Draft in rearview, Celtics now focus on free agents

Draft in rearview, Celtics now focus on free agents
June 29, 2012, 6:16 pm

BOSTON In some form or another, the Boston Celtics had to address their dearth of frontcourt size.

They took their first steps in that direction on Thursday night by selecting Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger and Syracuse University center Fab Melo with the No. 21 and No. 22 pick, respectively, of the NBA draft.

Neither is expected to come in and make an immediate impact, which once again puts a premium on the C's ability to work wonders via free agency.

But unlike past seasons, the Celtics will have the kind of salary cap flexibility that gives them a chance at being a major player on the free agent market which begins Sunday. The official salary cap for the 2012-2013 season has yet to be determined, but the C's are expected to be close to 20 million below it.

And as was the case with the draft, Boston has an ever-evolving list of targets.

At the top?

Kevin Garnett.

"That's our number one option," said Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. "One reason is because Kevin is such a valuable player. The other is he's the only guy we can talk to until Sunday."

Garnett is eligible for a contract extension which is why the C's are allowed to have discussions with him and his representatives prior to Sunday which is the first day of free agency.

While a return of Garnett is lauded by Celtics coming (Jared Sullinger) and potentially on their way out (Mickael Pietrus), Boston will need to add more veteran talent if Garnett returning for an 18th season will bring about Banner 18.

Following Boston selecting three players in Thursday night's draft - Sullinger and Melo along with Kris Joseph in the second round - Ainge isn't banking on any of the three to make an immediate impact.

"A team that's trying to win, it's tough to count on three rookies coming in," Ainge said. "Maybe one will be ready to go, maybe two will be able to play a certain role. We'll try to fill in with veterans from here on out."

Boston only has four players - Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce and JaJuan Johnson - under contract for next season.

Most likely E'Twaun Moore and Sean Williams will be back on minimum-salary contracts. When you factor in the two first-round picks, that brings the C's roster count to eight heading into free agency.

There will be an ever-expanding pool of talent the Celtics will look at. Here are some of the top unrestricted free agents that are likely to hear from the C's at some point on Sunday.

PLAYER POSITION TEAM (LAST YEAR)
Kevin Garnett FC Boston
The skinny: Because he is more than just the anchor of the C's defense, but the heart of the program. His arrival in 2007 brought about it a winning culture that's alive and well today.

Jeff Green F Boston
The skinny: Signing him part of the Celtics' long-term plans of remaining among the top teams in the East.

Brandon Bass F Boston
The skinny: His growth last season was instrumental to the team's success, with his decision to be a free agent aimed at signing a long-term deal with Boston.

O.J. Mayo G Memphis
The skinny: The C's will be one of many teams lining up for a shot at Mayo after the Grizzlies didn't make him a qualifying offer and thus, made him an unrestricted free agent.

Ray Allen G Boston
The skinny: He's arguably the best clutch shooter the past few years for Boston, which is important for a team that ultimately judges itself by performing well in big games.

Jamal Crawford G Portland
The skinny: A veteran who has played on so-so squads, being on a team locked into winning it all would be a refreshing change for the 32-year old.

Reggie Evans F Los Angeles Clippers
The skinny: Maybe the best "agitator" in the NBA, his rebounding and toughness would be embraced by Doc Rivers and Celtics Nation.

Greg Stiemsma C Boston
The skinny: Thin free agent market at center, his asking price might become too pricey for the Celtics who will not overpay for a No. 2 or No. 3 center.

-signed with Boston, but contract voided when physical determined he needed season-ending heart surgery.