Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agents to watch in ’15
|05.14.14 at 11:02 am ET|
In my last column, I wrote about some free agents who potentially could catch Danny Ainge‘s eye this summer. However, if you expect a 2007-ish rebuild to happen overnight again, I’m afraid your expectations are too high. The Celtics are going to take a couple of years to build back up, making 2015 an equally important offseason.
A lot can happen between now and next summer, but a strong free agent class is anticipated. Much like the last column, not all of the names may look like fits now, but under the right circumstances could be in the future. Following is a handful of names that should be on Ainge’s radar for 2015.
Brook Lopez – First and foremost, Lopez needs to prove he can stay healthy. He’s had serious foot issues so far in the NBA, but he also is one of the best scoring centers in the league when healthy. Lopez is a legit 7-footer, something Ainge is looking for in his next big man.
Lopez signed a four-year extension in 2012, but 2015-16 is a player option, so he could choose to opt out if the Nets begin to fade from contention. The Nets have the potential to implode over the next couple of seasons due to age and bad contracts. Even as players begin to come off the books, Brooklyn still should be over the cap for years to come, making the team’s future a delicate situation.
This signing would be a risk, but if the price is right, Lopez could be the perfect fit next to Jared Sullinger … on offense, that is. Defensively Ainge still would need to find a solution. That said, a frontcourt that features and healthy Lopez and Sullinger is scary for any team to face.
Robin Lopez – For twin brothers, Robin and Brook sure have different games. Robin is much more of a low-post defender and shot-blocker than his brother, but he is nowhere near as developed on offense.
With the scoring ability of Sullinger, Robin would be just as good a fit as his brother in Boston. Robin would not be leaned upon to score, allowing him to do what he does best — defend and rebound. He has had a ton of success in Portland this season playing alongside scorers, including in the playoffs. The more I think about it, despite Brook’s All-Star appearance; Robin is the Lopez brother to watch in 2015.
Anderson Varejao – Varejao is very comparable to Robin Lopez, including the Side-Show Bob hairstyle. He is a fantastic rebounder and the ideal hustle player on defense. He is a legitimate center at 6-foot-10 but struggles on the offensive end. Varejao would seem poised to win a lot of Tommy Awards if given the chance to play in Boston.
What Varejao does have in common with Brook Lopez, however, is injury history. The 2013-14 season was his most healthy one in five years ‘ and he only played 65 games. Both Lopez and Varejao have a lot to prove in 2014-15 before their deals expire.
As you will see, the free agent class of 2015 will have a ton of size. With so many other bigs on the market, maybe a guy like Varejao slips through the cracks and Ainge can get a good deal on him. Of course, Varejao will be 32 next summer, so this would be more of a win-now move. But like I said, who knows what Boston’s roster looks like in 2015.
Kenneth Faried – Picture a younger, healthier Varejao who is much better on the offensive end — now you have Faried. But all of these free agents come with complications, and Faried is no exception.
Firstly, Faried will be a restricted free agent, so if the Nuggets feel he is worth keeping at all costs, then he won’t be going anywhere. Another issue is that he is two inches shorter than Varijao, and also an inch shorter than Sullinger — meaning he is really just another power forward. However, playing Faried and Sully up front together is sure to be a great combo on the glass, despite the height they would be giving up.
Which begs the question, is Faried worth pursuing? I say yes. What he lacks in size compared to the names above he makes up for in effort. The rewards outweigh the risks in this scenario.
Roy Hibbert – Unless you live under a rock, you know that Big Roy has been taking a ton of criticism during the postseason, and rightfully so. The 7-foot-2 All-Star has gone scoreless in three of his team’s playoff games (and failed to grab a single rebound in two of them). Yet it appears Hibbert has turned it around in his more recent games (three of which were wins over the Wizards).
Fortunately for Hibbert, he has all next season to prove his true value. He also carries a player option and doesn’t have to even become a free agent unless he chooses to. So hitting the market is no sure thing. No way Ainge should go after him if he is a max-contract player, especially after displaying a quality of disappearing in big games. But if Hibbert can be had at the right price, he certainly qualifies as the rim-protector Ainge is seeking.
The question will be, is Hibbert worth the price tag he likely will carry? Probably not, but let’s not close this window just yet.
Marc Gasol – The former Defensive Player of the Year is another legitimate 7-footer who will be unrestricted in 2015. I told you, this free agent class has some serious size. Gasol has a chance to be a max-contract player, which means Ainge has to really love him — as well as have the cap space for him.
Gasol averaged 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds this season even while battling injury. But don’t overlook what else he does on the court ‘ Gasol is a premier defender in the paint, as well as an outstanding passer for his size. Gasol would no doubt be welcomed in Boston, but he is going to get heavy interest across the league. There may only be one tougher free agent to lure than Gasol.
LaMarcus Aldridge – Let me start by saying this: It would be absolutely idiotic for the Blazers to let Aldridge walk at any price in 2015. Keeping him paired with Damian Lillard seems like it will keep Portland in contention for years to come. Aldridge himself has had an MVP-like postseason. While Lillard is rapidly becoming my favorite player to watch in the league, the Blazers are really on to something. So, Aldridge is definitely the biggest stretch on this list to imagine wearing green.
Knowing that, he still will be an unrestricted free agent, and has to be worth a max-contract offer from Ainge. Aldridge is playing power forward alongside Robin Lopez right now, but there’s no reason he could not play center next to Sullinger. He has the height (6-foot-11) and is a great rebounder. Not to mention experience at the center position in the past. It’s probably just a pipe dream to envision Aldridge in Boston, but that doesn’t mean Ainge shouldn’t make an offer.
Now, why might all of these big men find it so intriguing to come play in Boston? Well, there’s one more free agent in 2015 who must be taken care of first.
Rajon Rondo – Re-signing Rondo needs to be the top priority for Ainge in 2015 if he wants to even consider adding one of the plethora of bigs who will become available. Many of these names above probably see Rondo as a very attractive point guard to play with. Of course, Rondo could be traded this summer and Ainge could decide to build around draft picks in the years to come. But I wouldn’t go that route, and I don’t think Ainge will, either.
Ainge wants to turn this team around as quickly as possible. The way to do that is to make trades and re-sign Rondo. But on top of that, 2015 could be a big summer (in more than one way) for the Celtics if they can bring in the right free agent.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.