BOSTON – For the past two summers, the Celtics hit free agency armed with a clear and undeniable plan – to add a top one on the market.
Two years ago, that approach landed them Al Horford, who left Atlanta after nine seasons.
And last summer, the Celtics signed Gordon Hayward away from Utah and later traded for Kyrie Irving.
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While the Celtics are once again being rumored to be a possible option for the top free agent on the market – LeBron James – there’s a sense among league executives that Boston’s free-agent focus will be more internal than past years.
The Celtics have built their success upon the need to have versatile, multi-faceted players with a certain edge about them defensively.
Marcus Smart, who will become a restricted free agent next week, assuming Boston makes him a qualifying offer, is that kind of player.
Aron Baynes, who emerged as a tower of defensive power for Boston this past season, provided a level of toughness in the frontcourt we had not seen in a Brad Stevens-coached team.
Re-signing those two players will be a priority for the Celtics this offseason.
And while it may not be the biggest headline-grabbing move Boston can make, it speaks to where this team is currently and how close they are to bringing home Banner 18.
In bringing back Smart, Boston would return one of the better defenders in the NBA who can defend three and sometimes four different positions, depending on the opponent.
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And while his shooting will continue to be something Celtics fans will cringe about, most would agree that Smart’s body of work suggests that he’ll make more plays to help a team when than not.
As for Baynes, he was indeed an unexpected breath of fresh air defensively.
His ability to defend both power forwards and centers took some of the pressure off Horford to be the team’s primary defender in the post.
And as we saw, the work that Baynes put into becoming more of a deep threat offensively provided a surprising jolt in the playoffs that the sometimes-faltering Celtics offense needed.
Baynes had missed six of his seven 3-point attempts prior to arriving in Boston last season.
In the regular season, he connected on 3-for-21 (14.3 percent).
The playoffs had opposing teams wondering, ‘where did that come from?’ as Baynes emerged as one of Boston’s best 3-point shooters - connecting on 11-of-23 (47.8 percent) in the postseason.
So, as much as the Celtics relied on Baynes to anchor their top-rated defense, he showed in the playoffs that he can impact the game as a scorer as well.
Of course, Danny Ainge and company will certainly keep the phone lines open to acquiring the best players they can via free agency.
But for a team that’s constructed the way they are and is as close to winning a title, finding the best fit at this point might make more sense.
And when it comes to free agency this summer, re-signing Smart and Baynes provides the best shot at the Celtics building upon the success of last season and positioning themselves for another run at Banner 18.