Celtics 2020 free agency outlook: Exploring big man upgrade options

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

We don’t know when the 2020 NBA free agency period will begin just yet but it will a busy time around the NBA with nearly 33 percent of the league expected to hit the open market.

In the coming weeks, we will be taking a deep dive into options for the Celtics at each position of need with more in-depth looks at scenarios once salary cap figures are officially released for next season. To begin now, we will take a look at free agent center options around the league for the Celtics this offseason.

Current center depth chart for 2020-21 Celtics

Starter: Daniel Theis

Backups: Robert Williams, Enes Kanter (player option), Grant Williams (PF/C) Vincent Poirier, Tacko Fall (two-way free agent)


Free agents with player options

Andre Drummond ($25.4 million)
Kelly Olynyk ($12.5 million)
Enes Kanter ($4.8 million)
Robin Lopez ($4.8 million)
JaVale McGee ($4.8 million)
Willie Cauley-Stein ($2.2 million)

Overview: It’s hard to envision any of these guys opting out of their deal beyond perhaps Cauley-Stein. Anyone who wants Drummond for $25.4 million on an expiring deal hasn’t watched the Pistons much in the past few years. Olynyk has had some nice contributions in the Finals but he’s still overpaid in this salary market at that number. Postseason opportunities were limited for Kanter, Lopez and McGee in the past month but that’s for good reason. They won’t be able to fetch close to $5 million on the open market so it’s hard to see them turning down that kind of cash without getting a big guarantee of more playing time elsewhere. None of those guys are playing at a level where they could expect that. The Mavs just traded for Cauley-Stein at the deadline as well so he stay put with the idea that there will be opportunity for him in Dallas. Robin Lopez will be available via trade after being a wasted signing for a Bucks on a team already well stocked with backup bigs.

Should Celtics target any in trade/free agency? Nope. No one on this list is worth giving up assets for, assuming they all opt in.

Notable potential restricted free agents

Jakob Poeltl
Then Maker
Damian Jones

Overview: Poeltl is the only player on this list that is guaranteed to get a qualifying offer from his team (Spurs). San Antonio has a lot of salary commitments for next season but the Celtics won’t have the ammo to sign Poeltl away with only the mid-level exception to use. He’s also a little bit redundant as a non-shooter next to Theis or Robert Williams. He’s a better defender than Kanter but would be a liability in the postseason defensively when teams downsize. Maker and Jones are flawed players that will likely be looking at veteran’s minimum deals next season.

Should the Celtics target any in free agency? 


Probably out of Boston’s price range

Serge Ibaka: Probably the best shooting true center available. The Celtics saw firsthand in the postseason the kind of damage he can do from distance (38.5 percent in the regular season.) However, there are defensive limitations to be concerned with here as he enters his 30s, especially as a big, defending the pick-and-roll. He’ll get nowhere close to his $21.6 million salary but it’s hard to envision him settling for less than the full mid-level exception on the open market. Raptors will probably try to retain him after losing Marc Gasol to Spain.

Tristan Thompson: Probably the best true big man defender available. He’s a walking double-double and is still in his prime at age 28 while languishing in obscurity for a bad Cavs team over the past couple of seasons. The Cavs say they want to bring him back (they have Bird Rights) but he’s going to command at least mid-level money if he leaves town. Maybe the appeal of a starting job on a contender would give the C’s a chance at him but the guess here is the C’s would get outbid by a team throwing more money or opportunity at him if he leaves Cleveland. The Cavs do have a logjam in the frontcourt though, so they probably will eventually try to move him if he's re-signed.

Aron Baynes: The one who got away? The Celtics gave away the big man at the draft last summer in order to ensure they had enough cap room to sign Kemba Walker. Baynes responded with a career-year in Phoenix averaging 11.5 ppg and 35 percent from 3 on four attempts per game. His defensive IQ and developing perimeter shot should make him a hot commodity on the free agent market for playoff teams. He’s earned a raise from his $5 million salary and while he’d be a preferable option for the C’s if they can dump Kanter's money, he likely commands more than the $6 million per year they have to offer.

Derrick Favors: A terrific defensive anchor and rim protector. If the C’s want a stronger option at center to battle elite bigs in the East, they probably can’t do better than Favors from a defensive standpoint. The problem is the Pelicans have Bird Rights on him and are likely to want to bring him back to shore up their otherwise weak defense. It is possible Favors will want to move onto more of a win-now team at this stage of his career (C's could be best option there) but otherwise the C’s will likely be priced out here. The team could hope one of these guys suffers from the poor market conditions/lack of cap room and ends up being available at an appealing price tag.

Remaining unrestricted free agents in C's price range

Hassan Whiteside: He put up big numbers in Portland filling in for Jusuf Nurkic but the