BOSTON -- Danny Ainge acknowledges how the buildup to this upcoming season is one in which the Boston Celtics find themselves navigating in uncharted waters.
In the Brad Stevens era, there has never been a stretch in which a huge surplus of talented big men were on the top shelf.
But never has the cupboard been this bare on the cusp of free agency, a period of time in which the Celtics have little choice but to sound the alarm in hopes that they can attract quality big men they can sign outright or acquire via trade.
So who should they pursue?
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, there are some league officials at the time who believed that Boston, which traded up to No. 13 that year, was angling to select Adams.
A 7-foot center who is considered by many as the strongest player in the NBA, there are a multitude of ways he can bolster the Celtics roster.
For starters, he’s one of the better defensive big men in the NBA in addition to being a double-digit rebounder who can impact games at both ends of the floor at a high level.
He’s coming off a season in which he averaged 13.9 points per game for the second year in a row, while tallying career highs in rebounds (9.5), assists (1.6) and steals (1.5) per game.
Adams is also one of the more efficient scorers in the NBA, shooting a career 58.8 percent shooter from the field.
He doesn’t stretch the floor like many of today’s centers and most coming into the league, but he’s more than just a player who scores on lay-ups and dunks, too.
But his play hasn’t been enough to elevate the Thunder to being title contenders, which is why they are reportedly open to trading Adams who has two years and $53.3 million left on the four-year extension worth $100 million he signed in 2016.
Adams is on Boston’s radar, but it’s unclear where he falls in the team’s pecking order as far as players they plan to pursue, or exactly what they are willing to give up in order to acquire him. But if you’re talking about big men who can make a major impact, Adams is one of those players that has to be given serious consideration.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Here’s what we’re discovering about today’s NBA. You need at least four, high-impact, difference-makers in order to seriously compete for an NBA title. And while Vucevic isn’t the kind of player you build around, his skills make him a legitimate target if you’re looking to establish a fantastic four-like roster.
The 6-11 center tallied 60 double-doubles last season, a figure bested only by Andre Drummond of Detroit (69) and Utah’s Rudy Gobert (66)
Coming off his first all-star selection, the 28-year-old has a lot of the qualities and traits that the Celtics would be looking for in what would likely be a replacement of sorts for Al Horford who is a free agent and is expected to sign elsewhere.
And by trading away Aron Baynes, the Celtics increased their salary cap flexibility to go out and pursue a player like Vucevic who will likely command a multi-year contract that averages $20-25 million per season.
Dewayne Dedmon, Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks moving up to select Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter in Thursday night’s NBA draft, makes it less of a priority for them to re-sign Dedmon who is coming off arguably his best season in the NBA.
While he’s not one of the more sexy names you hear on the free agent market, NBA teams are well aware of his play last season.
More times than not, good things happened to the Hawks when Dedmon was on the floor, evident by him having a net rating of +4.5 last season which was the third-highest on the team according to Cleaning the Glass.
After making $6.3 million last season, the issue isn’t whether the Celtics can afford Dedmon.
Instead, more to the point is whether the 7-foot Dedmon feels Boston would be an ideal situation for him.
Last season, he averaged 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. In addition, Dedmon showed significant improvement as a long-range shooter, connecting on 38.2 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Ed Davis, Brooklyn Nets
Coming off a solid season with the Nets, all signs point toward Davis inking a multi-year deal worth more than the $4.49 million he made last season.
The 30-year-old free agent was an efficient player last season, averaging 5.8 points on 61.6 percent shooting from the field, along with grabbing 8.6 rebounds in 17.9 minutes per game.
But he did so primarily as a reserve (he appeared in 80 games with one start), something the Celtics may not necessarily be looking for on the free agent market.
And Davis is not a threat from three-point range so that some extent limits what he brings to the floor from an offensive standpoint.
But the one thing we do know about Davis is when it comes to free agency he knows what he wants.
“First is the money,” Davis told Michael Scotto of The Athletic. “Then, two is fit. Then, if it’s a playoff team or a non-playoff team or an old team or young team. Whatever fits best for you. The last thing I guess is the city, but for sure a guy like me is definitely the money for sure.
Davis added, “A lot of guys won’t say it, but trust me, 99.9 percent of the guys it’s about money just like for your job. You’re going where the money is at. People look at us athletes and think that we’re not supposed to take what’s best for us. It’s definitely about the money.”
Noah Vonleh, New York Knicks
With the Knicks all-in on attracting a pair of max-salaried players with their immense cap space, the potential for a player like Vonleah to be scooped up by another team is real. The former first-round pick from Haverill, Mass., averaged 8.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists - all career highs - in 25.3 minutes per game which is also a career mark for the 23-year-old.
Vonleh, who has spent his offseasons working out at the Celtics practice facility in past years, has five NBA seasons under his belt which fits in well with Boston looking to add what can best be described as youthful experience.
But as we get closer to the start of free agency, much of the momentum and hype surrounding what the Knicks will do this summer has cooled off with it looking less and less likely that they will land one of the top free agents.
That can only increase the chances of them re-signing Vonleh who has played on four different teams in his five NBA seasons while earning $1.6 million last season.
Boston would be in a position to offer Vonleh a significant bump in pay and potentially a chance to start.
Like most of the potential bigs on the free agent market, Vonleh isn’t a name that has a ton of sizzle to it.
But he is a serviceable big for a team that’s built perimeter-oriented. And with his steady improvement from 3-point range, Vonleh could be a player in helping the Celtics during this period of rebuilding.
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