Three bargain free agent big men the Celtics should target

Paul Millsap flexes
How can the Celtics bolster their frontcourt? Photo from The Denver Post.

The Boston Celtics‘ impressive postseason in the ‘Bubble’ warranted praise, nevertheless it brought to light some glaring issues in the squad that need to be addressed going into the 2020 off season. The need for offensive depth on the bench past Brad Wanamaker is an obvious predicament, but that is another issue for another time.

Despite the relative success in recent seasons, the Cs hold a draft first round lottery pick for the fifth time in seven seasons – but it is in the free agency market Danny Ainge should be keeping an eye on, particularly for cover in the front court. Daniel Theis, a capable centre, often struggles against the league’s superior fives, most evident in the playoffs when facing Bam Adebayo. Robert Williams is a talent to nurture for the future, but that unfortunately for Boston leaves the problem unsolved in the short term ahead of the new season.

Playing as a centre in Boston requires using screens and rolling behind the arc in the five out offence. The role of being a ‘roll’ man since the departure of Al Horford has quickly waned due to the starting five’s average height decreasing, along with the Dominican’s three point ability being sorely missed in offence also. A key consideration for the Celtics would be finding a player with the calibre of distance shooting similar to that of Horford.

There is no need to address Anthony Davis – who doesn’t want him? But why would he want to leave? The former Pelican picked up his first chip with LeBron James and is favourite to do so again, reportedly looking at the long-term and negotiating a new contract in Hollywood. Armed with a mid-level exception but a limited salary budget, we look at some attainable acquisitions for Ainge and co. at TD Garden.

The wildcard – Hassan Whiteside (Portland Trail Blazers)

The seven-footer’s trade to the Portland Trail Blazers came after Bam Adebayo’s justified rise up the pecking order in South Beach, but now Whiteside is an unrestricted free agent. The C’s front office could acquire the centre on a mid-level exception, all dependent on what is currently a rather congested cap space.

Whiteside is famed for his interior defence, outstanding shot blocking and protection of the rim, something not seen in Boston for some time. The big averaged 7.7 rebounds more per game than Daniel Theis last season. There rises the issue however, in regards to Whiteside’s limitations in the NBA today, as other options may possess more desirable and serviceable attributes like play making.

The contract to be awarded to Whiteside will likely be considerably less than that of the $27 million he acquired when on the west coast last term. A move that will carry some risk and will warrant some consideration in Boston, nevertheless, and the seven-footer should not be dismissed as easily as he is in some quarters. 

The contender – Paul Millsap (Denver Nuggets)

The oldest of the selected committee at 35, Millsap could be shown the door after Denver’s consideration of their cap space – with the likes of Jerami Grant wanting to see the money.


Nonetheless, age is but a number for Millsap, who averaged 11.6 this season as a big – something none of the Celtics front court pack could muster. An eye-catching 43.5 percent from downtown is also a notable facet of which Boston could be the beneficiaries this offseason. The former All-Star’s acumen and experience in the league could aid in the development of young stars with the likes of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and big man Robert Williams on the roster, all of whom are 24 or under.

The signing of Millsap, rumoured to be for as small a figure as $5 million, would not be a long term solution granted, but would fit into the idea of being a role player and a vocal figurehead in a bid to make it to his first ever Finals amongst a young contending squad in Beantown.

The candidate – Serge Ibaka (Toronto Raptors)

Boston’s priority from November 20th onward should be securing the signature of Serge Ibaka.

The pull factor for Ibaka over the border would be to go to a team with possibly a brighter chance of a ring in the coming years, as the 31-year-old looks to draw a close on his career in a franchise possessing a current roster that can compete in years to come. The inevitable departure of Fred VanVleet, who recently unapologetically stated his intent of ‘getting paid’ when free agency comes into effect on November 20th, along with the ageing of Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry spells the warning signs for Ibaka at the Raptors.

Along with the Congolese-born star’s ability regarding important rejections, he is coming off the back of his best scoring season in his career and is a major consideration given the yearning for such buckets in the front court. Ibaka recorded 15.4 ppg in 2019/20, as well as 39% from beyond the arc. The versatility of being deployed in both positional pivots after migrating to the five a few years back gives Stevens another option at forward also.

John Hollinger of The Athletic predicts Ibaka to constitute a similar cheap salary to that of Millsap of around $5 million. An enticing factor, combined the Raptor’s talent that warrants the long list of suitors waiting in the wings, including both of last years finalists, and is testament to his value.

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