The Boston Celtics are doing their best to dispel the long-standing notion that big-time free agents won't consider Boston as a destination.
For much of the past two decades, there has been an often-repeated theory that premier free agents won't sign with the Celtics. Boston brass has often countered that the team has never had the sort of cap space to truly pursue the biggest fish on the free-agent market.
Armed this summer with enough cap flexibility to pursue as many as two max-contract players, the Celtics are intriguing enough now to at least get a chance to pitch themselves to some of the league's top available names.
The 30-year-old Howard, who turned down a $23.2 million player option with the Houston Rockets, will leave some Celtics fans leery. It's prudent to remember that, if other top free agents would be further intrigued by Boston with an eight-time All-Star at the center position, he's certainly worth exploring.
What's more, the Celtics might be interested in a short-term deal, including the growingly popular "1+1" contract, where the second year is either non-guaranteed or a player option. Even if Boston strikes out in pursuit of other top free agents, adding Howard to the back line of a 48-win team would seemingly elevate Boston to legitimate contender status in the Eastern Conference.
A short-term deal could be mutually beneficial if Howard had a bounce-back year. A strong playoff showing would make Boston more attractive to free agents next summer, while Howard would be in position to sign another long-term, big-money deal. There's a line of thought that signing Howard to a short-term deal is a better long-term play for the Celtics than overspending on some consolation prize if they can't lure Durant this summer.
There are, of course, chemistry concerns with Howard, who has drawn plenty of criticism for his behavior throughout his NBA career.
Last month, Howard told ESPN, "This will be my last chance for a really big contract. If I am utilized the right way, I know what I can do for a team, a city, a franchise. I know my worth, and I will bust my butt this summer to show my worth to everyone."
Since Kevin Garnett's departure in 2013, the Celtics have had an obvious need for a pure back-line big capable of rebounding and protecting the rim. While Howard doesn't necessarily fit the stretch-the-floor style of big that Brad Stevens has typically operated with during his three years on the Boston bench, Stevens could certainly find a way to utilize a 7-footer who can run pick-and-rolls with Isaiah Thomas and bring a consistent post presence to Boston's offense.
The Celtics, with as much as $55 million to spend in free agency this summer, are going to have to sign big deals just to reach the salary floor. There were rumblings about Boston's interest in Howard at February's deadline but the team seemed unwilling to part with future assets to acquire him. Now there's a chance to roll the dice on him this summer without having to part with draft picks or young talent.
The Celtics were overstocked with bigs last season, but both Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller are expected to be restricted free agents this summer, while Amir Johnson's $12 million salary is non-guaranteed. Boston has the ability to overhaul its frontcourt, especially after using a pair of first-round picks on overseas big men. Those players -- France's Guerschon Yabusele and Croatia's Ante Zizic -- can either be brought over for backup depth this season or stashed overseas to develop.