2022 NBA free agents: Ranking top targets for Celtics next summer


First, the bad news: The Boston Celtics probably aren't adding a star player this offseason.

As our Chris Forsberg has explained, the Celtics are focused on maintaining financial flexibility, which explains why they've made minor moves like trading for Josh Richardson and signing Enes Kanter for $2.7 million rather than ponying up for big-name free agents.

The good news? Boston's prudence could position new president of basketball operations Brad Stevens to land a high-priced free agent in 2022.

Forsberg: The case for extending Marcus Smart and Robert Williams

That strategy comes with an obvious question: Which high-priced free agent is Stevens saving up for next summer? Amid a quiet Celtics offseason, we're looking ahead to the 2022 NBA free agent class to examine some of the best players who could be on Boston's radar.

This isn't a ranking of the 10 best players in free agency, but rather the top 10 players who are (somewhat) realistic options for the C's -- which is why you won't see Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker on this list.

1. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $34.5 million (player option)

No surprise here. Beal is Boston's white whale. He and Celtics star Jayson Tatum go way back to when Beal babysat Tatum as a young child (seriously), and the two have spoken openly about wanting to play together.

Forsberg: How C's can create cap space to sign a star like Beal

Boston would have to do some serious cap gymnastics (see the link above) to sign Beal, who's eligible to earn roughly $41.7 million per year on a new deal. But if the C's can pair one of the NBA's best scorers with Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they'll be legitimate title contenders regardless of their supporting cast.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 8 out of 10 (10 being the most likely)

2. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $40.9 million (player option)

The chances of Durant coming to Boston are very slim. But they're also not zero. The Celtics were one of the finalists in the 2016 KD summer sweepstakes, after all, and Durant thinks very highly of Tatum, his current USA Basketball teammate at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

If the Nets' "Big Three" falls short again in 2021-22, then there's a good chance Durant will be on the move next summer.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 2 out of 10

UPDATE (Friday, Aug. 6): Durant has agreed to sign a four-year, $198 million extension with Brooklyn, his agent Rich Kleiman confirmed.

3. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $44.3 million (player option)

Similar situation here. The Celtics reportedly made a run at Harden before the Houston Rockets traded him to Brooklyn, and if the Nets' superstar experiment goes sideways, Boston at least has to consider adding the three-time NBA scoring champion.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 1 out of 10

4. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $19.5 million (unrestricted)

The Bulls may look to extend LaVine, who earned his first All-Star nod last season after averaging a career-high 27.4 points per game. If they don't, he'll likely demand a maximum contract in 2022.

If Beal stays put and Durant and Harden are off the board, LaVine is Boston's next-best option as an elite scorer who would give the team three legitimate superstars.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 3 out of 10

5. Victor Oladipo, Miami Heat

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $2.4 million (unrestricted)

After turning down a $45 million extension from the Rockets last January, Oladipo has agreed to a one-year "prove it" deal with Miami as he recovers from a quad injury.

He may not be worth the risk if he demands another hefty contract next summer, but if the two-time All-Star has a relatively quiet 2021-22 campaign, perhaps the Celtics can get him on a discount. 

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 4 out of 10

6. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $6.3 million (restricted)

The Cavs took Sexton with the 2018 NBA Draft's No. 8 pick, which the Celtics sent them as part of the Isaiah Thomas-Kyrie Irving trade. So, why not bring it full circle and have Sexton pick up the point guard mantle in Boston?


The talented 22-year-old may not land a max contract, but he might command a deal north of $20 million per year. Cleveland also could look to move Sexton before the NBA trade deadline, in which case Brad Stevens should pick up the phone.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 5 out of 10

7. Michael Porter Jr. (restricted)

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $5.3 million (restricted)

Consider Porter the "higher risk, higher reward" version of Sexton. The 6-foot-10 wing averaged 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season at age 23 but missed his entire rookie season due to a back injury and has missed more than 10 games in each of the last two seasons.

He fits the Celtics' need of a lengthy wing/stretch four, though, and likely won't earn a max contract due to injury concerns.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 4 out of 10

8. Otto Porter Jr., Golden State Warriors

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $2.4 million (unrestricted)

Like Oladipo, Porter signed a minimum contract with Golden State after appearing in just 15 games over the last two seasons. He hasn't played more than 60 games in a season since 2017-18, but when healthy, the 28-year-old fits the Gordon Hayward mold of a playmaking wing who can defend multiple positions.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 6 out of 10

9. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $9.2 million (restricted)

You might be sensing a theme here: Jackson also comes with an injury history, having missed all but 11 games last season after recovering slowly from a torn meniscus. He's an elite low-post scorer who averaged 17.4 points per game in 2019-20 and is still 21 years old, so he might be worth the price if Boston can sign him for around $20 million per year.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 4 out of 10

10. Aaron Gordon

2021-22 salary (2022 free agency status): $16.4 million (unrestricted)

The Celtics' interest in Gordon ahead of the trade deadline was well documented. He's a younger, healthier version of Otto Porter Jr. who could serve as a third scoring option behind Tatum and Brown. The value isn't great if Gordon seeks close to $20 million, but he might be one of the Celtics' best options if the big fish like Beal are unavailable.

Likelihood of signing with Celtics: 7 out of 10

Honorable mentions: Terry Rozier, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Chris Boucher, T.J. Warren

This exercise highlights the risk of the "save up for 2022" strategy. If the Celtics can't land Beal, you could argue that their remaining options are either too unrealistic or not talented enough to vault Boston into the title conversation.

That conversation could change if Tatum and Brown take another leap this season and only need a mid-tier third star to carry the Celtics on a deep playoff run. But for now, Beal looks like Boston's top target in 2022 with no close second.