With ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirming reports that the Boston Celtics have emerged as “frontrunners” to land Kemba Walker in free agency, the Celtics offseason plans have drastically changed for what might be the 3rd or 4th time just in the past month. Wojnarowski even went as far as to say on a Thursday afternoon SportsCenter that, “Barring an unforeseen change of events here, Kemba Walker is going to leave Charlotte. He's going to head to Boston.” With Kemba Walker reportedly in the fold, Boston will have only the Room exception of $4.76m and veteran minimum offers to fill out the rest of their roster. Here are the players who may be available for that price:
Noel has had an up and down career after being in consideration to be the top pick back in 2013. Even after escaping the logjam at center in Philadelphia, Noel failed to live up to his potential in what appeared to be an ideal opportunity with the Dallas Mavericks.
Noel spent last season with Thunder as the backup to Steven Adams where he played a career-low 13.7 minutes per game. The Celtics had rumored interest in the former Kentucky star back when he was made available via trade from Philadelphia, but the asking price was reportedly too steep. The 25-year-old big man’s value has now reached perhaps an all-time low, but that’s perfect for a Celtics team in need of cheap options. Despite not seeing much time on the floor, Noel was able to put up his highest blocks per game mark since the 2015-16 season. In Boston, perhaps the former 6th overall pick could carve out a larger role and the opportunity for more consistent minutes may result in Noel emerging as a reliable option at center for the Celtics.
The Celtics need to renounce their Bird rights on almost all their own free agents in order to sign Kemba Walker. However, they will have the option to retain their Bird rights to either Daniel Theis or Brad Wanamaker. The decision should be a no brainer for Boston. Theis showed flashes of being both a solid rim protector, reliable stretch big and decent lob threat off the bench for the Celtics over the past 2 seasons. Theis proved he belonged in the NBA after coming over from the German League in 2017 and the Celtics would surely love to have Theis back to provide at least some minor stability at the position with Baynes and Horford out the door.
Keeping his Bird rights would allow the Celtics to sign Theis without cutting into the Room exception, so the Celtics can sign both Theis and another player in the $4 million range. With Theis being a restricted free agent on top of all of that, it’s almost a guarantee that the German big will be back with Boston next season.
The Celtics were supposedly chasing Kanter in the buyout market this past February before he ended up signing in Portland. Kanter’s significant defensive shortcomings don’t exactly fit in with Brad Stevens, whose teams have finished 3rd and 8th in PPG allowed over the past 2 seasons. However, Kanter’s offensive skill and rebounding may make up for his poor defense.
Kanter had a stellar playoff run with Portland as the team’s starting center after Jusuf Nurkic went down with a leg injury. Whether or not that playoff run will price the Celtics out of the market for Kanter’s services remains to be seen. If Kanter is available for the Room exception, he may be the Celtics best overall option. He’s certainly not the cleanest fit, but he has more proven talent than any other big that could possibly be in the Celtics price range.
Dedmon is another dream option for the Celtics to land with the Room exception. Dedmon is coming off a season in which he posted career highs in points and blocks with Atlanta and emerged as a serious threat from 3-point range. Dedmon also averaged over 1 block and 1 steal per game, 1 of only 9 players in the NBA to do so last season. A big with the type of skill set that Dedmon possesses would presumably be in-line for a contract worth at least the full mid-level exception, which the Celtics don’t have, but they can hold out hope that either Dedmon’s market dies or the chance to start and win in Boston is enough to lure him to the team for a lesser salary.
Dedmon won’t give the Celtics much more than 10ish points and 8ish rebounds most nights, but he’d be perhaps a better fit in Stevens’ system on both offense and defense than any other player on this list. If Dedmon does show interest in coming to Boston, Danny Ainge should jump at the opportunity to sign the versatile veteran big.
If all else fails, the Celtics can run back to old friend Amir Johnson. Johnson started 153 of 159 games played in his 2 seasons in Boston from 2015-2017 which seemingly suggests that coach Brad Stevens may have a particular fondness for the big man. Johnson doesn’t show up much in any category on the stat sheet, but his work off the floor is what Stevens raved about most upon his departure. “He’s the guy you want with young guys.” Stevens said of Johnson after he signed with Philadelphia 2 years ago. “Amir’s the ultimate positive teammate.”
With the Celtics looking to reestablish their culture after a tumultuous 2018-19 season, Johnson could be exactly the type of player they’re looking to add to their locker room. How much the 32-year-old big can give them on the floor after riding the bench last season in Philadelphia is fair to question, but the Celtics clearly took a liking to Johnson during his time with the team and could view him as some sort of last resort option if they strike out on their top targets. Even if the Celtics do sign one of the other center options on the board, Johnson could be a player the Celtics chase to simply be a benchwarmer who helps to maintain the locker room and mentor young players. With Al Horford likely out the door, the Celtics could use a veteran presence like Johnson.
Photo: (Elise Amendola - AP Photo)