As I addressed the other day, the Boston Celtics are likely to part ways with their former All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. After his chronic knee injury cost them multiple wins this season to move up in the Eastern Conference standings, on top of him showing he just does not fit behind two scoring wings, it was to be expected Walker would be on the move this off-season. With that said, Walker is likely to net in return Al Horford from the Thunder which begs the question, who will replace Kemba?
In this article, I am going to throw out a multitude of names that could be suitors to take up the reigns of starting point guard on the Celtics, but I am also going to rule out a few popular suggestions. Let’s get started with who the Cs should target.
Mike Conley is the absolute best-case scenario for the Celtics if Kemba Walker is dealt and they do not net a point guard in return. After having one of the worst seasons of his career, Conley bounced back and returned to what the Jazz traded for.
He averaged 16 points and 6 assists with just 1.9 turnovers per game. Conley was tremendous off the ball as a shooter, hitting 40.6% of his 128 catch and shoot threes. He was one of the best facilitators in the league and was masterful in pick and roll with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, ranking 85th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler.
Even at 6’1, he is a positive defender that excels at navigating screens and making plays off the ball with his quick hands. At 33 years old and starting to pick up more and more injuries, it’s unlikely Conley receives max money in free agency but it will cost a significant amount to retain him. If the Boston Celtics were to get a meeting with Conley and his camp, I would expect Stevens to offer him a 2 year $50 million deal.
However, it’s unlikely the Celtics free up this kind of space, and even more unlikely Conley sets up meetings, seeing as he is likely to return to the Jazz.
Patty Mills should be at the top of the Boston Celtics’ list of priorities in free agency. He’s one of the most realistic free agents on the market for the Cs and he offers exactly what the Celtics need. He’s been in the league for 11 years now and has made a name for himself as one of the best shooting and off-ball point guards in the league.
He has one of the fastest triggers in the league and is an expert at moving between screens and coming off of pin downs with speed and balance. He’s not the passer the Celtics could hope for, but his movement off the ball and ball handling would be of great use to the Celtics’ stagnant offense. He’s 32 and is currently making around $12 million.
I estimate the Boston Celtics could offer him around 2 years $16 million and he would take it. They’d be using the full MLE but it would be well worth it seeing as they’d be bolstering their depth as well as bringing in some much-needed shooting.
The last option to take Walker’s place as the Celtics point guard is Lonzo Ball, but there’s a reason he’s last. Ball would bring some much-needed passing to the C’s backcourt while also providing some high-level defense at the guard position. He’s not undersized and he isn’t a ball-dominant scorer.
The eldest Ball brother can fling the ball all over the court and help get the Boston Celtics back to their ball movement-player movement-centric offense. He’s still got a little ways to go in terms of improving his shooting form and scoring, but with the Cs developmental staff, there is not a doubt in my mind that they couldn’t unlock his full shooting potential within a season.
However, with all that said Lonzo Ball is a restricted free agent, which means the Celtics could not just sign him outright unless they outbid everyone looking at him. And seeing as there are a lot of teams looking at him, that is extremely unlikely. The Boston Celtics would have to give up some serious assets to net Ball, on top of having to pay him more than they might like.
Reports say Ball is looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $20 million for multiple seasons. Being a former #2 overall pick who’s shown tons of promise his past three seasons, this price tag is understandable but it makes the chances of the Cs landing him extremely slim.
Not only would they have to find a way to come up with that kind of cap space, but they would also forfeit their chances of bringing back Marcus Smart the next off-season since he is likely to pursue the same deal. As palatable as a Smart and Ball backcourt may sound, it’s not nearly worth paying $40 million for. The only way I see the Cs moving for Ball is if they move Smart in another deal to net a star, which as I have said before, is unlikely.
Heading off the list of who the Boston Celtics should not target is Dennis Schroder. Much like Lonzo Ball, Schroder will be looking to secure a multi-year $20 million bag this off-season which the Celtics should not even consider paying. He’s one of the best bench creators in the league that can shoot and finish at the rim as well as defends his position at a high level.
However, he is not the passer that the Celtics need and his skill set is not what the Cs are missing. There is more than enough creation to go around between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Schroder will more than likely stunt their offense or his own if he was to come to Bean Town.
The second biggest no-no amongst point guards hitting free agency this off-season is Elfrid Payton. He has been a punching bag for Knicks fans all season and for good reason. He is not only a bad scorer but a detrimental one that ruins the flow of the offense.
He would bring the passing that Boston covets and his defense would be a plus but both pale in comparison to how bad of a scorer he is. The Boston Celtics want to be a competitive playoff team, to do that they’ll need guys that can be respected in the halfcourt come playoff time. Payton is not one of those guys.
He is a poor shooter, hitting just 28.6% of his 3s and shooting 37% from midrange as well as being one of the worst finishing guards in the league, shooting 56% at the rim. Teams will lay off Payton in favor of guarding Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum which will create a rift in the half-court that Payton won’t be able to bridge. He is not the guard the Cs want leading their offense.
There is a multitude of other options out there, but these are the guys I expect Boston to be in the mix for and the guys that I expect they will look to avoid. Mike Conley will likely stay in Utah and Lonzo Ball will likely end up in a place that can afford him, which leaves Patty Mills as the most realistic candidate to replace Kemba Walker.
Underwhelming? Yes, but take that statement with a grain of salt. Patty Mills won’t be replacing Kemba Walker in a literal sense; that would be Marcus Smart. Rather, Mills will come off the bench and play a similar role Payton Pritchard played last season. Don’t worry, Pritchard is not going to be cut from the rotation as he and Mills will continue to alternate between point guard and shooting guard like the Celtics did this season with Walker, Smart, and Pritchard.