The Boston Celtics have had a busy offseason. When the NBA moratorium is lifted at 12:00 p.m. ET Wednesday, the Celtics can officially close their trade for Malcolm Brogdon. They’ll have to wait a little longer to sign Danilo Gallinari as the San Antonio Spurs are still without him.
Here’s what we’re waiting for Boston to finish:
Acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon for Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas, Daniel Theis and a top 12 first-round pick in 2023
· Signed Danilo Gallinari to a reported two-year deal for the entire taxpayer MLE
· Re-signed Sam Hauser to a three-year deal
· Re-signing of Luke Kornet to a two-year deal
Brad Stevens said his offseason goals are to add bench scoring, add some shooting with size and shore up the team’s playmaking.
Brogdon fulfills all three stated goals (he’s a decent size for a Warden and can play a decent crowd at the three). Gallinari completes the first two goals. Hauser remains in shooting as a development perspective. And Kornet solidly gives the team enough depth as third center.
Stevens still has work to do there.
The Celtics have a great starting center in Robert Williams. Kornet is a solid third center. Between these two is missing a quality backup five.
Yes, Al Horford will largely fill that role. The three-way rotation of Horford, Rob Williams and Grant Williams is very good. Good enough to reach the NBA Finals and push the Golden State Warriors to six games.
The challenge is to come through the 82-game regular season first. Horford is 36 years old. He should have limited his minutes to around 30. Ideally, he averages about 25 minutes per regular-season game.
Williams has had its best season. He has proven he can be a contender for Defensive Player of the Year. His offensive game quickly expands beyond catching impossible alley-oops for those who watch regularly.
The worry? Williams played 61 regular season games last year and almost doubled his playing minutes for a season. Did that contribute to his late-season injury, which hampered him throughout the playoffs? Not clear. But it probably didn’t help much.
That makes finding a quality backup center the last major item on Stevens’ to-do list. The Celtics will likely take it easy with both Williams and Horford early in the season, and in Horford’s case likely throughout the season. Back-to-back appearances could be curtailed if not eliminated altogether.
The problem is that the backup center market is pretty limited now. Thomas Bryant was in the mix, but he did sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, likely because there’s a much clearer path to gametime and starting in Los Angeles than there is in Boston.
The good news? The Celtics are armed with the soon-to-expire $17.1 million Evan Fournier Traded Player Exception. Boston also has $6.9 million and $5.9 million in TPEs that they can use to acquire a player through trading.
The not so good news? Boston is already about $19.8 million over the luxury tax. Adding another player even earning around $10 million would push the team into whole new dimensions of tax penalties. We’re talking a tax bill from the Warriors, Brooklyn Nets and LA Clippers. That’s probably not the goal of this team.
Still, here are the best options for the Celtics to add as a true backup center. We have divided them into: The Trading Objectives, The Free Agents and The Off the Board options. We give a small blurb about each option.
The trading goals
· Goga Bitadze – Indiana Pacers: He is young enough that there is still development to come. But that’s also why the rebuilding Pacers want to keep Bitadze.
· Khem birch – Toronto Raptors: Birch makes sense given Toronto’s commitment to staying switchable and versatile. Also a reasonable contract.
· Tony Bradley – Chicago Bulls: It’s big and cheap!
· ZachCollins – San Antonio Spurs: If Collins was a good bet to stay healthy, he would be an ideal pickup. As it stands, the risk of injury is probably too great to drive here.
· Derrick favored – Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC clearly doesn’t need the experienced big man. And it worked out pretty well last time Boston got an older big from the Thunder!
· Willy Hernangomez -New Orleans Pelicans: Hernangomez did a good job as a stay-ready big for the Pelicans. His contract is also incredibly cheap.
· Alex Len – Sacramento Kings: Len is huge. He also played well when giving minutes. His deal is pretty affordable. And the Kings have plenty of other bigs, including…
· Trey Lyles – Sacramento Kings: Lyles can shoot and he’s a decent defender. He also has a very team-friendly contract. But the kings don’t seem to bother him that much.
· Boban Marjanovic – Houston Rockets: Who doesn’t love Boban?
· Kelly Olynyk – Detroit Pistons: This one goes beyond the “former Celtic” angle. Olynyk fills a need and would be a perfect fit. It would drive the tax bill higher than ever, but he’s probably achievable considering Detroit has young bigs who need minutes.
· Mason Plumlee – Charlotte Hornets: Much like Olynyk, he fills a need and his passing ability would fit in the run-up. Plumlee’s contract would also add quite a bit to the tax bill.
· Jacob Poeltl – San Antonio Spurs: That would be kind of a dream pass. But the cost is probably more than Boston wants to pay in terms of picks and then salary/taxes.
· Dwight Powell – Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs are suddenly flush with Bigs. But Boston could and should be able to do better, especially considering the payroll/tax impact that acquiring Powell would have.
· Naz Reid – Minnesota Timberwolves: The Wolves take on Rudy Gobert. They will probably also play Karl-Anthony Towns in the middle when Gobert is seated. That could expose Reid and his just-above-minimum deal.
The Free Agents
· LaMarcus Aldridge – Unreserved: Aldridge would provide slightly more goals from the bench. But that’s all he has left. He looked pretty good for the Nets last season.
· DeMarcus Cousins – unreserved: Cousins showed he has plenty left when he supported Nikola Jokic last season. He has a prickly attitude but the hope would be that the Celtics could focus him. Cousins’ shooting and passing fits nicely into the lead up.
· Dwight Howard – Unreserved: Howard can still block some shots and snag rebounds in his area. But he slipped a fair bit as a sporty finisher.
· Tristan Thompson – unrestricted: You know what? We continue.
· Hassan Whiteside – unreservedly: Yes. Let’s move on to the next section.
The off-the-board options
· Willie Cauley Stein: Cauley-Stein played parts of last season with the Dallas Mavericks and the Philadelphia 76ers. When he’s ready to play, WCS offers some defense and some passing ability as a backup five. Trouble is, something has kept him from putting it together for the past few years.
· Harry Giles III: Giles is one of Jayson Tatum’s best friends. That’s almost enough. But there is also talent. He is also only 24 years old. This could be a high-reward, risk-free way of signing. Besides, if it makes Tatum happy, why not?
· Mfiondu Kabengele: He’s with the Summer Celtics, so that’s a start. Kabengele also has a terrific G-League season behind it. Is he ready for NBA backup center minutes? That is unclear. He’s also more four than five.
· Friday Onuaku: Onuaku was eliminated from the NBA about four years ago. But he has played in Croatia and Israel in recent years. He’s an NBA-level talent and could probably handle 10-15 minutes a night as a backup. At 26, Onuaku classically screams “late bloomer”.
· Anzej Pasecnik: Pasecniks is a former first-round pick and fought to stay in the NBA. But last year in Spain he played really well. He also played well in the G League. He turns 27 around the holidays, so this one has limited options.
· Oliver Sarr: Sarr played well in the callups with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. He’s only 23 years old, so there’s still room for development. He is also very tall with good length. He’s probably not immediately ready for backup minutes, but down the line it could pay off.
· mike tobey: Tobey is something like Pasecniks in that he didn’t stay in the NBA and is older. But Tobey played well in Spain for five years. He has good touch and range. Tobey might be worth a look at a minimum offer.
· Trevion Williams: Williams is by far the youngest option on this list. He’s also with the Summer Celtics. He came off the bench for Purdue, but that was because the Boilermakers forecourt was stacked. Williams can bounce and pass. He would be the advantage of this group as there is a lot of room for development.
· Cody Zeller: Zeller played for the Portland Trail Blazers last year and did what he always did: score and rebound efficiently. He’ll be 30 at the start of the season, so this is the “what you see is what you get” situation. But when he’s healthy, Zeller can fill 10-15 minutes a night without much worry.