Celtics' 2021 NBA Free-Agent Big Board, Top Players to Target

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 17, 2021

Celtics' 2021 NBA Free-Agent Big Board, Top Players to Target

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Boston Celtics were supposed to contend for the NBA crown this season.

    They wound up barely participating in the playoffs. They needed the Play-In Tournament just to secure their spot, then they managed just a single victory in their first-round series loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

    When a team falls that short of expectations, major changes often follow for the next campaign. There has already been a major shake-up in Boston once, with former president Danny Ainge retiring and former coach Brad Stevens moving to the front office to fill that spot. More moves could be on the way with the trade market looming as the most likely place for significant transactions.

    Free agency is another place to make changes, though the Celtics' hands are tied a bit there. Stevens could easily find himself filling out the rest of his roster with only the taxpayer mid-level exception and minimum contracts at his disposal. Still, there's a chance to add value if the new executive looks in the right spot.

1. Evan Fournier

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Celtics were two games below .500 when they sent a pair of future second-round picks to pry Evan Fournier away from the Orlando Magic. While Boston obviously hoped he could help with the stretch run, it seems likely (if not certain) the Celtics made the move with more than just the 2020-21 season in mind.

    Boston acquired his Bird rights in the exchange, meaning the Celtics can go over the cap to re-sign him this offseason. He won't be cheap, but that's kind of the point. The trade allowed Boston to splurge for a quality free agent it wouldn't otherwise be able to afford.

    The Celtics can't get carried away here. Fournier is a really good source of complementary shooting, scoring and table-setting, but he's not a star and probably not even a starter for a contender. Quick-strike subs can get paid handsomely, but get too far north of a $15 million annual salary and Boston might have to walk away.

    But when few teams have major money to spend this summer, and most that do aren't operating in win-now mode, Fournier has a good chance of staying within Boston's budget.

2. Reggie Bullock

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    Elsa/Associated Press

    It's funny to think of the wings as an area of need for the Celtics since they roster two of the best young players at the positions in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

    But if you've ever looked beyond those players on the depth chart, then you understand why Stevens would want to upgrade those spots. The Celtics could be setting themselves up for failure if they're asking for too much from the likes of Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams and Jabari Parker.

    Boston can't afford a star wing, but it might have enough to fetch a solid three-and-D contributor. Reggie Bullock is about as ambitious as the Celtics can get, and even then they might not have enough to get him.

    But his potential fit is intriguing enough to make him a priority and see what happens. He's both a plucky perimeter defender and a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. Every win-now shopper needs more players who fit that archetype.

3. Kelly Olynyk

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    If the Celtics try to reunite with Kelly Olynyk this offseason, it won't be for nostalgic reasons.

    Rather, Boston would simply be aiming to diversify its frontcourt with a 6'11", 240-pound veteran who shoots when he's open and passes it when he's not.

    There's a slight chance Olynyk's market could get a little out of control given how productive he was after a deadline move from the Miami Heat to the Houston Rockets. Over his 27 games in Space City, he averaged 19 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 threes. For context, only six players averaged 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a three this season, and they either were All-Stars or have been in the past.

    But teams should know Olynyk's numbers were inflated by being allowed to run wild on a bottom-feeder. He's good, but he's not All-Star-caliber-production good. If he's priced right as a decent spacer and secondary playmaker with fairly severe limitations on defense, the Celtics could see value in bringing him back to Boston, where he spent the first four seasons of his career.