The Boston Celtics are in a very interesting position to make a splash, though what that splash might be is anyone's guess.
They seem to have taken themselves out of the James Harden sweepstakes — sweepstakes that may or may not actually exist from Houston's perspective — after a recent report surfaced claiming they have been dissuaded from their pursuit of the star guard.
They also, surprisingly, will not have to pay Gordon Hayward's massive player contract, as the veteran forward announced that he would not opt in to the $34 million one-year deal, hinting there may be interest out there from other teams regarding a long-term deal. Still, a multi-year deal with the Celtics is certainly a possibility, as is a sign-and-trade with another team who wants Hayward but isn't in a good financial position to get him as a free agent.
In any event, we're still waiting to see what Danny Ainge does after he left fans hanging in the draft despite rumors that a trade up was possible, if not likely. A big man, which seems to be the key role that still needs fulfilling for the Celtics to bolster their playoff hopes, was not one of the team's draft day acquisitions.
There's reason to believe, then, that a prominent big may be in Ainge's sights, despite reports that they're not "all that uncomfortable with what they have" in Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Grant Williams and potentially Enes Kanter.
"They are excited about those guys on the roster," an anonymous GM told Forbes' Sean Deveney. "They have decent options there. The narrative that is out there, that they need a change with their 5s, but I do not think that is accurate. I have not seen or heard anything to that extent.”
But with the following options all potentially on the table, evidence that the Celtics are willing to part with some key starters and the Eastern Conference largely up for grabs, it's still worth exploring the idea of adding an impact big man via trade or free agency. Let's look at some of the names who could be targets.
Tough to pull off: Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers and Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
A sign-and-trade with Hayward after his opt-in would have been the easiest way to facilitate deals with players like Drummond and Gobert, and though there are other ways to get it done, it seems unlikely given the assumption that the Celtics want to hold onto their core, and their fans would like that, too.
Still, the interest has to be there, at least a little bit. Drummond has one more year left on his deal after opting into his player option and really isn't doing much good on a hapless Cavaliers team. His automatic double-double presence would go a long way in bringing the Celtics to the top in the Eastern Conference, even if only for a one-year flier and with the inevitable sacrifice of some future assets.
Gobert's commanding defense and more-than-viable offense would also put the Celtics in immediate title contention.
However, seeing as the value would be so high, it's tough to see a deal with these stars coming to fruition.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are not worried about their short-term success. They're worried about their future. If you don't believe me, maybe their collection of 18 first-round draft picks over the next seven years will convince you of that fact.
They said goodbye to Chris Paul and Kelly Oubre, so why not continue that trend and ship out longtime center Steven Adams? Their lack of instant winning aspirations and their acquisition of Al Horford don't exactly suit the fact that they'll need Adams, who is entering his prime at 27 years old and is fresh off of three straight seasons of at least 10 points and nine rebounds per game. That would appear to be an instant boost to the Celtics' interior.
A sign-and-trade involving Hayward could help facilitate this deal, though there are many pieces that the Celtics could offer — and first round picks the Thunder could afford to lose — if they feel the payoff is big enough.
John Collins/Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks
In what was ultimately a surprising pick, the Atlanta Hawks selected USC power forward Onyeka Okongwu in the 2020 NBA Draft despite an already-impressive frontcourt duo of John Collins and Clint Capela. To Yahoo Sports NBA writer Keith Smith, this signaled one thing: someone was on the way out.
"I know there were several teams, including the Boston Celtics, who were interested in Okongwu, and maybe they're the ones making the move up here," Smith said. "This doesn't make a ton of sense. Capela, Dedmon, Collins up front, (and) you've got enough cap space to fill out that front court and add somebody else, so I am very curious to see what's going on here, unless this signals that maybe John Collins isn't long for the Hawks like we thought he was. Maybe Okongwu is his replacement."
Already, Dewayne Dedmon has moved — he was traded to the Pistons on Thursday — but does that mean Atlanta is settling on their current backcourt?
It certainly does not. Add in that the Hawks are a team who is interested in Gordon Hayward, and it makes sense for the two sides to work out some sort of deal. However, it's worth noting that the Hawks are one of the few teams with the cap space to sign Hayward without needing to figure out a sign-and-trade scenario to do so.
Lauri Markkanen/Wendell Carter, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls were one team with which the Celtics were engaged in trade talks leading into the draft.
It's very possible that Chicago's No. 4 overall pick was part of the package the Bulls were offering, but it's also possible that one of Chicago's two young bigs — Lauri Markkanen or Wendell Carter Jr. — could have been the centerpiece. Using ESPN's NBA Trade Machine, there are several deals that include Otto Porter — who could replace Hayward and whose contract is expiring after this season — and Markkanen/Carter, among other assets on both sides, that could successfully move Walker to Chicago.
Markkanen averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in around 30 minutes per game, while Carter averaged 11.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in 29 minutes throughout his sophomore campaign.
If there's any possibility that Coby White could be included to help replace Walker, that sweetens the deal even more and could help the Celtics get over their reported lack of interest in legitimately shopping Walker.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Gordon Hayward has been linked to Indiana for obvious reasons — he was born in Indianapolis and played college ball at Butler University — but may not be a realistic free agent target for them considering their current salary cap totals.
But a sign-and-trade with the Celtics, who possess Hayward's bird rights and can work with the Pacers to come up with an agreeable contract, would make this possible. In fact, they're looking at that very option, according to reports.
Big man Myles Turner, whose contract expires in 2023, would be a great fit in Boston. He can play inside and out — he attempted four three-pointers per game last season, converting at a 34.4 percent clip — and is still developing at only 24 years old. This deal had been discussed a while back, and remains just as intriguing today.
Christian Wood, Free Agent
Though unloading Gordon Hayward's contract gives them some flexibility, as they will be well under the luxury tax threshold. They're still over the salary cap, however, and will need to use exceptions to sign free agents unless significant further moves are made to free up space.
One of those exceptions is the non-taxpayer mid-level exceptions, valued at $9.26 million (via Spotrac). And luckily for Boston, that might just be enough to sign blossoming big man Christian Wood.
Wood, a versatile power forward with a solid three-point shot as part of his arsenal, averaged 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 21.4 minutes of action per game in 2019-20. Expanded into a 30-minute role, those averages sit at around 25 and 12 — optimistic projections, of course, but intriguing nonetheless.