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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agent possibilities for Celtics this offseason

05.01.14 at 12:33 pm ET
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After a flurry of draft-related news, we finally have reached a standstill. The date for underclassmen to declare has passed, and as expected all the big names are in. So what do we have to look forward to?

The draft combine will take place in Chicago from May 14-18, and it’s something Celtics fans will want to keep an eye on. Many of the top prospects will attend, a great way to gauge how each player looks on the exact same measuring stick. Much of the Celtics‘€™ destiny relies on May 20, when the lottery reveals what pick Boston will hold. Of course, June 26 is the actual draft date, when everything will come to a head.

But the draft is not the only way to acquire talent this summer. Whether Danny Ainge decides to use or trade his draft picks, there is a solid free agent pool that Ainge will not be able to ignore. Trading for Kevin Love is the sexy solution to Boston’€™s problems at the moment, and it’€™s not all that unrealistic. Other stars are bound to be available come draft day as well.

Draft picks and trades rely on different variables, however. You can’€™t make a GM trade you a player, nor can you make a player fall to you in the draft. Free agents, on the other hand, come with far less complications. Of course they can choose their destination (or be matched by their current team if they are restricted), but there is nothing standing in Ainge’€™s way of pursuing free agents this summer.

With that said, following is a look at some free agents who have a realistic chance of at least being on Boston’€™s radar.

Lance Stephenson – Stephenson has had a breakout season for the recently struggling Pacers. At one point, this looked like a team destined to stay together. But Indy is self-destructing in the first-round against eighth-seeded Atlanta. Something will need to change next season.

With Avery Bradley a restricted free agent, Ainge will be able to match offers to bring him back to Boston if he so chooses. But keep in mind, despite the undeniable talent, AB has had a very tough time staying on the court the past few seasons. The time to examine the future at shooting guard is this summer. Stephenson would be a downgrade defensively if he replaced Bradley (anyone would be), but the upgrades would prove to be far more valuable.

Stephenson is a bigger off guard with a much more polished offensive game. He has the ability to get to the basket, and unlike Bradley, can handle point guard duties if need be. Stephenson occasionally will try to do too much, but overall his instincts on the floor are fantastic. He would be a nightmare on the breakaway with Rajon Rondo, and he also has the ability to go coast to coast himself.

Marcin Gortat – Boston’€™s current roster is loaded with power forwards, and Ainge has made it clear that he is looking for a true center. Gortat is exactly that. He is having a very impactful postseason with the Wizards so far and is in line for a payday this summer.

Gortat’€™s transition to Boston would be seamless. He can score in the post, is a great pick-and-roll player and crashes the glass on both ends. Gortat would be a perfect frontcourt mate to play with Jared Sullinger, and Rondo would be able to get the most out of his abilities.

Gordon Hayward – A Butler reunion in Boston between Hayward and coach Brad Stevens is unlikely but not unrealistic to consider. Center will be the position of focus this offseason, but like I said, the future of the shooting guard position is almost certainly going to be determined. Hayward is a restricted free agent, so the Jazz will have the chance to match any offer if they feel he is worth bringing back.

Hayward is going to be much more expensive than Bradley, and if I had a choice between Hayward and Stephenson (who should be similarly priced), Stephenson is the guy. No doubt, Hayward would be an upgrade over Bradley if he were to sign. We do know that Stevens has been able to get the most out of Hayward in the past; no reason that wouldn’€™t continue in Boston.

Greg Monroe – Monroe is a restricted free agent as well, but whether the Pistons can keep him is a legitimate concern. They gave Josh Smith $54 million last summer, and they do not plan on letting Andre Drummond escape town. In other words, they would rather pay Drummond when the time comes than Monroe. Both are very talented young bigs, but Drummond is considered the more rare prospect, especially due to his size.

Monroe is going to cost a pretty penny, so Ainge would have to use much of the cap space he has been working so hard to clear. The question becomes, is Monroe worth it? He has the potential for the answer to be yes. With Kris Humphries‘€™ $12 million coming off the books, would Celtics fans be happy giving that money to Monroe? Maybe.

Monroe definitely is the real deal. It comes down to if Ainge wants to begin to use cap space this summer, or hold it until 2015. None of these free agents will be cheap, but expect Monroe to cost the most of the bunch.

Pau Gasol Another unlikely option, but hear me out. This move would be along the same lines as signing Gortat, a win-now center. Gasol is a better player, but he is three years older and would cost more money.

A move like this only happens if Ainge is able to pull off a trade for a superstar. If Rondo is paired with a player like Love (easy to keep using his name), then a signing like this makes perfect sense. Again, the stars have to align like they did in 2007 to even consider a signing like this, but Ainge has shown us that it is not impossible.

And just for fun …

Paul Pierce Seriously, though, Pierce already revealed he will be returning to Boston. We just don’€™t know if it will be as a player.

Much like Gasol, if Boston has a strong offseason, the Celtics obviously become a very attractive team to Pierce. Many believe his heart is in Boston, so if Ainge gives him reason to feel he can win here, why not?

In reality, the Celtics most likely will not be a destination that can offer any player championship aspirations next season. But this doesn’€™t rule out Pierce. He needs to weigh his options. Does winning matter more? Or does he just want to return to Boston? If it’€™s the latter, Ainge would be crazy not to bring back the face of the franchise to fans under the age of 30. A hometown discount likely would be in order, though.

It’€™s not just about the draft this summer for the Celtics. Free agency is going to play a huge role in the rebuild. Maybe even more so in 2015, which will be the focus of next week’€™s column.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.

Read More: Danny Ainge, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, Kevin Love
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