Tampering is the NBA’s favorite hobby, so it’s naive to think that teams are waiting until 6 p.m. ET to let their favorite free agents know they are interested.
But Brad Stevens can’t legally make contact with desired players until 6 p.m. ET on Monday night.
Who should be at the top of Stevens’ call list? Remember that Boston has limited resources to pursue free agents and might be limited to a single splurge with the $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception. (Boston could spend a bit more with the full $9.5 million midlevel but would be hard capped and that could complicate the pursuit of a big fish later in the year.)
Stevens can bide time before making his free-agent calls by pondering how to get to the finish line of the proposed three-team trade that is expected to deliver Tristan Thompson to Sacramento and Kris Dunn, Bruno Fernando, and a second-round pick to Boston. The Celtics have trade exceptions available to take back both players without needing to match salary and would generate a new $9.7 million exception for Thompson.
But the Celtics could also try to maximize the deal and use Thompson’s outgoing salary as fodder to take back as much as $12 million in salary (or nearly $15 million if Boston stayed under the tax after the transaction).
Could the Celtics call the Grizzlies about adding a fourth team to the deal and offer a young player with hopes of prying away Kyle Anderson? Boston could call the Lonzo Ball-craving Bulls and ask about taking on Tomas Satoransky’s expiring deal to aid their cap situation. Maybe the Kings would consider throwing in Marvin Bagley for some additional sweetener?
At worst, Boston walks away from the deal with a trade exception that could help at the trade deadline or next summer. But any tinkering at the finish line of the Thompson trade could alter Stevens’ 6 p.m. call list. If they add a power forward, maybe a point guard becomes the priority, or vice versa.
So we’ll separate these calls into tiers:
Six o'clock speed dial
Stevens should make first contact with a couple of players who might cost more than the taxpayer midlevel with hopes they might be intrigued by Boston’s situation:
Patty Mills, G: It’ll be 7 a.m. Tuesday morning in Tokyo when the free-agency window opens stateside. Stevens should pay the long-distance fee to chat with Patty Mills about filling out Boston’s point guard depth chart. Maybe Stevens has Jayson Tatum bring breakfast sandwiches to Mills’ room in the Olympic village.
The soon-to-be 33-year-old Mills has been fantastic in international play and would bring a much-needed veteran presence -- one with a championship ring -- to Boston’s locker room. Even better, he spent six years playing under Ime Udoka when he was a coach in San Antonio, and that familiarity could help promote buy-in from his new teammates. Stevens talked about yearning for players with edge and experience who would buy into being role players for this team. Mills checks those boxes
Rudy Gay, F: Gay turns 35 later this month but he’s still a more-than-capable bucket-getter who would add much-needed size and experience at the power forward spot. He shot 38.1 percent while hoisting 4.4 3-pointers per game last season and averaged 11.4 points over 21.6 minutes per game. Yet again there’s a Udoka connection from shared time in San Antonio.
Taking care of business
Evan Fournier, F: The Celtics acquisition of Josh Richardson suggests they might know that Fournier’s price tag is going to rise above their spending limits. But because Fournier’s future could dictate just who much Boston can spend in free agency, it’s important that Stevens checks in to stress that the Celtics would love Fournier back and detail their best possible offer given the desire to maintain flexibility moving forward.
Catching up with old friends
The free-agent market is filled with former Celtics who might still be able to help the team:
Jeff Green, F: Green is well-traveled since departing Boston seven seasons ago. But he’s carved out a late-career role as a versatile big man who can still provide some offensive punch. Green shot 41.2 percent on 3.7 3-point attempts per game with Brooklyn last season. Keeping with the theme of the day, he played for Udoka last year and the new coach would know how to best utilize Green in Boston. Stevens has always been fond on Green.
Kelly Olynyk, F: Olynyk deserves more than the taxpayer midlevel based on his late-season resurgence in Houston. He averaged 19 points per game while shooting 39.2 percent beyond the arc and 54.5 percent from the floor. Yes, it’s easy to put up solid numbers on a team that was actively trying to play young guys and lose games, but Olynyk still has value as a floor-stretcher. If he can’t find a bigger payday, maybe a year as a rotation presence on a contending team could help juice his free-agent value.
Javonte Green, G: A depth wing isn’t a top priority but when Tatum posts on his Instagram about wanting to run it back with his buddy, you at least have to ponder making him an end-of-the-bench option to keep your star happy.
Do it for Danny
Justise Winslow, G: The still-only 25-year-old Winslow had his $13 million option declined by the Grizzlies and would be worth a low-risk flier. Winslow is still a versatile wing who can handle the ball and defend. With better health and lower expectations, he could jumpstart his career. And, well, even though Danny Ainge is gone, this feels like the perfect tribute to the former president of basketball operations.
Just called to say hello
Lonzo Ball, G: We’ll keep saying it: We’re super intrigued by how Ball would look as the point guard on a team with Tatum and Jaylen Brown. We’ll also keep saying it: The path to adding Ball is filled with so many obstacles that we’d label it a Hail Mary at best. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let Ball know you’re interested in his services.
After the initial batch of calls, the Celtics could work their way through their ranking of available free agents. Maybe the team calls TJ McConnell or Ish Smith if it hasn’t found point guard depth elsewhere. Maybe they check in with Georges Niang or Gorgui Deng if they haven’t landed help at the 4.