Ranking the Top 5 Free Agents for Boston Celtics to Pursue During 2015 Offseason
To paraphrase Bill Simmons, the Boston Celtics are in great shape; they just need a best guy...and a second-best guy.
The C's have become darlings of the league thanks to their unexpected playoff push, but the truth is this is a team of role players in need of a top-shelf talent injection.
Unfortunately, their recent success may have cost them the chance to acquire that through the draft, but they could still be a major player on the free-agent market with their attractive assets and copious cap space.
Boston has max-level cap room, and while the franchise does not have a great history with free agents, the team has some solid young pieces and a terrific head coach in Brad Stevens.
Ultimately, these players all may not end up in Celtics jerseys when the 2015 offseason wraps up, but they are all (semi) feasible targets who would be huge adds to the current roster.
No. 5: Khris Middleton
The C’s could use a boost at the swingman spot, and while Khris Middleton’s star has risen recently, he should certainly be on Boston’s radar.
The 23-year-old scorer is averaging 13.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Milwaukee Bucks during his third season in the league.
He’s also shooting a solid 46.5 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from three-point range, an asset the team could definitely use: Boston hits just 32.7 percent of its three-pointers, 26th in the league.
He isn’t a gunner, taking 3.3 triples per game, but he picks his spot well and is a threat both from above the break and the corners.
The C’s have managed to squeeze out an above average-offense (100.9 points per game), despite their lack of floor spacing, but with real threats from deep they could easily be an elite unit.
Middleton is more than just a catch-and-shoot player; he has a crafty off-the-dribble game, is a heady passer and has proven to be a competent defender.
Per 82games, he’s holding opposing 2s to an 11.1 PER and opposing 3s to a 12.1 PER.
Sports Illustrated’s Ben Leibowitz went so far as to call Middleton the “single most underrated player in the game today.“
The reason Middleton is only at fifth is that he’s going to cost a hefty sum as a restricted free agent. Plenty of teams could use a young two-way swingman, and the Bucks will surely look to keep him.
Still, if the C’s could snag Middleton for something in the three-year, $36 million neighborhood, they would be foolish not to.
No. 4: K.J. McDaniels
Still, McDaniels truly was a standout with Philly, averaging 9.2 points, 3.8 boards and 1.3 assists in 52 games.
Sure, he shot just 39.9 percent from the floor and 29.3 percent from deep, but he made some staggeringly athletic plays and averaged an astonishing 1.3 blocks per game from the 2-guard position.
The C’s have shown a willingness to go small, and a lineup with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and McDaniels at the 3 would be a nightmare defensively.
As a Sixer, he held shooting guards to a 12.4 PER and small forwards to a decent 14.1, according to 82games.
That’s even more impressive when you consider he was often guarding the opponent’s best scorer and making absurd weak-side plays like this monster rejection of Greivis Vasquez.
Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports went into depth on the nature of McDaniels’ potential free agency back when he was in Philadelphia, but now that his value has diminished, he is certainly a realistic option.
The 6’6” McDaniels is long and athletic enough to slide into small forward and even some 4 in ultra-tiny lineups.
His shaky outside shot needs work, but he would make a natural running mate for Smart and Isaiah Thomas pushing the pace, and is a threat cutting off of the basketball.
The 22-year-old rookie also obviously has a massive ceiling and the potential to become a key contributor to Boston’s future.
If the C’s could snag him on a three-year, $15 million deal, they would be foolish not to as he could be a highly tradable asset down the road.
No. 3: Tobias Harris
Maybe the most natural fit at small forward, Tobias Harris has had a strong fourth season in the league and is still just 22 years old.
He has averaged 16.9 points, 6.1 boards and 1.9 dimes in Orlando and connected on 36.1 percent of his triples.
Obviously, Orlando has plenty of young talent, but Harris could opt for the more proven infrastructure of Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
Harris would have a chance to flourish in the featured role Jeff Green was never able to fully realize, as he’s an athletic slasher with three-point range and good ball skills.
Like Green, Harris is a combo forward capable of logging time at the 3 and 4 as needed.
He is averaging a 15.6 PER at small forward, but has shined at power forward with a 20.3 mark, according to 82games.
Another restricted free agent, signing Harris wouldn’t be easy, but he’s the kind of high-upside player who might be worth a slight overpay.
He would round out the C’s current starting five nicely, thrive pushing the pace in Stevens’ offense and has proven to be a competent defender to boot.
He has proven his explosiveness as a scorer and could likely handle the adjustment to extra defensive attention well as a result.
Throwing around max money is not something that should be done lightly, but it may be worth it to secure Harris for the future.
No. 2: DeAndre Jordan
No free agent would address a Boston need quite as perfectly as signing DeAndre Jordan.
The Celtics have been a ghastly shot-blocking squad for years, and the 7-foot Jordan could instantly slide into the starting spot.
Jordan flourished when Blake Griffin was injured and has upped his season averages to 11.4 points, 14.8 rebounds and 0.7 assists while shooting 71.1 percent from the floor.
Obviously, his free-throw shooting is going to be an issue, and it will be tough to rely on him and Smart in crunch time when both are so shaky from the stripe.
Still, he gets opposing bigs in foul trouble and is unguardable when around the rim.
Running the pick-and-roll with Jordan is lethal, and he could make a particularly dangerous pairing with Thomas’ shooting ability.
The 26-year-old Jordan is sure to get a max offer from the Los Angeles Clippers, so the Celts would need to convince him he should leave to become the featured piece on an up-and-comer: hardly an easy task.
Still, given how badly Boston has struggled to find consistency at center (no offense to Tyler Zeller), pursuing Jordan should be a top priority.
He’s a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate despite not being the best post protector, and he would work nicely with Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk spotting up around him to create space.
It may be a bit of a pipe dream, but Boston should absolutely toss Jordan a max offer.
No. 1: Kawhi Leonard
Speaking of pipe dreams, how about a former Finals MVP who would instantly take up the mantle at small forward and maybe be Boston’s biggest free agent signing of all time?
Per The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn, “Leonard will be a restricted free agent this summer and will receive his share of offer sheets, likely including one from the Celtics. Boston coach Brad Stevens gushed about Leonard’s defensive prowess.”
It isn’t hard to see why Boston would be targeting Leonard; he’s essentially the best possible version of Jae Crowder.
Despite battling a slew of injuries in 2014-15, the 23-year-old Spurs star is still averaging 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 46.5 percent from the floor and 32.9 percent from deep.
His three-point shooting slump is an aberration, as Leonard has proven through his career (36.4 percent) he can stroke it from deep.
Most importantly though, Leonard is an all-world defender who wreaks havoc on opponents.
Per 82games, he’s holding opposing 2s to a 12.6 PER and 3s to a 12.9 PER, but those numbers only tell part of the story.
Leonard has unbelievable hands and terrific court awareness, allowing him to make plays both on and off the ball.
Watch him go toe-to-toe with LeBron James earlier this season to see the kind of effort he puts forth on every possession.
San Antonio will surely do everything in their power to keep Leonard, who is a restricted free agent.
Plenty of teams will throw max offers Leonard’s way, so the key for Boston is convincing him that coming to the C’s and being a franchise cornerstone is the right career move.
Leonard has never been more than a third option with the Spurs, and as such he has shown a knack for picking his spots offensively.
Still, he has a good jumper, particularly in the mid-range pull-up game, and a developing set of post skills.
The chance of Leonard winding up in Celtic green is incredibly slim, but he would be a franchise-altering addition and should absolutely be the top choice for Danny Ainge and the front office to pursue this summer.