Kevin Durant is not the only focus of the Celtics as free agency approaches. 

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics will be among the teams approaching Al Horford when free agency begins on Friday. 

Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) shoots the ball against Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) during the second half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford is shooting for a big payday in free agency. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Kevin Durant is not the only focus of the Celtics as free agency approaches. 

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics will be among the teams approaching Al Horford when free agency begins on Friday. 

The Celtics will be in for some serious competition, Stein reports.

“The Hawks, of course, face a stiff challenge in trying to retain Horford, who sources say is expected to draw free-agent interest from a number of teams, including the Lakers, Rockets, Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets,” Stein writes. 

As is the case with Durant, Horford has nine years of experience. That is significant because he can command up to 30 percent of his team’s cap this year. That figure goes up to 35 percent after next season.

This has led to wide speculation that both Durant and Horford would draw “1+1 contract” this summer, allowing both to cash in again next year. A “1+1” is a one-year contract with a player option for the following season. 

Horford’s long-term role with the Hawks is unclear with the trade of Jeff Teague to the Pacers. how the Hawks are planning to build in the next few months. Should he seek a max deal this year, he can re-sign with the Hawks at five years $152 million or move and sign for four years, $112 million. If he signs a one-year deal, it would be at an estimated cost of $26.4 million.

Horford, a 6-foot-10 stretch center who can run the floor and knock down a mid-range shot, has long been rumored to be a target of Danny Ainge, including at the trade deadline this past February

Horford averaged just 12.5 points but hauled in 8.5 rebounds a game against the Celtics in Atlanta’s six-game first-round win. Horford rebounded against the Cavaliers in the second round, going for 14.8 points a game. 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Reggie Lewis passed away nearly 23 years ago, but the late Celtics star’s mom believes the team could honor his memory in an unexpected way — by giving his retired No. 35 to Kevin Durant.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

Reggie Lewis passed away nearly 23 years ago, but the late Celtics star’s mom believes the team could honor his memory in an unexpected way — by giving his retired No. 35 to Kevin Durant.

That’s according to Kevin O’Connor of CSNNE, who got Lewis’ mom, Inez Ritch, on the phone recently.

“I don’t think it would take anything from Reggie because his number is still hanging up in the Garden,” she told O’Connor. “If I see Durant running up and down the court with the No. 35, I don’t know how my emotions would be until it happens.

“I don’t think I would be upset about it. I think it would be a good thing, because he is a very nice, humble young man. I don’t know a lot about him, but I know of some of the things he has achieved while wearing the No. 35.”

The similarities between the two players are obvious, O’Connor notes, with both Lewis and Durant lanky scorers who could shoot over the top or dunk at the rim. Lewis was just entering the prime of his career when he collapsed and died in July of 1993 at age 27 while shooting baskets at Brandeis.

Durant is an All-Star and former MVP who has the Celtics on his list of six teams that he’ll meet during free agency.

Add Lewis’s retired number to the list of enticements the Celtics could potentially offer to get him in green.

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

Marcus Smart on Danny Ainge heading into free agency "He knows what he's doing" pic.twitter.com/BvO08J4rUQ

— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) June 28, 2016

WALTHAM – There was one person very happy that the Celtics didn’t pull off a trade last Thursday night during draft night. 

As one of the youngest and most talented defensive guards in the NBA, Marcus Smart was at the center of many trade rumors involving the Celtics. He knew there was a possibility that he might be dealt away as the Celtics tried to move out of the No. 3 spot and get a proven impact scorer. 

As it turned out, the Celtics and Danny Ainge didn’t pull the trigger, leaving Smart to continue his plans for another season in Celtic green. 

“I’m ecstatic to remain a Boston Celtic,” Smart beamed Tuesday at his youth basketball camp at Brandeis. “I love Boston. I love their fans. I love the organization and everything about it.” 

There was also something else that didn’t happen Thursday that played to the apparent advantage of Smart. The Celtics didn’t draft another defensive-minded guard. They chose Jaylen Brown over Kris Dunn.

“That was weird because Danny being a defensive-minded guy, so you kind of would’ve thought that was where he was going,” Smart said. “We were excited for whoever we got and we are excited with the picks that Danny has picked, and the front office and we’re ready to go.”

Smart, like Isaiah Thomas, has started to make his pitch for Kevin Durant. But there are other areas that could be addressed with as much as $62 million of cap space to play with. 

“That’s a hard question for me to answer,” Smart said. “I haven’t really paid too much attention or focus on what they should do. That’s not my job. My job is to go out there and play and I kind of leave that up to Danny and those guys. They’ve been doing this for a long time. They know what they’re doing. Whoever or whatever they do, I support it and I’m with them.”

Smart understands the frustration of Celtics fans who are hungry to see the team make big moves. 

“Definitely. We expect that next step as a team. Everybody is working on their game,” Smart added. “Everybody is ready. We text each other every day and everybody is just excited. You can see it, hear it in the voices when we talk to each other. We can’t wait to get back and just start working out with each other and get that connection again.

“I think the next step for us as a team is to just go out there and [not] worry about everybody expects from us because that’s Boston fans. They’re diehard. They’re going to be on you when you’re doing go. They’re going to be on you when you’re doing bad, and that’s why we love them, and they deserve that. They deserve to have their voice. I think, for us, it’s not to really listen to all the expectations. Just go out there and play.” 

A lot of people heard Jaylen Brown announce his arrival last week in Boston by proclaiming that he “wants to rip somebody’s head off.” Smart, who’s been known to say an aggressive thing or two on the court, just smiled Tuesday when asked about it. 

“I laugh. I like it. I like it. And I think Danny loves it,” Smart laughed. “He’s an athletic wing. The dude is a freak of nature, actually, athletic-wise. I’ve seen him play a little bit. His defense is a little scary, having that length on him. I’m excited to be able to play in the backcourt with him.” 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Marcus Smart (video) raves about the "incredible" Kevin Durant. Will call @KDTrey5 "if I get his number" pic.twitter.com/BXHbne4DZQ

— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) June 28, 2016

WALTHAM  – Isaiah Thomas isn’t the only Celtics guard who’s pushing hard for Kevin Durant to come to Boston. 

Speaking at his summer basketball camp at Red Auerbach Court at Brandeis Tuesday, Marcus Smart said it would be amazing for the Celtics to add the top name in free agency to their roster. 

“Oh, no doubt. I think any team would love to see Durant and those type of caliber players on their team,” Smart said. “But we’re not the ones that make that call, so we just kind of sit back and wait. And whatever decisions that the front office makes, we’re ready to run with it.”

Durant would be a franchise-changer for the Celtics. To add a 7-footer of Durant’s caliber on the wing, their offense would taken on a different dimension and they would shoot the Celtics to the top of the NBA food chain, immediately making them top contenders in the East.  

“It’s incredible. A guy his size to do what he does, it’s unreal,” Smart said. 

Knowing all of this, Smart, like Thomas, is hoping and praying that Durant gives Boston serious consideration. Would he recruit Durant to Boston?

“If I get his number,” said Smart. 

Smart played at Oklahoma State, practically in Durant’s backyard.

“I watched Durant growing up, even when I was at Oklahoma State,” Smart said. “He came to like a game or two and I talked to him. Not a whole lot, but he’s a great guy you can definitely tell.”

The Celtics are on the short list of six teams who have scheduled meetings with Roc Nation Sports, the agency that represents Durant. The Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Heat and Thunder will all be meeting with Durant. Free agency officially begins Friday. 

 

 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

From left, Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and Wyc Grousbeck are in this for the long haul.</p>
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Mar 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) works the ball against Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) in the second half at TD Garden. Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Celtics 130-109. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Will Kevin Durant (35) and Avery Bradley be teammates next season? (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Remember the pursuit of Manny Ramirez? How about the ill-fated chase for Alex Rodriguez? Think back when Zdeno Chara was on the market in 2006. The Patriots and Darrelle Revis married for one season, and it yielded New England’s fourth Super Bowl title. 

Well the Celtics’ dream of putting Kevin Durant in green next season has the potential of eclipsing all of those in terms of media focus and civic involvement. 

Danny Ainge knows, just from their reaction to the lack of trade on draft night, that the entire fan base is in a frenzy. The Celtics are in full-in mode to get their guy who could change the fortunes of the franchise for the next decade. 

This is like the summer of 2007. They not only brought in Ray Allen on draft night in the trade for the draft pick that netted Jeff Green, they got Kevin Garnett in a trade at the end of July. There is the draft. There are trades and then there’s free agency. All three factor in Ainge’s roster building. 

This summer could be similar to ’07 as Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are potentially on the radar (that is, if Durant wants Love). Roc Nation Sports, Durant’s agency, is not only calling the shots on Durant’s deal, they are sending the message that Durant wants a full supporting cast around him that will immediately compete for his first NBA ring. 

The Celtics have a lot going in their favor. They have tradition, a red-hot young coaching talent, loads of cap space and something L.A., Golden State, Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City don’t have. Civic pride and brotherhood among the pro sports teams. That’s why Rob Gronkowski, Bill Belichick and David Ortiz showing up courtside really matter. The Celtics should give Gronk, Belichick, Ortiz and even Tom Brady a call to reach out to Durant. Isaiah Thomas continued this effort on Saturday

At $27.685 million committed to salaries for next season, the Celtics are in remarkably good shape to attack free agency. They not only are a young team coming off back-to-back playoff seasons, they have more cap space than any team that made the playoffs in last season. As a matter of fact, only the Sixers and Lakers, the two worst teams in the NBA last season, have less money committed to salary for the 2016-17 season. 

Of the teams pursuing Durant (Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Celtics, Thunder, Heat), only the Celtics could pull off two max-deal free agent signings. There’s Durant, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Luol Deng and Al Horford among others. 

“We’ve been thinking about free agency for a while,” Ainge said Friday as the team was introducing five of the six draft picks in Waltham. “So, yeah, we’re already into free agency with our planning and preparation.”

Part of the reason there was not much player movement on Thursday at the draft is pending free agency that every team must consider for next season. 

“It’s all part of the picture. So [Thursday], you didn’t see very many transactions, trades involving players,” Ainge explains. “There were a few. But no huge big-name players. A few solid role players that were traded. Those could have major impact on flexibility. So we had opportunities to do some trades but they weren’t significant enough of an upgrade to our franchise to do and we felt like it was more important to preserve flexibility this summer.”

Naturally, Ainge cannot speak to his specific desires in terms of talent but he did hint the Celtics would be active. 

“I can’t talk about free agency,” Ainge added. “I mean, good players.  We need help. We need some good players. And we have a lot of really good players. But, yeah, some more good players.”

Brad Stevens was a little 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,” Stevens said. “You can protect the rim in a couple of different ways. No. 1 is you have somebody in there to protect it. No. 2 is you don’t let the ball get there, and you need versatile guys at a bunch of different positions. You need to keep guys out of rotations. If you look at our team right now, No. 2 would be more of the option.”

In other words, just because veteran roster improvement didn’t happen Thursday doesn’t mean it won’t happen later in the summer. 

“I think that it’s harder for fans,” Ainge said. “I think that I’m probably harder on myself than anybody else could be. But I think it’s hard for fans because they don’t see and they don’t know what is real. There’s so much talk about it on TV shows and radio talk shows and so forth that they don’t see what’s really happening.

“I’m a firm believer that, if all of you were sitting in my office and listening to our conversations, there might be 5 or 10 percent disagreement if this deal is good or not, but 90 percent I’m pretty confident would say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’

“There’s a lot of talk about trades at this time of year and there’s fewer trades made at this time, and a lot of reason is preparation for free agency and cap flexibility and a lot of trade being proposed and the trades that were even being done are capable of more, they potentially prohibit you from doing your plans in free agency and so there were a lot of calls. Brad’s working hard. We’re on the phone and talking and he’s bringing me like two or three typewritten sheets of paper on what he thinks. His involvement is huge in this process and his input is very well-valued as all his coaches are.”

No deal beats bad deal: There’s another aspect of Thursday that shouldn’t be underplayed. While Ainge couldn’t pull off a trade, he also didn’t risk a hasty move that would turn into a bad deal. No deal is better than a bad one. 

“Absolutely. No question. We’re not afraid to make deals. If anybody knows the Celtics right now, they know we’re not afraid to make deals,” Ainge said. “But we don’t want to make bad deals. Sure.”

What was interesting listening to Ainge on Friday talk about trades is that these big deals sometimes take years, not months, to consummate. Ainge brought up one example to make his case. 

“It’s not because we’re not trying, it’s not because we’re turning down or we overvalue our players or any of that stuff. It’s because you need a partner. I’ve said this many times before: I tried three years to get KG before we got him. It just takes the right time and the right place and have a partner that wants to do a deal.”

Just so happens, reports of Ainge’s desires for Love have existed for just about the same amount of time. He’s reportedly inquired as to the availability on several occasions. Safe to assume, the calls will be made again, if they haven’t been already, to Cleveland.

And just because the Celtics didn’t acquire Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor on trade night doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the next couple of months. It’s just that now the focus must be on getting the prize free agent. As long as the Celtics are in the KD sweepstakes, everything else is pretty much on hold. Maybe that played a bigger role in Ainge’s hesitation to pull the trigger Thursday with Philadelphia than anything else. 

Big Men on Campus: In introducing five of his six picks, Ainge made a big point Friday of the physical nature of the new rookies. In the press conference, Ainge gave props to CSNNE Celtics analyst Brian Scalabrine. 

“I want to give props to Scal. Scal was the only one of you media people that I heard, and I don’t pay attention to you all the time, but occasionally I’m listening, and Scal made a comment about in the draft what an advantage it is to be able to play right away physically in the NBA,” Ainge said. “But if you look down this row right here, he is playing in a man’s league. Look at every one of these guys, they are grown men that can play physically in the NBA.”

To wit, Jaylen Brown (6-foot-7, 225 pounds), Guerschon Yabusele (6-7, 275 pounds), Ante Zizic (6-11, 255 pounds), Ben Bentil (6-9, 235 pounds).

“I think instead of having to get their bodies ready and get them emotionally and mentally prepared and learning to live life and show up on time and get a driver’s license and buy groceries, this things sound simple and silly but all these guys right here are capable,” Ainge added. “Wherever they go and wherever their journeys take them, they’re ready to play, and I think that gives them an advantage in starting their careers.”

“That’s going to play a role in deciding on anybody, and it’s a hard league to play in from a physical standpoint,” Stevens added. “There’s different attributes we throw out to people and different buzz words that we give people, but there’s a minimum level of athletic ability you have to have to be able to function at this level. That’s a big deal. Strength is never a negative. You have a ton of guys sitting in front of you who are strong guys. There’s a good group in front of you, and they’ll continue to work hard on their bodies. That’s something Jaylen clearly does. He works hard on his body. When he came through here, even noticing his nutrition choices, what he would eat post-workout, you know he puts a lot of time and thought into taking care of himself.”

Eurostash: Ainge acknowledged Friday that there’s no way all six picks will be on the roster come October when the team is forming its final roster. This means, of course, that it’s likely the Celtics will buy out the existing contracts of Yabusele (Rouen – France) and Zizic (KK Cibona – Croatia) and then let them sign new deals overseas while the Celtics keep their NBA rights. 

“It’s complicated, but yes, we have had initial discussions with their representatives,” Ainge said. “And we have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion and we’re not sure on some things.”

It should be noted that not all Eurostash players are international. Second-rounders like Ben Bentil (Providence), Abdel Nader (Iowa State) and Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame, the only player not in attendance Friday) could wind up in Europe. 

Why is it so complicated?

As allowed by the collective bargaining agreement, when a drafted NBA player stays in Europe, the team that drafted him retains his NBA rights but does not pay him. The European club does. The NBA team can bring him back at any time by signing the prospect to a rookie deal. If he’s a first-round pick (as is the case with both), the salary schedule is already set, based on the pick.

One thing is clear, both Yabusele and Zizic feel they could play in the NBA right now, if the situation presented itself. 

“I think I’m ready right now so we’ll see,” Zizic said. “First I will seriously talk with the team and then see what they want. And we’re going to make a deal.”

“I feel like a man. I can’t say it but yeah, I’m ready for the NBA,” Yabusele said. “I really think I just work on my body every time, try to be the best, and try to move the best.”

 

 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia