With NBA free agency opening Tuesday, we begin our annual examination of the options available to the Celtics at each position. Today’s focus: Point guards. Unlike recent seasons, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is expected to have more flexibility than any summer since 2007 when the league’s moratorium on free agent signings is lifted and the salary cap (an estimated $63.2 million) is officially set on July 10.
The Celtics have eight players under guaranteed contracts in 2014-15 for $48.5 million (Rajon Rondo $12.9M; Gerald Wallace $10.1M; Jeff Green $9.2M; Brandon Bass $6.9M; Joel Anthony $3.8M; Vitor Faverani $2.1M; Kelly Olynyk $2.1M; Jared Sullinger $1.4M) as well as $4.1 million in cap holds for first-round picks Marcus Smart and James Young. Pending decisions on or by Kris Humphries, Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless, the C’s could have as much as $10 million in cap space — or more if they use the stretch provision on Wallace.
While the Celtics still have an All-Star point guard on the roster, Rondo’s name will continue to be mentioned in trade talks for the remaining year on his deal. The addition of Smart combined with Phil Pressey‘s non-guaranteed contract gives Ainge inexpensive solutions behind Rondo. Should the C’s anticipate Rondo’s departure or envision a significant upgrade over Pressey, they could still chase any free agent floor general not named Kyle Lowry.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at their options, separating the current free agents into three categories.
THE RAJON RONDOS
A four-time NBA All-Star at just 28 years old, Rondo has already helped steer the Celtics to an NBA title and could do so again with the right talent around him. Without that talent on the roster, though, Ainge could trade his captain, and the free agent market offers a number of options who could help fill the void left by his departure.
RICH MAN: ERIC BLEDSOE
2013-14: 1,416 min, 17.7 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 57.8 TS%, 19.6 PER
Why? Ainge has eyed Bledsoe since 2013, when the Clippers nearly traded him and DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett. In short, he’s a 24-year-old stud.
Why not? It’s hard to imagine the Suns letting a player of Bledsoe’s caliber walk, and even if he does leave Phoenix, word is he’ll be seeking a max contract offer.
COMMON MAN: ISAIAH THOMAS
2013-14: 2,497 min, 20.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, 2.9 rpg, 1.3 spg, 57.4 TS%, 20.5 PER
Why? Like Bledsoe, Thomas has been the subject of trade rumors involving the Celtics (and Rondo in particular). Once the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft, he enjoyed a breakout statistical season during his contract year.
Why not? Much of his production resulted from playing in Sacramento, where defense hasn’t exactly been a priority and losses have mounted for a decade. It’s hard to imagine him averaging 15.2 shots for a winner.
POOR MAN: SHAUN LIVINGSTON
2013-14: 1,974 min, 8.3 ppg, 3.2 apg, 3.2 rpg, 1.2 spg, 55.1 TS%, 14.5 PER
Why? Ironically, after years spent recovering from surgeries, Livingston emerged as a starter for a playoff team following a series of injuries to his Brooklyn teammates. He could be an inexpensive stop-gap as Smart develops.
Why not? After suffering a devastating knee injury in his third NBA season, Livingston played more than 1,500 minutes for the first time since 2007. Even though he’s still just 28 years old, his best days are behind him.
HOMELESS MEN: Greivis Vasqeuz (1,779 min, 9.6 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.2 rpg, 53.7 TS%, 14.1 PER); Ramon Sessions (2,214 min, 12.3 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.4 rpg, 53.9 TS%, 16.0 PER); Kirk Hinrich (2,116 min, 9.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.6 rpg, 1.1 spg, 49.4 TS%, 10.8 PER); Mo Williams, restricted (1,834 min, 9.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.1 rpg, 50.7 TS%, 11.8 PER); Mario Chalmers (2,178 min, 11.8 ppg, 5.9 apg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 spg, 56.7 TS%, 14.0 PER).
THE JERRYD BAYLESSES
Bayless, 25, became a stable force in a young locker room upon joining the Celtics in January, even if his production wasn’t so consistent. He plays both guard positions, and Ainge prefers versatility. While Bayless has publicly stated his fondness for Boston, this group might not be the worst backup point guard backup plan.
RICH MAN: PATTY MILLS
2013-14: 1,527 min, 10.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 58.8 TS%, 18.7 PER
Why? Good enough for Gregg Popovich, good enough for the C’s. Mills and his 42.5 3-point percentage this past season played a vital role in beating the Heat.
Why not? Following his NBA Finals success, it wouldn’t be surprising for a team to overpay Mills only to see him regress outside of the San Antonio system.
COMMON MAN: DARREN COLLISON
2013-14: 2,069 min, 11.4 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.4 rpg, 1.2 spg, 57.5 TS%, 16.2 PER
Why? While he hasn’t shown much progression since a fairly impressive rookie season, the 26-year-old has since put up consistent numbers and studied under some of the league’s best coaches as a backup.
Why not? Collison declined a $2.0 million player option this coming season, so his asking price may end up skying too high for a once promising point guard who has played on four teams in the past five years.
POOR MAN: SHELVIN MACK
2013-14: 1,490 min, 7.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.2 rpg, 51.0 TS%, 13.2 PER
Why? Mack helped Celtics coach Brad Stevens lead Butler to two consecutive NCAA championship games, and maybe — just maybe — the two former Bulldogs can recreate some of that magic in Boston.
Why not? In and out of the league since being drafted in the second round three years ago, Mack doesn’t do anything exceptionally well and hasn’t produced despite several opportunities on lottery teams.
HOMELESS MEN: Jordan Farmar (912 min, 10.1 ppg, 4.9 apg, 2.5 rpg, 53.3 TS%, 15.0 PER); Jordan Crawford, restricted (1,859 min, 11.0 ppg, 3.5 apg, 2.3 rpg, 51.6 TS%, 14.3 PER); Brian Roberts (1,667 min, 9.4 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.9 rpg, 52.9 TS%, 13.4 PER); Devin Harris (818 min, 7.9 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.1 rpg, 51.7 TS%, 14.6 PER); D.J. Augustin (1,939 min, 13.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 1.8 rpg, 56.9 TS%, 16.2 PER); Steve Blake (1,498 min, 6.9 ppg, 5.6 apg, 2.9 rpg, 50.8 TS%, 11.0 PER); Aaron Brooks (1,557 min, 9.0 ppg, 3.2 apg, 1.9 rpg, 51.8 TS%, 12.5 PER).
THE PHIL PRESSEYS
Either not worth the asking price or not worth any price, these guys are a dime a dozen and wouldn’t be an upgrade over Pressey or any other available point guard at the league minimum. Thanks, but no thanks.
Luke Ridnour: 1,141 min, 5.0 ppg, 2.9 apg, 1.6 rpg, 45.2 TS%, 9.0 PER
Beno Udrih: 643 min, 4.9 ppg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 rpg, 52.3 TS%, 12.7 PER
Sebastian Telfair (China): 1,270 min, 26.1 ppg, 6.0 apg, 4.5 rpg, 2.0 spg, 57.5 TS%, 26.1 PER
Nando De Colo: 494 min, 3.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 52.6 TS%, 13.1 PER
Toney Douglas: 675 min, 4.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 49.3 TS%, 9.2 PER
Chauncey Billups (restricted): 309 min, 3.8 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.5 rpg, 42.7 TS%, 5.3 PER
Toure Murry: 373 min, 2.7 ppg, 1.0 apg, 47.9 TS%, 11.1 PER
Daniel Gibson (2012-13): 919 min, 5.4 ppg, 1.8 apg, 1.3 rpg, 47.5 TS%, 7.7 PER
Earl Watson: 161 min, 0.5 ppg, 1.2 apg, 47.0 TS%, 2.1 PER
Jamaal Tinsley: 110 min, 1.1 ppg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 rpg, 22.5 TS%, 1.9 PER
Leandro Barbosa: 368 min, 7.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.6 apg, 50.6 TS%, 11.5 PER
How the Celtics handle the point guard position entirely depends on what becomes of Rondo this summer. As currently constituted, they don’t need another point guard on the roster. In fact, Rondo, Smart and Pressey might be the best combination of players at any position for this team. Given Rondo’s contract situation, however, it seems more likely the C’s will trade their captain, leaving two young projects to man the position.
Should a Rondo trade not include a point guard like Thomas in return, Ainge would need to find a stop-gap should Smart not immediately emerge as a legitimate starter or Pressey not progress beyond a facilitating competitor with little to no scoring ability. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics dedicating big money to Bledsoe when they already have a better player in Rondo more worthy of a max contract and a younger player in Smart under their control.
While Bayless remains an option as a young veteran presence in the locker room capable of both starting or backing up either guard position, the intriguing low-cost option is Mack. His familiarity with Stevens’ system could help bridge the transition to Smart, and in the end that’s the C’s ultimate goal for the point guard position this season.