BOSTON – The bewitching hour is nearly upon us when the Celtics can get down to the business of bolstering a roster that has shown tangible growth (read: more wins, baby!) every year under Brad Stevens.
The free agency period begins at the stroke of midnight tonight - the first shot Danny Ainge and company will get to make a case to free agents Kevin Durant, Al Horford and Dwight Howard.
Boston is one of six teams that Durant will meet with, so a decision by Durant isn’t expected immediately.
That may not be the case for Horford and Howard, who are among the most coveted free agents available and will likely get multi-year, near-max offers quickly.
In the past, Boston has added players that were targeted via free agency because they fit a very clear and well-defined role.
Boston wanted to add a rim-protector last summer, so they went out and signed Amir Johnson.
It certainly didn’t bring about the kind of “fireworks” Celtics fans were hoping for, but Johnson did prove to be a solid addition in helping Boston win 48 regular season games – the most under third-year coach Brad Stevens.
This summer is different.
The Celtics have to do more than just add a nice rotation player to the mix.
They need a stud; pure and simple.
They need to add a player who immediately comes in as a starter who can help jump-start Boston’s quest to become one of the game’s elite teams again.
Adding such a player is easier said than done, obviously.
And making it even more difficult now is, unlike past off-seasons when only a handful of teams came into free agency with fat pockets like Boston (they can potentially add two max-salary players), the league’s new TV deal kicks in this summer and has created a much larger field of financial fat cats.
With money not being as big a difference-maker now, decisions by players will likely come down to opportunity to play and comfort level with an organization.
And that is a good thing for the Celtics.
Getting coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Ainge signed to long-term extensions was about more than just continuity within the organization.
It also sent a strong message to potential free agents that the guys you are negotiating with now, aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
And with Stevens at the helm, a number of players have come through Boston and left better for the experience, basketball-wise and financially.
Evan Turner came to Boston two years ago as a player many dubbed as a bust. He leaves as one of the game’s most versatile perimeter players who will land a salary that will more than triple the $3.4 million he made last season.
It is that quality that may convince Dwight Howard to sign with Boston. You will be hard-pressed to find a player as heavily criticized as Howard (much of which he has brought upon himself) who can still play at a fairly high level.
Last season was one of his worst in the NBA and he still averaged a double-double of 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game along with 1.6 blocked shots.
Getting him back to being one of the league’s elite centers would be the greatest reclamation success story ever for Stevens and would provide Boston with an impact free agent, a sight seldom (if ever) seen donning a Celtics jersey.
The Bruins skipped out on a chance to draft a speedy, small forward with skill at the end of the first round last weekend in Buffalo when they selected big, bruising center Trent Frederic over 5-foot-7 Alex DeBrincat with the 29th overall pick.
Still, the Bruins eventually got around to some pint-sized hockey talent with their final pick of the draft when they tapped 5-foot-9 Swedish forward Oskar Steen in the sixth round with the 165th overall pick.
Steen had 16 goals and 52 points playing for four teams last season as a winger/center in the Swedish junior hockey ranks. He showed the kind of speed and natural ability making plays that can compensate for being small in stature.
The 18-year-old said he hadn’t spoken with Bruins scouts prior to hearing his name called on Saturday afternoon, but that didn’t dampen his clear enthusiasm about becoming one of the newest members of an Original Six organization.
“I was a little bit surprised that I was taken by a team I haven’t spoken with. So it was, yeah. I wasn’t really expecting that but it was fun and nice team, so I’m happy to be drafted by Boston,” said Steen. “[I’m a] very good team player, who can play an offensive game and a defensive game. So I’m a two-way player who can play both winger and center.
“I think that’s my strength, I can play sort of much rules, yeah. So yeah and I have really good passing, and my shot is okay. I think my playmaking, yeah, my playmaking is my biggest positive.”
After going for grit, size and character with Frederic and Ryan Lindgren in the first couple of rounds, the Bruins came full circle while landing on the skilled, “underrated” ability to make plays with their final pick of the weekend. Bruins scout P.J. Axelsson has had some level of say in the Swedish players selected over the past couple of years, so perhaps it’s not that surprising that the speedy, versatile Steen sounds a little like a smaller, slightly more productive version of the beloved, retired Bruins forward.
“He’s got underrated skill. He can score goals and move the puck,” said Bruins Director of Scouting Keith Gretzky. “He’s not the biggest guy, but we’ve seen him and we were excited to be able to draft him.”
The diminutive Steen joins a number of young Swedish players in the Black and Gold system that the Bruins have selected the past couple of years and it remains to be seen where he’ll stack up against his fellow Swedes once B’s development camp opens in a couple of weeks.
CSNNE.com Insider Joe Haggerty is joined by NHL Draft expert Kirk Luedeke to discuss the 2016 NHL Draft class of the Boston Bruins. How soon will first pick Charlie McAvoy be ready? Was Trent Federic a reach with pick #29?