If Kyrie Irving leaves, the Boston Celtics will have the ability to target some intriguing free agents to keep the team towards the top of the Eastern Conference.

If you love potential free agent additions and aren’t particularly a fan of Kyrie Irving, then this post should be right up your alley.

The reality is if Irving does return to the Celtics on a presumed max-contract, Boston would go into the luxury tax. Now, this doesn’t mean if he leaves the Celtics will have cap space. The Celtics’ path to creating space would involve letting Al Horford walk and trading Gordon Hayward’s $32.7 million salary to a team under the cap for a likely underwhelming return. If you think that would be a good idea, I don’t know what to tell you. Just exit out of this browser and go back to 2K franchise mode.

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This is why losing Irving would hurt the Celtics. Not just because they’d be losing one of the three best point guards in the league, but the reality is they wouldn’t really have the means to replace him afterward. But hey, that’s not why we’re here.

If Irving decided to bolt after promising to re-sign at the beginning of the season, the Celtics would have the non-tax payer Mid-level Exception (MLE) worth $9.2 million and the Bi-annual Exception worth $3.6 million. Other than that, Boston could bring free agents in using the veteran minimum, worth a maximum of $2.5 million but varies based on the number of years experience a player has.

Here are the assumptions in this scenario as the Celtics navigate life without their superstar point guard:

  • Al Horford either opts in to return or opts out and re-signs for more years but less salary. Horford wants to come back, and he’s made that clear.
  • Aron Baynes opts into the final year of his contract to return
  • Marcus Morris signs elsewhere. The Celtics aren’t going to pay his market price if they aren’t in contention and they have plenty of young wings to give his minutes to.
  • Terry Rozier comes back either on a new extension or his qualifying offer. Brad Wanamaker leaves for more playing time.

Let’s begin, shall we?

1. Isaiah Thomas, PG

You can’t make this stuff up. Thomas becomes a star with the Celtics from 2015-17, the Celtics trade him and his severely injured hip to the Cavaliers for Kyrie, who then blame him for all their problems before sending him to the Lakers. Then after a season in Denver where he spent most of his time recovering, he comes back to the Celtics after Irving leaves? Sheesh.

We’ve already determined it’d be a win-win situation for the Celtics to bring back Thomas, and given his lack of production last season, Boston could probably bring him back on a veteran minimum worth just over $2.3 million.

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Not only would Thomas provide a scoring punch off the bench in a system he’s comfortable with, but he could soften the blow for a fanbase that lost its best player. Ask anyone who rooted for the Celtics during the IT era, and they’ll tell you he was sent away too soon. Let him resurrect his career in a place that will actually give him the opportunity to do so.

2. Trevor Ariza, SG/SF/PF

Ariza would likely be a candidate for the $9.2 million MLE and is definitely a player the Celtics should consider if they have the means to sign him. Ariza was a key player on the Rockets team that pushed Golden State to the brink last year, but chased the money last summer by signing a one-year, $15 million deal with the Suns.

He was then traded to the Wizards mid-season to help save their season, but Washington was well past the point of salvaging a trip to the playoffs.

Ariza is the kind of veteran contributor the Celtics would need if Irving were to leave. He’s a good shooter, versatile defender, and could play in a starting role or come off the bench behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Build around youth, but supplement it with veteran talent. That’s the best way to develop your young stars.

3. Rajon Rondo, PG

Another potential homecoming here. Rondo didn’t belong on the Lakers, and perhaps even more so, didn’t belong playing next to LeBron James. Rondo made $9 million with LA last year, so he could be a candidate for the MLE or take a pay cut and sign the Bi-annual exception.

Adding Rondo would help the culture and provide some playmaking prowess to counteract the black hole Rozier can become as the primary initiator. And don’t forget, Rondo is a playoff performer. He’s incredibly smart and is someone you can count on in big games.

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Imagine if instead of playing Rozier a ton of minutes in Game 7 against the Cavs last year when he was obviously struggling with the big moment, you had a proven champion in Rondo to run your offense. I’d bet the Celtics would try to get a player like Ariza with the MLE over Rondo, but we’ll see what their needs are after the draft. Veteran ball-handlers are always a good thing to have.

4. Gerald Green, SG/SF

There seems to be a theme here, but some of the best free agent targets are players they’ve had before. Green certainly reminded everyone why he’d fit in any offense after nearly two seasons in Houston. Green would give the Celtics perimeter shooting, positional versatility and another veteran presence off the bench.

I’d imagine the Celtics could secure Green’s services with the Bi-annual exception, but teams tend to overpay for shooting, so we’ll see how Green’s market pans out as the summer unfolds.

5. Patrick Beverley, PG

Beverley would be my last choice out of the three point guards listed here, but the defensive potential of pairing him with Marcus Smart in the backcourt at points would put a smile on any diehard Celtics fan’s face.

It’s tough to determine exactly what Beverley’s market will be. He made over $5 million last season on the over-achieving Clippers and played well in the postseason, but at 30 years old he might be in a place in his career where he takes one-year deals to play on playoff teams.

Especially if Irving leaves to an Eastern Conference foe, securing a player like Beverley to deploy on him at all times would be valuable in itself. If he can provide some perimeter shooting and mentorship to Rozier or another young draft pick, all the better.

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