The Celtics reportedly will target Hawks forward Al Horford in free agency. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)
Assuming the Celtics don’t land Kevin Durant, they’re going to need to shift their focus to signing other key free agents to improve their roster.
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics will target Al Horford when free agency officially begins July 1, and will be one of many teams, including the Lakers, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Nets and Wizards, interested in the nine-year pro. (A Thursday report indicated the Thunder also plan to make a push for him.)
If the Celtics don’t land Durant or Horford, what kind of players do they need?
“We need good players,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said last Friday as the team introduced five of its six draft picks in Waltham.
Brad Stevens was more specific.
“The biggest needs as we look at it are continuing to grow ourselves on the offensive end and what we decide to do with regard to protecting the rim,” the coach said.
There are a handful of players available who could help in scoring and rim protection, which could push the Celtics into contending with the champion Cavaliers.
However, the most talented players come with an expensive price tag. The Celtics will have to weigh their options and target the players who are worth the big bucks, while also looking to at second- and third-tier options who offer plenty of upside.
Here are four free agents the Celtics could sign this summer.
2015-16: 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks
Horford sits atop the list — his ability to stretch the floor on offense and defend opposing big men makes him a great fit in Boston. His leadership qualities will be beneficial for this young Celtics team — along with his experience. Horford, who turned 30 earlier this month, is also consistent — while his 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds last season aren’t numbers that are going to amaze you, his dependability will make a big impact. He would give the Celtics their first consistent scoring big man since Kevin Garnett. And much like Garnett was for the Celtics, Horford is a great pick-and-roll guy who can knock down shots and score in the post. He is a max guy, but is one of the exceptional players of this free agency class who deserves a contract worth over $20 million annually. Placing an All-Star like Horford alongside Isaiah Thomas would bring this Celtics team to the second round of the playoffs, with potential to go beyond. It would be a huge step toward contenting with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
2015-16: 15.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists
Prying Batum out of Charlotte won’t be easy — the Hornets reportedly have made re-signing Batum their top priority this summer — however, the Celtics should target the veteran shooter because he would flourish in a Celtics uniform. At 6-foot-8, he’s a versatile scorer who can knock down 3-pointers, score off the dribble and defend the perimeter. Along with Avery Bradley’s shooting, Batum’s ability would create space for players like Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart, who have no problem scoring when they drive to the hoop. He’s also a good passer — making him a great piece to add to Stevens’ up-tempo offense — and an all-around great offensive weapon who would fit in nicely.
2015-16: 10.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists
If the Celtics strike out in trying to sign Durant and/or Batum, would it be a terrible idea if they focused their attention on bringing back Evan Turner? It’s no secret that Stevens values what Turner brings to his team — hustle on both ends of the court, coupled with a great locker room presence. In two seasons, his effort, mid-range scoring and underrated defense has turned him into a fan favorite in Boston, where he transformed into one of the league’s best sixth men last season. Sure, he’s not an excellent 3-point shooter, but Turner proved to be a secondary playmaker, and after July 1 he will be pursued as a Plan B option for a few NBA teams looking for help at the wing position or in the backcourt. Turner already has expressed how much he adores the Celtics, but with this new NBA salary cap, it may take at least $10 million to keep him around. In this new era, that’s money well spent.
2015-16: 9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.0 blocks
He’s the least-flashiest name on this list, but Mahinmi provides plenty of upside for a 29-year-old defensive big man who is coming off the best season of his career. In his first starting role, he averaged 9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and a block a night for the Pacers — so he’s not a double-double guy, per say, but his contribution up front helped the Pacers lead the league in fewest points allowed last season. He’s one of the best affordable big men available, and with centers like Hassan Whiteside and Bismack Biyombo on the verge of signing max deals — Mahinmi is the Celtics’ biggest bang-for-your-buck center available.