Kosta Koufos is exactly the type of player the Celtics need to target this summer.

Kosta Koufos

Kosta Koufos

Kosta Koufos is exactly the type of player the Celtics need to target this summer.

Given their history of failed free-agent pursuits and the unlikelihood of landing a center of Marc Gasol’s caliber, the C’s are forced to pursue under-appreciated options, so the latest ESPN.com report that team president Danny Ainge already targeted Koufos in trade discussions this season makes complete sense.

After ranking in the middle of the pack this past season with a 102.1 defensive rating — a number that climbed to 110.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in their brief playoff stint — the Celtics are in desperate need of a rim protector, and Koufos was as good as any backup center in that regard. According to NBA.com/stats, the 7-foot, 265-pound former first-round pick held opponents to 46.9 percent shooting at the rim, putting him in good company with Defensive Player of the Year candidates Tim Duncan and Draymond Green at the same percentage.

Offensively, Koufos has proven a capable scorer around the basket, converting 56.2 percent of his shots inside of 8 feet. It might be too much to ask a 26-year-old to suddenly develop a mid-range jumper, but Tyler Zeller made significant strides from outside the paint under Celtics coach Brad Stevens this year.

Regardless, Koufos has averaged 12.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes since being drafted 23rd overall out of Ohio State in 2008, and those numbers have remained fairly consistent for all six years, including when he started 81 games for a Nuggets team that won 57 games in 2012-13.

Koufos earned $3 million as a reserve this past season, and that number could at least double in unrestricted free agency come July, as he left NBA general managers with eight points on five shots and eight rebounds in 14-plus minutes during a season-ending Game 6 loss to the Warriors last week.

It stands to reason the Celtics will be among his suitors this summer, since Ainge has the cap and roster space to offer Koufos the starting role he’s coveted since being faded from Denver in June 2013. The interesting part of that pursuit will be whether the C’s aim to lock him up early in free agency or first take a stab at a big-name option like DeAndre Jordan and risk losing out on Koufos to another suitor.

In the same vein, keep an eye on a group of similarly under-appreciated young bigs entering free agency should the Celtics fail to land their first, second or even third options: Alexis Ajinca (16.7 points, 55.0 field goal percentage, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes); Ed Davis (12.8 points, 60.1 field goal percentage, 11.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes); Kevin Seraphin (15.2 points, 51.3 field goal percentage, 8.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes); and Kyle O’Quinn (12.8 points, 49.2 field goal percentage, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes). None of those players quite offer the intrigue of Koufos, but Ajinca is a 7-foot, 220-pound center who emerged as a serviceable reserve behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

In a sit-down interview with Celtics.com, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was encouraged by the development of rookie guard Marcus Smart and his team’s depth during an impressive stretch run, but he also realizes the need for a roster upgrade.

In a sit-down interview with Celtics.com, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was encouraged by the development of rookie guard Marcus Smart and his team’s depth during an impressive stretch run, but he also realizes the need for a roster upgrade.

Whether or not that upgrade will come in the form of a draft-day trade or a free-agent signing this summer remains to be seen, but at the very least the C’s are in position to set off the fireworks they’ve stocked away since trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“We’ve tried to put ourselves in the game to have those options and to have some opportunities to make big moves, so I guess if there are big moves that we like, we do them; if there are big moves that we’re not in love with, then we hold off and we wait,” Ainge told Celtics.com. “Those are the challenging ones. Some of them are very easy to determine and some are very challenging and take a lot of investigation and thought and debate and discussion on our side, but I think that you can’t just determine that you’re going to wait or you’re going to do it. It all depends on those opportunities.

“An example of that was when KG and Ray [Allen] became available to us,” added Ainge. “We were in the game, and we had an opportunity to do something quick and something special. When James Harden became available, we weren’t. We didn’t have the assets. We didn’t have the opportunity to get in that game, so just because we have assets, just because we have young players, just because we have draft picks and we have cap space, it means that if there’s one of those situations that becomes available we have an opportunity. It doesn’t mean that there’s any guarantee that something like that will happen. So, we want to stay in the game until we can do something significant.”

Indeed, the Celtics have more than $20 million in cap space, as many as 10 first-round draft picks over the next four seasons, Gerald Wallace‘s $10.1 million expiring contract and a number of trade-able rookie contracts to remain “in the game” this summer.

After the promise of a big splash last summer, the Celtics are understandably less vocal about the possibility of making waves come July, but the fact is they’re in better position to do so this year than they were in 2014. But “in the game” and winning are two different things, as the Celtics learned the hard way against the Cavaliers last month.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach
Kelly Olynyk gets entangled with Kevin Love in Game 4 Sunday afternoon. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Kelly Olynyk received a one-game suspension for injuring Kevin Love on this play. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

According to a report from Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk has made efforts to reach out to Kevin Love in an attempt to personally apologize for the injury that knocked the Cavaliers forward out for the rest of the playoffs.

Olynyk pulled on Love’s arm while the two were chasing a loose ball during Game 4 of the teams’ first-round series, leaving Love with a separated shoulder and an expected six months of recovery time following surgery.

After the game, Love called the play “bush league,” although Olynyk has insisted that he did not mean any harm.

Olynyk later received a one-game suspension from the NBA.

Love, who could elect to become a free agent this offseason, has been missed in Cleveland, although he was criticized during the year for not living up to preseason expectations. Now, with the Cavs splitting the first two games of their conference semifinal series with the Bulls, Love’s absence is being lamented.

“It’s so unfortunate that [the appreciation] has to come when he goes down,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt told Yahoo. “Kevin, in his own way, sacrificed the most this season, but still gave us a high-level performance. And he needs to be appreciated for that. And going forward, hopefully, he’s going to have a long career here.”

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

WALTHAM — Danny Ainge isn’t pulling any punches about his efforts to go after some big-time unrestricted free agents this summer. But he’s also be very, very realistic about his chances.

WALTHAM — Danny Ainge isn’t pulling any punches about his efforts to go after some big-time unrestricted free agents this summer. But he’s also be very, very realistic about his chances.

There is a good pool of free agents available this offseason around the league. And many of those free agents are big men, one of the pressing needs of the Celtics as they look to build for 2015-16. And on top of that, the Celtics will have a great deal of cap space to work with, even after offering Jae Crowder a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent.

But the unprecedented rise in the cap in the next two years, growing by as much as $20 million, has a down side, namely 29 other teams with the same expanded flexibility.

“I think free agency is hard,” Ainge said Thursday. “I think it’s unlikely but possible. So we’re going to go after any and everybody that we think is a significant player to upgrade our talent roster. And when I say upgrade our talent, you’ve got to be pretty good to upgrade our talent because we have good players. So, we’re going after all the top names on the list and see what happens.”

Names like LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap and DeAndre Jordan are all scheduled to hit the market.

“I don’t think any of us can predict that. That’s good talk radio stuff but I think ultimately every player is different, unique,” Ainge said. “Some players look at the Celtics organization and tradition, and think it’s something special. Some don’t. Some prefer hot weather to cold weather but most players prefer good contracts and good opportunities to play and hopefully to win, in that order first in most players. We have to prove to people that we have the opportunities for them to be paid, to play, to reach their full potential and to win. I think Boston will be a good destination for some.

“I think there’s risk in the draft and there’s risk in free agency and there’s risk in trades and any sort of deals that you make. I just think you have to do your best in trying to find the right fit and that’s hard. If you’re in this business long enough, you’re going to make mistakes. We all do. And I think you can’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s a challenge to do your homework and make sure that these guys are not just good players, because we know a lot of players are good players. But sometimes it’s just not the right fit. I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle, finding those guys that fit with the coach, with the system, with the other players on the team.

“I don’t ever feel like we can afford a mistake. But sometimes you miss and you have to take the shot. Sometimes you turn the ball over when you try to make the right pass. I think it’s the same thing. I don’t look at any play that we make in the organization like we can afford to take this risk. I’m shooting to make all of them.”

In addition to Crowder, Ainge will have some decisions to make on his own roster, including whether to make a run at Brandon Bass and Jonas Jerebko, both of whom become unrestricted free agents.

“Rather than going individual by individual, I would just say we like all of them, and to some degree,” Ainge said. “Some of it’s just going to be dependent on [financial] numbers and roster spots and draft and trades and everything else. So, you just can’t emphatically say anything about anybody other than I can emphatically say that we definitely qualify Jae Crowder, which I think is pretty obvious. Other than that, the unrestricted free agents, it’s uncertain. But we do like each one of them and would welcome any one of them back at the right price and in the right role.”

Ainge said he does not anticipate any significant offseason surgeries on players currently under contract for next season. Crowder sprained his left ACL in the Game 4 loss to the Cavaliers but is expected to fully recover without any procedure.

Ainge was also asked if he wanted to clarify his comments about making playoffs, telling the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett that his goal was not to make the playoffs but build a championship caliber team, something Ainge said the Celtics are a long way from.

“That’s just Bulpett stirring the pot I think,” Ainge joked. “We started the season out with high expectations. I didn’t believe we were a championship contender at the beginning of the year but certainly thought we were a little bit better than how we played early on. Then when we made the trades early in the season, I think our expectations were a little bit less. We were going to play our young guys and focus on them. There was probably more attention on the draft to me at that time. But I never intervened with the players or coaches or gave them any direction one way or another, other than to go out and win and create culture of winning.

“I think the playoff experience helps us because Cleveland is a team that we’re going to have to deal with for years to come. I think it gives our guys some confidence. I think they feel like they’re not maybe as far away as the world thinks. I think that they feel more confident today after playing four straight games against them than they might have been before the series. I think that it’s also a reality check of how good that those guys are for us, organizationally. Following a game plan and playing against the best team in the East is great experience because the playoffs are a different level of intensity. First quarters are like fourth quarters of regular season games. I think it’s important for our guys to see how hard it is to win.”

Ainge also addressed some other subjects on Thursday, including the ugly public breakup between Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle, both of whom he knows very well.

“I am very surprised, yeah. I really don’t know what happened, other than media reports so I probably shouldn’t comment any further on that. I like both individuals and I’m very surprised it didn’t work out better,” Ainge said.

On Isaiah Thomas, who Ainge said he would like to see remain as a sixth man: “When we acquired Isaiah, I knew he would make us better. Ultimately, we acquired Isaiah and we were fine with that. It’s that simple. The decisions that we made weren’t always to try to be the very best we could be this year when we were making the decisions. We didn’t know we’d be better even before we got Isaiah. But then when we got Isaiah, we knew that was the missing piece that we needed, an offensive scorer, a fireplug off the bench that can create offense. We were pretty sure that was going to make us better and ultimately, we chose to do that.”

On development of Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart: “I was encouraged by their development. I think the injuries to both of them, the ankle injuries, were very severe and I think it knocked a little bit out of both of them. So barring those injuries, I think overall their development is coming along as expected.

“Kelly has shown his versatility. I think he really improved defensively. I think Marcus has really picked up. He’s a great instinctive defender but I think he picked up the schemes and became an outstanding defender, got even better than he was immediately. Offensively, I think he’s come a long way, too. He’s getting more and more confident in shooting and he’s unafraid of the moments. I think everybody can see the bigger the moment, the more he lights up, and I think that’s an encouraging part for both of them.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

WALTHAM — The Celtics surprised a lot of people by finishing the season with a six-game winning streak, ending up with the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Danny Ainge speaks Thursday at the team practice facility in Waltham. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Danny Ainge speaks Thursday at the team practice facility in Waltham. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

WALTHAM — The Celtics surprised a lot of people by finishing the season with a six-game winning streak, ending up with the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But the work to improve on that encouraging ending doesn’t stop with a four-game sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Far from it.

Now, according to the team’s president of basketball operations, the hard work really begins. How does he and his staff go about improving upon a 40-42 mark through the NBA draft and added space under the salary cap?

“I feel like we need to have a busy summer and we will have a busy summer,” Danny Ainge said Thursday. “Hopefully, we can get some things accomplished that we need to. I think we need to upgrade our talent level on our team and at the same time, I’m very excited about a lot of the individuals that we have.

“Actually, all of the individuals I thought played the best basketball of their careers in a lot of cases. So, I’m excited about the players that we have. At the same time, I feel like we’re not at the same level as a team like Cleveland, and we found that out.”

Ainge confirmed one of his moves already on Thursday when he announced he will extend a qualifying offer to Jae Crowder. By extending a qualifying offer to Crowder, the Celtics would make him a restricted free agent.

The key to the summer will likely be how Ainge and his staff handle the extra spending space afforded by the expansion of the NBA salary cap. The Celtics currently have $40.4 million committed to salaries for 2015-16. The current cap number of $63 million is expected to grow to about $66 million next season but could explode to $87 million in 2017. The reason: A brand new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal.

But while the Celtics will have more money to spend, so too will the other 29 teams, creating tremendous cap competition this summer.

“Yeah, that’s a factor,” Ainge admitted. “I think that’s a factor for every team going forward and trying to figure that out and use the cap wisely. We’ll be responsible in how we utilize the cap.”

The pool of potential free agents is impressive. LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap. All are big men and all could fill a void for the Celtics.

“It all depends,” Ainge said. “It just depends on who’s available, who you can get. We need to use it wisely. We haven’t haven’t ever had cap space I don’t think in the history of the Celtics, for sure, since I’ve been here. We need to use that space wisely. We can’t just spend it because we have it.

“We don’t know any of that yet. We’re not allowed to talk about free agency until July. So, we don’t know any of those. There’s speculation. We’re anticipating that that could be the case, that some people might opt for shorter term deals but we don’t know that. Every player is unique and different.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia