BOSTON — No matter how you look at it, this was a good season for the Boston Celtics.
They made tangible progress from the previous season in terms of winning 15 more regular season games.
Victories in seven of their last eight games in April earned Brad Stevens his first Eastern Conference coach of the month award, and the Celtics a playoff berth which provided the fan base with some much-needed optimism that this team’s return to NBA royalty won’t be quite as far away as feared.
So what now?
One of the first things Boston has to figure out is which players on this current roster should be part of the future.
And of that group, which free agents-to-be are worth making a priority to retain?
Here we’ll take a look at all of the Celtics’ impending free agents and which ones should we look to see donning a Celtics uniform next season.
At the top of the list has to be Jae Crowder.
A throw-in piece during the Rajon Rondo trade to Dallas in December, Crowder became an instant hit with Celtics Nation and more important, an impact player both on the floor and inside the locker room.
At 6-foot-6, Crowder doesn’t have a true position. He doesn’t shoot the ball well enough to be considered a shooting guard (just 28.2 percent on 3s with the Celtics), his ball-handling skills don’t allow him to take guys off the dribble the way you see a lot of the NBA’s small forwards do. And while he has the strength to play power forward, he’s often giving away too many inches defensively to make this work for long stretches.
And yet there was not a more indispensable player on this team down the stretch.
Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, has said recently that he would ideally like to have Crowder back next season.
And Crowder has made it clear that he wants to be in Boston.
Both sides understand that this is a business, but the Celtics do have the inside track to retain him due to his restricted free agent status.
What really cemented the need to bring Crowder back manifested itself in the playoffs.
LeBron James clearly won the matchup, but Crowder didn’t bow down or give James anything easy.
That kind of physical and mental toughness, the Celtics need that going forward.
Another keeper for the Celtics should be Jonas Jerebko.
He is not a guy that’s going to get you a ton of points and rebounds. But he will play with great energy as well as make hustle plays, benefiting from having a lot more athleticism than most people think.
Jerebko also spent time during the playoffs guarding James and was one of the reasons why in Game 4 – Jerebko’s most extensive time on James – was the only game in this series where James shot less than 50 percent from the field.
The Celtics aren’t going to break the bank trying to re-sign Jerebko, but Boston would be wise to keep him around as a player who provides some much-needed depth at the small forward/power forward position and has the ability to contribute without having his number called to do so.
Gigi Datome is another free agent-to-be Boston has interest in, but not to the same extent they like Crowder and Jerebko.
For Datome, a lot will depend on what his options are to stay in the NBA or whether he wants to return to playing overseas where he was one of the top players.
The shooting touch of Datome is hands-down better than any other Celtic player. But the flaws in his game defensively coupled with him being such a streaky shooter, make him a player of interest for the Celtics but definitely not a major priority.
It’s hard to imagine that Bass won’t be in either Boston or playing for another playoff contender next season.
His pick-and-pop game is still among the best in the league at his position, and he showed more diversity to his game this season in terms of passing and putting the ball more on the floor.
But it’s hard to get a clear picture on exactly what his role will be with this team going forward.
The Celtics’ frontcourt is extremely congested with Bass, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Jae Crowder all looking for minutes.
Bass, an unrestricted free agent, may look to sign with a team that can provide him a better shot at steady minutes and of course, winning.
Still, he is a player of interest to the Celtics this summer.