Lessons Learned From The Celtics’ Offseason Thus Far

It’s been nearly three weeks since the NBA free agency period got under way, and so far it has been one of the more exciting summers of player movement in league history. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said specifically for the Celtics’ offseason, as the team has signed just one free agent thus far (Avery Bradley) since July 1st. Boston also added Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller, and a 2016 first round pick in a three-team trade last week.

The lack of movement doesn’t mean the team’s front office hasn’t been busy over the past 18 days though. As a refresher, let’s recap a timeline of the Celtics’ news and rumors during free agency up until this point.

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July 1: Celtics show interest in Isaiah Thomas right off the bat and contacted reportedly up to 30 free agents overall including Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hill and Kent Bazemore.

July 2: Celtics agree to terms with Avery Bradley on a four-year $32 million deal.

July 4: Celtics reportedly show interest in bringing back power forward Kris Humphries.

July 5: The rumor mill heads up again as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports indicates the Celtics are still trying to find “creative ways” to appease Minnesota’s demands for Kevin Love.

July 7: Celtics show interest in Lance Stephenson according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.com.

July 9: Celtics complete a 3-team trade with the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers that lands them a 2016 protected 1st round pick, Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller.

July 11: Zach Lowe of Grantland.com reports that the Warriors considered absorbing power forward Brandon Bass with their $7 million trade exception but turned the potential deal.

July 14: Marc Stein of ESPN.com indicates the Rockets may target Rajon Rondo again in a deal, after missing out on signing other key free agents like Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. Celtics also show interest in free agent swingman Evan Turner.

July 15: Celtics agree to sign-and-trade power forward Kris Humphries to the Washington Wizards in exchange for a protected second round pick. The team also receives a $4.3 million trade exception in the deal. The team also does not waive reserve point guard Phil Pressey by the end of the day on the 15th, which guarantees his salary for the 2014-15 season.

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July 16: Free agent guard Jerryd Bayless agrees to terms with the Milwaukee Bucks on a two-year deal.

So based on this timeline, what exactly can we learn from Boston’s offseason? A few thoughts on the matter:

1) The Celtics were exploring several team-building avenues at the beginning of the process.

Danny Ainge likely had major aspirations for improving his team when contacting players like Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, and co. It’s important to note, however, that it would not have made much sense for Ainge to make a big money play for those guys unless they were also being paired up with another impact player (like Kevin Love) next year.

Otherwise, bringing in Parsons or Hayward without a guy like Love in the picture would make the Celtics a mediocre team at best in the interim and would clog up future cap space. With no Love trade in the works, the Celtics opted to pass, knowing the team would have also had to hand over some draft picks and/or young players in order to facilitate a sign-and-trade with either Parsons or Hayward since both were restricted free agents.

2) The three-team trade with Brooklyn and Cleveland has limited Boston’s movement in the free agency market.

Bringing in Zeller, Thornton, and a pick without giving up anything of value was a win for the team, but it also creates a bit of a logjam on the roster.

Currently, the Celtics have 17 players under contract for next season for 15 roster slots. Three of those players are on unguaranteed deals (Chris Johnson, Chris Babb, Keith Bogans), but my guess is the team wants to hold onto Johnson (cheap help at end of roster) and Bogans ($5.3 million unguaranteed contract will help with trades).

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Until Ainge makes a move to free up some more roster space via trade, Boston likely will not sign a player of note in free agency with their remaining midlevel exception. The Celtics had interest in promising young players like Kent Bazemore and Jordan Hill early on in free agency, but after the Thornton-Zeller trade, any significant playing time at those spots on the roster disappeared. No free agent is going to want to sign with a rebuilding team without the promise of minutes, and the Celtics have very few to give up right now at several positions.

My bet is that more moves are coming. It might be another week, month or even until October, but Ainge needs to do some tinkering here to clear up the depth chart. Will the team pay Bogans another $5.3 million when they don’t have to, in hopes of finding a useful trade opportunity that they can use his non-guaranteed contract to facilitate? Will they have to let Johnson go (to get down to 15 players) during the wait? A trade of a veteran or two in the coming months would solve these problems.

We probably won’t see any fireworks like owner Wyc Grousbeck had suggested might be possible, but there is still work to be done this offseason.

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