What comes next for the Boston Celtics amid an ESPN report that the team has emerged as the frontrunner to sign Kemba Walker when free agency opens on Sunday evening? Some thoughts and reaction:
CLEARING THE WAY TO MAX CAP SPACE
The easiest path to $34 million in cap space for the Celtics is for the team to:
* Renounce their rights to Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Brad Wanamaker, and Jonathan Gibson. The team could hold onto Semi Ojeleye ($1.6 million nonguaranteed deal) and, potentially, Daniel Theis if they are worried about big depth.
* Finalize the deal sending Aron Baynes and Ty Jerome to Phoenix in exchange for a future first-round pick.
The Celtics, however, don’t have to rush into those moves. The team could still extend a qualifying offer to Rozier by Saturday’s deadline. The only danger would be Rozier signing the offer — virtually impossible — and impeding the path to max space but, more likely, Boston would eventually rescind that offer and allow Rozier to wade into unrestricted free agency if it couldn’t otherwise generate assets for him before formally inking Walker.
Boston’s brainy front office will explore all avenues to generate assets for outgoing players before it formally inks Walker. There is, also, the potential for complicated sign-and-trade options that would deliver Walker and help the team recoup value of outgoing assets but they become cumbersome quickly.
Ultimately, the renounce path is the path of least resistance.
NEXT ON TO-DO LIST: FIND A BIG
While adding Walker fills Irving’s shoes, the team is essentially also sacrificing frontcourt stalwarts Horford, Baynes, and Morris to make it happen. The Celtics would have a handful of options to add a big:
* If Boston ultimately signs Walker into cap space, they will be limited to the room midlevel exception, or roughly $4.8 million. With the possibility for a market flooded with serviceable bigs, that might be enough to attract a decent center but not necessarily the type of impact big man a team with hopes of competing for a title. Would Boston be willing to sacrifice draft assets to acquire Walker via sign-and-trade with the Hornets if it generated a larger midlevel for them? That likely hinges on the price tag to otherwise acquire an impact big.
* The Celtics would have to give serious thought about moving a player and/or draft assets to acquire a higher-tier big man. With the prospects of extending Jaylen Brown as early as this summer — and restricted free agency looming next year for the fourth-year wing — the team has to at least gauge the market for what he could bring in return. Would the Indiana Pacers be willing to move one of their bigs — Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis — for what Boston could offer? That could be Brown, Marcus Smart, and/or draft picks.
* Similarly, is there a deal to be made with the Rockets for Clint Capela? Absorbing his $16.4 million salary is tricker after signing Walker and would likely mean moving Smart or Brown (and do the Rockets even want those sort of pieces if they’ve got their eyes on picks to offer Philadelphia in a potential sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler?)
* In the absence of a bigger deal to land an establish big man, the Celtics will still have options with a glut of bigs in free agency. Some are tricker — like finding a deal for a restricted big man like Willie Cauley-Stein. Boston could ponder the likes of Joakim Noah (who had an encouraging 42-game stretch with Memphis) or Nerlens Noel (depending on the market he finds if he opts out in Oklahoma City).
There will be other familiar names like Robin Lopez and Enes Kanter available, and no shortage of veteran bigs looking for an opportunity with a contender. Alas, if you’re going to splurge on Walker, it seems more likely that Boston should be aggressive in the pursuit of a complementary big man.
DEPTH CHART RESET
Assuming Boston goes the cap space route, before they seek a big, the depth chart looks something like:
BALL-HANDLERS: Walker, Smart, Edwards, Waters (2-way?)
WINGS: Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Semi Ojeleye, Romeo Langford
BIGS: Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, Guerschon Yabusele, Grant Williams
DEFIANT DANNY, BAYNES TRADE MAKES MORE SENSE
Maybe we know now why Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been so defiant since draft night, boldly suggesting that others are “dying” to play in Boston even as a couple of All-Stars prepare to depart. If the Celtics thought they had a chance to immediately rebound with a top-tier free agent, then this was more than just projecting confidence as two star players prepared to depart.
Boston’s draft-night maneuvering to ship Baynes to Phoenix makes a lot more sense now, too, with the team eager to put itself in position to easily get to max cap space if and when it needed to do such to formally ink a top-tier player.
BRAD STEVENS LOVES KEMBA … EVEN IF HE BROKE HIS HEART
I keep coming back to this quote from Brad Stevens in November, where he gushed about Walker and joked about how UConn beat Butler in the national title game:
"He is, having spent a little bit of time with him at the All-Star game, despite the fact that he’s responsible for one of my biggest heartbreaks in my life, I think that certainly he’s a special guy. And it’s fun to see a guy like that have that kind of success. He’s got a good vibe, works hard, good teammate, all that stuff."
ONE THING JUST TO KEEP IN MIND BEFORE SUNDAY
The Celtics typically operate under a cloak of secrecy, which makes the very public nature of the past few days a little suspicious. What happens if the Hornets suddenly pivot and (begrudgingly) offered Walker the full five-year, $221 million super max deal before the “formal” start of free agency on Sunday night? Maybe that ship has sailed if Walker feels disrespected that that offer wasn’t on the table from the start. But it’s fair to be a tiny bit leery that Walker’s situation became public if his camp wanted to put some pressure on the Hornets.
KEMBA, HAYWARD TOGETHER … FINALLY
Kinda ironic that the Hornets tried to pair Walker and Hayward in 2014 when Hayward agreed to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet in restricted free agency. The Jazz eventually matched and dashed those plans (and LeBron James’ return to Cleveland squashed the first time Kyrie Irving and Hayward had a chance to play together). Maybe Kemba and Hayward finally get their chance in 2019.
If Hayward drops a, “It’s about to be crazy, K,” at any point this summer, it’ll melt the internet.
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