2017 free agent class ripe with star talent Celtics could target
BOSTON – The whole point of some NBA players wanting an opt-out for the final year of their contract isn’t necessarily to test the free agent waters. It has a lot to do with maximizing their earning power with their current team.
And if that doesn’t work out, they can then see what else is out there knowing they are likely to get a significant bump in pay of some kind.
Based on this summer, whether they stay at home or sign on with another team, the grass is a lot greener, literally and figuratively, for NBA players looking to ditch the final year of their contract and become free agents.
Well aware of this, the Boston Celtics have been among the more aggressive teams in terms of seeking out trades this summer, well aware that teams hate the idea of losing a great player and getting nothing in return. But if teams continue to resist getting something in return and opt to play the season out, Boston's OK with that too. It only means that the pool of free agents-to-be will be even deeper next summer.
Here’s a look at five players who are expected to exercise their respective player options to become unrestricted free agents next summer, all of whom will be on the Celtics’ radar in some capacity.
5. Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State
That very end of that title “… Golden State,” felt so weird to write, I have to tell you. But that is very much the reality of where Durant will be for at least the next 10 months. Boston went all-in for him this summer and made the short list of teams he was willing to leave Oklahoma City to sign with in part due to a really great pitch job by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The odds are even more stacked against Boston next summer to lure Durant away from the Bay Area, but the Celtics will once again make a run at him. Of course a lot will depend on the whether the league’s latest super team can live up to the hype and dethrone Cleveland. If they do, Durant signing long-term with the Warriors becomes a no-brainer. But if he and the Warriors aren’t a good fit and they fail to finish as the last team standing while the Celtics shock the NBA world and make a deep playoff run (Conference finals perhaps?), as Kevin Garnett reminded us after the Celtics’ title in 2008, ‘Anything’s possible!”
4. Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
The last couple of seasons have been injury-riddled for the All-Star forward, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that when healthy – and that’s a big ‘If…’ lately – Griffin is one of the game’s best power forwards. Clippers coach/GM Doc Rivers from what I’m being told has no plans on shopping Griffin this offseason, but he will listen to overtures from other teams. Similar to what Oklahoma City is trying to do with Russell Westbrook, part of Rivers’ plan this season is to convince Griffin that being with the Clippers is in his best interest long-term. But if Griffin gives Rivers a sense that he wants out, look for Rivers to try and strike a deal to ship him out and get something in return. Boston has young veteran players, draft picks and a strong bond with Rivers still – all factors that could come into play if the Clippers get to a point where they’re ready to move on past Griffin. But if he stays and becomes a free agent this summer, you can expect the Celtics to be among the teams that will give serious thought to making a run at him.
3. Rudy Gay, SF, Sacramento
Ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers used to talk about some players in the league as being professional scorers. Rudy Gay is one of those kind of players. Entering his 11th NBA season, the 29-year-old small forward (he’ll be 30 next month) has career averages of 18.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting better than 45 percent from the field – a decent number considering he has always been a high volume shooter. But his lack of team success has always raised questions as to how committed he is to winning games as opposed to putting up big numbers. It doesn’t help that the teams he played for (Memphis and Toronto) showed notable improvement after they traded him to the point where both of those franchises are now perennial playoff clubs. Still, there are few players who can score with the consistency that Gay does regardless of who else is on the roster. The Celtics are very much in the market for more scorers, and Gay’s track record proves he’s a player that at a minimum is worth considering.
2. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver
A number of potential names have been tossed about as possible targets for Boston next summer, but Gallinari has not been one mentioned often. The 6-foot-10 forward has the kind of offensive versatility that would absolutely thrive in Brad Stevens’ system. And he’s a player that the Celtics have expressed interested in previously. And as we’ve seen with Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Tyler Zeller to name a few, Ainge’s interest doesn’t die a quick death. Often it’ll be years before he lands a player that first caught his eye several years ago. And while Gallinari has said repeatedly that he’s pleased with his time in Denver, like most NBA players he wants to be in a winning environment, too. Heading into this eighth NBA season, he has a total of 12 playoff games to his resume and hasn’t seen the postseason since 2012. Boston would afford him an opportunity to play a meaningful role on a team that has been to the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and has added a significant piece in Al Horford that should significantly enhance their chances of getting past the first round of the playoffs.
1. Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah
The Utah Jazz know there’s a chance that they could lose Hayward this summer, which is why they bolstered their roster with battle-tested veterans like Joe Johnson to show
Gordon Hayward the world just how serious they are about making the playoffs this season, something they have not done since 2012 – Hayward’s second season in the league. The 6-8 Hayward has a great situation as the face of Jazz basketball, and isn’t itching to leave town the first chance he gets. But the struggles that the Jazz have endured most of his time there, has at least opened his eyes to the prospect of leaving for a better situation in terms of improving his chances to be part of a winning team. If he does in fact exercise his opt-out clause of the final year of his contract and becomes an unrestricted free agent, there will be many suitors pursuing him. Yes, Boston will be among them. Of course he will weigh many factors, but the Celtics’ winning tradition, the team’s upward trajectory the last couple of seasons and of course an opportunity to play for his old college coach, will be hurdles many teams will struggle to surge past Boston in the Hayward sweepstakes next summer.
A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN