett.
Last season Young proved his worth, scoring 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, starting just one of the 82 games on the year. He also averaged 1.1 steals per game as well. He is an active, athletic defender that disrupts passing lanes. He is a solid rebounder that has touch inside on offense.
He is just 23 years of age, and it is evident that he might want a good amount of money. Yet if the Celtics can manage to pick him up on a smaller, two-year deal, it could be well worthwhile in their pursuit to win a championship.
Wilson Chandler is arguably the best free-agent acquisition the team can make.
The power forward from the Nuggets is athletic, young and quite skilled. With the New York Knicks last season, prior to the dramatic Carmelo Anthony trade, Chandler averaged 16.4 points, grabbed 5.9 rebounds and blocked 1.4 shots per game.
Chandler is aggressive on the boards, while boasting a solid offensive game. Getting Chandler into the game with the Big Three, as well as having him lift the bench unit, could prove to benefit the team on both ends of the floor.
Again, since he is young and talented there is a chance that he will want more money than the Celtics can give him. Yet, as far as talent goes, he is more than worth taking a look at.
What’s not to like about the guy?
Nene Hilario is a popular free agent on the market this offseason. He boasts a rebounding and offensive talent that make him the top center in the 2011 NBA free-agent class.
Last season with the Nuggets, Hilario averaged 14.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and shot 61.5 percent from the floor.
Hilario gives the Celtics a significantly better chance at winning an NBA title. The Celtics have Jermaine O’Neal as their current center on the depth chart, a player that is incapable of playing starter’s minutes and is showing signs of retiring in the near future.
Hilario fills the center void, gives Garnett another big body and solid defender in the paint and ultimately adds another element to the team’s offensive game. The Celtics will have to dig deep financially to sign him, yet at the end of the day it has to be an acquisition worth looking at.
Yes, of course, another Denver Nuggets free agent.
Nuggets guard J.R. Smith is a prolific scorer as well as a sound perimeter defender, which he has proven season after season as a member of the Denver Nuggets.
The free agent will be getting his fair share of looks this offseason, as his talent is something teams like the Boston Celtics know they can’t take lightly. His 12.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game came on just 25 minutes per game. Also important to note, he averages just 1.3 turnovers per game.
His three-point shot can be deadly; he is a streaky shooter that can light it up from distance. Last season, Smith had nine games with at least four three-point shots made, hitting eight three-point shots twice and nine once.
Quite the numbers for such limited playing time.
With numerous free agents the Nuggets have to make decisions on this offseason, it would seem likely that Smith is one of the players they won’t bother keeping, as they are now faced with a plethora of young talent to sign.
That is why a team like the Celtics have a good shot at snagging the big-time talent. Smith would give Allen a rest off the bench and would make for a strong scoring threat in the fourth quarter of ballgames.
Luis Batlle is a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report and specializes in NBA (Boston Celtics), NFL, International Soccer and Tennis.
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