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4 best players the Celtics must sign in 2021 NBA free agency

Celtics Free Agency NBA Free Agency

The Boston Celtics have already had a busy offseason. Danny Ainge stepped down from his longtime role as President of Basketball Operations. Brad Stevens, who coached the team from 2013-2021, took over the position that Ainge had previously assumed.

Stevens’ first move brought Al Horford back to Boston—acquiring the five-time All-Star big man from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a blockbuster trade. The Celtics also acquired center Moses Walker and a 2023 second-round pick from the Thunder in exchange for Kemba Walker, the 16th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and a 2025 second-round selection.

From there, Stevens hired Ime Udoka—a former assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets—as the 18th head coach in Celtics franchise history.

Devoid a first-round pick, the 2021 NBA Draft was a quiet one for the Celtics. They drafted shooting guard Juhann Begarin out of France with the 45th overall selection.

With free agency looming, the Celtics need to address some roster holes. Let’s look at some of the best realistic free agency options for Boston.

Celtics Free Agency

1. Evan Fournier

The Celtics’ first priority in free agency is to re-sign guard/forward Evan Fournier. They acquired Fournier from the Orlando Magic at last season’s trade deadline—using $17 million of the $28.5 million trade exception from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade to the Charlotte Hornets. The Celtics fully intend to ink Fournier to a new contract, which became an easier process financially after making the Horford-for-Walker swap with the Thunder. That move saved the Celtics $8 million in salary.

Boston acquired Fournier’s Bird rights when they traded for the swingman, meaning the Celtics can go over the salary cap to re-sign him this offseason. His chances of remaining with the club, therefore, remain high.

Fournier played 16 games in the regular season with the Celtics, averaging 13 points on 46.3 percent three-point shooting. He missed nine games after testing positive for Covid-19. Fournier logged 15.4 points per contest on 43.3 percent three-point shooting in the Celtics’ opening-round series defeat to the Nets.

Assuming Fournier returns, he would serve in a sixth-man role for the Celtics in his age-29 season. He is a solid offensive player, capable of creating his own offense and knocking down shots from the outside consistently. Fournier’s offensive prowess was on display in France’s stunning victory over the United States in the Tokyo Olympics.

Fournier, an unrestricted free agent, will have other suitors on the open market. The New York Knicks will reportedly look to poach the 6-foot-7 wing from the rival Celtics.

2. Patty Mills

After dealing away Kemba Walker, the Celtics need to look at adding point guards in free agency. The Celtics are reportedly interested in restricted free agent Lonzo Ball. Given that Ball will command hefty money, the Celtics’ only realistic path to land Ball is via a sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.

As it stands, Marcus Smart is the team’s presumptive starting point guard. Smart has been utilized more at the 2 for much of his career, however.

Payton Prichard is the only other point guard on the roster who saw consistent playing time with Boston last season. With the Celtics needing another ball handler, could they look at signing Patty Mills?

Mills has been a member of the San Antonio Spurs since 2012. He has a relationship with Celtics coach Ime Udoka, as the two spent seven seasons together when the latter served as an assistant for the Spurs.  Mills is apparently on the Celtics’ radar this summer.

A 12-year veteran, Mills has built his reputation as a sparkplug off the bench. His per-game averages in 2020-21—10.8 points, 2.4 assists and 37.5 percent shooting on 3’s across 68 contests—do not jump off the page by any means. But he brings energy and a championship pedigree, winning an NBA title with the Spurs in 2014.

After earning $13.5 million last season in the final year of a four-year, $50 million pact with the Spurs, Mills is likely looking at a significant pay cut. The Spurs are rebuilding and Mills could look for a new fresh start elsewhere.

The Celtics need more production off the bench and Mills could provide that. He does not need the ball in his hands to succeed, which is crucial when sharing minutes with Jaylen Brown and Jayson—both of whom carry a huge offensive usage.

Mills could be brought to Boston via the midlevel exception, which would pay him $6 million annually. This is, of course, all dependent on Mills’ willingness to leave the Spurs, the club he has played for in each of the past 10 seasons.

3. Otto Porter Jr.

Once considered a franchise cornerstone for the Washington Wizards, forward Otto Porter Jr. is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. As a restricted free agent in 2017, Porter Jr. was offered a four-year, $106.5 million contract with the Nets. The Wizards opted to match the offer sheet to retain Porter Jr.

Washington ultimately suffered a massive overpay with this contract. Porter Jr. was traded to the Chicago Bulls midway through the second year of his deal. Last season, the Bulls traded him to the Orlando Magic in a deal that landed them All-Star center Nikola Vučević.

Porter Jr. has battled knee injuries the past two seasons, appearing in a mere 42 games (13 starts). His struggle staying healthy is a major concern. On the flip side, the 6-foot-8 forward is only 28 and can defend multiple positions.

A knockdown shooter from downtown, Porter Jr. has made 40.2 percent of his career 3-pointers. His versatility as a defender could lure Stevens to add the former third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.

4. Elfrid Payton

Elfrid Payton Payton started in all 63 of his appearances last season with the Knicks. He is, admittedly, coming off the worst season as a pro—averaging 10.1 points with a career-low 3.2 assists per contest.  Before last year, the 2014 first-round pick had averaged 6+ assists in each season of his career. With his stock down, the Celtics could potentially add the 27-year-old at a discount price in free agency.

As a veteran, pass-first guard, Payton could be a worthwhile addition for the Celtics. He would be used as reserve for the Celtics, who need plenty of reinforcements for their bench.