After Gordon Hayward suffered a grotesque in-game injury in his Boston Celtics debut, the team’s prospects of winning a title might have also been hurt.
Along with Kyrie Irving, Hayward was a high-profile addition to Boston’s brand-new roster and he was expected to be a go-to scorer on the offensive end.
While his loss still stings to this day, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as he is expected to make a full recovery.
In an effort to help the franchise cope with losing Hayward, the NBA granted the Celtics an $8.4 million disabled player exception. Boston has until March 10 to sign, claim or trade for a player in the last year of his contract. In order to use the exception, the team must have an open roster spot, which they currently have with 14 out of 15 possible players under contract.
According to ESPN, it was the richest player exception ever granted and is just the 39th since 1995.
While the team can absolutely claim a player off waivers or make a trade before March 10, let’s take a look at a handful of potential free agent targets that Boston should take a look at (in no particular order).
Festus Ezeli (C)
The last time the 6’11” Nigerian center stepped foot on an NBA court was Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals as a member of the championship-winning Golden State Warriors. During his three seasons in Golden State, Ezeli averaged 4.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14.1 minutes as a rotational piece, but did a lot on the interior that didn’t show up on the box score. Given the fact that the Celtics don’t have a true rim protector on their roster, he could be a nice fit. While injury concerns certainly will follow him anywhere, there is little risk involved in bringing him aboard.
There’s a catch, though: Ezeli is currently recovering from his latest knee surgery which took place in March. He just began walking again and is still far away from returning, per David Boclair of the Nashville Post. Therefore, Boston would likely have to wait until the close to the March deadline in order to test his range of motion and progress before offering him a contract.
David Lee (PF)
Lee holds career averages of 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds over 12 NBA seasons. He was able to log 79 appearances for the San Antonio Spurs last season and won an NBA title back in 2015 with the Warriors.
Other than Al Horford, the Celtics do not have a proven frontcourt scorer. You can make the case that the team doesn't have a single consistent low-post offensive option, either. At this point in his career, Lee wouldn't be asked to play over 20 minutes per game most likely, but he proved that he still has gas in the tank over the last few seasons and could provide a spark for Boston off the bench on a second unit that sometimes lacks offensive firepower. Lee has recently been heavily involved in high-stakes real estate, so it’s completely possible that he’s moving on from basketball, but if he isn’t, Boston should give his representatives a call.
Leandro Barbosa (SG)
After being waived by the Phoenix Suns this summer, Barbosa currently doesn’t have a job. The 34-year-old sharpshooter previously played for Boston in a minor, rotational role in the 2012-2013 season, averaging 5.2 points in 12.5 minutes over 41 contests. He shot 38.3 percent from three and holds a career 38.7 mark from beyond the arc.
Posting 6.3 points in 14.4 minutes per game for the Suns last year, Barbosa provided valuable minutes and could step into a role on the second unit as a dangerous threat on the perimeter. Also, hustle doesn’t appear on the box score, but the Brazilian is known for giving maximum effort on every play, which fits into Brad Stevens’ coaching mentality. However, it seems like he’s enjoying his time off:
Gerald Green (SG)
Green played for the Celtics last season, so he might make the most sense to bring back, as he is familiar with the playbook, coaching staff and some of his returning teammates. While he played just 11.4 minutes and put up 5.6 points per contest over 47 games in the regular season, Green surprisingly made seven playoff starts, averaging 7.5 points in 14.8 minutes over 13 appearances. In those games, he scored in double-figures four different times, showing off his ability to score in bunches with an unbridled knack of hoisting up shots.
Presumably in the same role as last season, Green’s addition would provide the second unit with some much-needed veteran leadership and would vastly increase the scoring potential when the starters are off the court.
Brandon Bass (PF)
Bass played under Brad Stevens for the first two years of the coach’s career in Boston. While the Celtics chose to sign Amir Johnson and let Bass walk via free agency in the summer of 2015, Bass has struggled to earn minutes and hasn’t produced during stints for the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in back-to-back seasons since.
However, Bass spent the summer trying to re-invent himself and is dying for an opportunity.
“I feel better than I did in past years,” Bass told Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe this summer. “Since I didn’t play much last year, I feel even fresher. Once the season was over with, I never stopped training. I’ve shot over 6,000 threes. I’ve taken all those threes just to add on to my game. All I need is an opportunity to what I do.”
Bass, who averaged 10.6 over four years with the Celtics, added, “The perception is I’m not better than I was in Boston with the Big Three, and I’m a better player than that today. I added more range. I’m a better defender.”
Back in 2015, Danny Ainge made it clear that he viewed Bass as a member of the team heading into the future.
"What I like about Brandon, he just ... he's never satisfied with his role," Ainge told CSNNE.com. "He goes about his job the same, every day. He's a rare guy in that he's getting better. I think he's better right now than he's ever been in his career. And I think his upside is still ahead of him.”
As someone who “bled green” like all true Celtics diehards, bringing back Bass would certainly make sense.
It remains to be seen if any of these choices will be looked at by the team. But, based on each of their individual skill sets, the case can be made for any of them.