When you look at the storied history of the Boston Celtics, there are many things that stand out. The championships, the franchise players who became a cornerstone of the team for a generation, the blockbuster trades that changed the landscape of the league, but rarely do you ever hear about free-agent signings. This becomes even more apparent when you start to take a look into the best and worst free agents the team has signed in franchise history, the fact is there are very few of note. For a team that has won a league best 17 titles and has countless retired numbers having from the rafters, they have never done so via free agency. The Celtics have relied on the draft and trades to build their legacy and simply used free agency to add supporting pieces, as opposed to some franchises who have signed a superstar. Let’s take a look at the five best and worst free agent signings in the history of the Boston Celtics.
Yes, this technically makes it a list of six;however, it is near impossible to separate these two veteran signings who helped the Celtics win the NBA championship in 2007-08. Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown, both of whom were 38 when they signed late in the season for the Celtics were brought in to provide veteran experience and bolster the Celtics’ roster prior to a deep playoff run.
Cassell, who was waived just days prior by the Los Angeles Clippers, gave the Celtics a true backup point guard for Rajon Rondo, where the team had relied on sharp shooting Eddie House to man many of those minutes in the regular season. In 17 games for the Celtics in 2007-08 Cassell contributed 7.6 points and 2.1 assists per game while shooting better than 40 percent from 3. While his numbers dipped in the playoffs, he was a key reserve for 21 games in the Celtics’ road to the title, providing timely shots, solid ball handling and championship experience to a Boston team that seemed to mesh perfectly at exactly the right time.
Brown had not played a game in 2007-08 before joining the Celtics for the last 18 games of the season. The veteran big man was brought in to provide defense, rebounding and shot blocking off the bench and, like Cassell, provide veteran leadership throughout the playoff run. While his minutes were limited and his numbers were nothing to get excited about, Brown was a steady, mistake-free option for coach Doc Rivers throughout the playoffs and was relied on down the stretch of many tight games. He hit one of the biggest shots in franchise history in Game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers; with just more than a minute remaining he buried a jumper that won Boston the game and propelled the team through to the Conference Finals.
While neither Brown nor Cassell made huge contributions on the stat sheet, their leadership, experience and timely baskets helped the Celtics end the longest championship drought in franchise history and deserved a mention on the list.
4. Dana Barros
In 1995, Dana Barros signed with his hometown Boston Celtics after having an All-Star season in Philadelphia. The Celtics had high hopes for Barros, but unfortunately he was never able to return to the level of production that saw him score more than 20 points per game and win the NBA’s most Improved Player Award a year earlier. Over the course of five years in Boston, Barros played in 306 games, averaging just more than 10 points per game, 3.3 assists and 1.9 rebounds. He became a role player and a mentor for a young Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 2000.
Barros returned to the Celtics in 2004, first as an assistant coach and then later suited up for what would be his last game in the NBA, scoring six points.
All of us remember the sight of Dominique Wilkins soaring through the air in a red Atlanta Hawks jersey; however, many tend to forget that in 1994 “’Nique” signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics. At 35 years old, Wilkins was well past his prime and was no longer capable of taking over a game with his freakish athleticism, but the veteran Wilkins still had a lot of game left in his body and for 77 games in the regular season he averaged 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists, leading the Celtics to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. It was in the playoffs where the fans got to see flashes of the real Dominique, in the first round against the No 1 seed Orlando Magic, Wilkins was tremendous, upping his averages to 19 points and 10.8 rebounds. Wilkins would play just that single season in Boston before finishing off his career in San Antonio and later with the Orlando Magic.
2. James Posey
In 2007, shortly after general manager Danny Ainge constructed the new “Big 3″ in Boston the team made a key free agent signing picking up 31-year-old James Posey for the veteran’s minimum. Posey brought toughness, defense, championship experience and outside shooting to Boston and instantly became the teams sixth man. In 74 appearances for the Celtics, Posey averaged 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a steal per game. He was huge for the team in their playoff run to the 2008 title, spending extended minutes defending the oppositions star player, knocking down clutch 3-pointers and allowing coach Doc Rivers to play small ball when required. Posey became a two-time NBA champion when the Celtics won that season and cashed in with a lucrative four-year contract with the New Orleans Hornets. While he only spent a single season in Boston, Posey was the sixth man on the 2008 championship team and was a key contributor at a bargain basement price.
The “X-Man,” Xavier McDaniel signed with the Boston Celtics in 1992 at age 29 to try and fill the void left at small forward by the recently retired Larry Bird. McDaniel, who started his career with the Seattle SuperSonics, was a former All-Star and had scored more than 20 points per game in four straight seasons from 1986-90. While he never returned to his prolific scoring ways, McDaniel was consistent for the Celtics for the next three seasons, averaging 11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He peaked in his first season with a 13.5 scoring average, while he played in all 82 games, a feat he would replicate the following year. While McDaniel could never replace the legendary Bird, he provided a solid, steady presence for the Celtics on both ends of the court as they transitioned into the next era in franchise history. McDaniel may not have been a star, nor did he play in Boston for very long but his mix of production and games played surprisingly makes him the best free agent the team has ever signed.
In 1997, Boston Celtics coach and general manager Rick Pitino signed big man Travis Knight to a seven-year contract worth more than $22 million. Knight, who had started his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, showed no excitement in signing with Boston and said, “I really have mixed emotions; I should be elated right now, but I’m not. I feel so much loyalty (to the Lakers).” In his lone season playing for the Celtics, Knight averaged 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in what would be the most productive season of his career. However, Knight was never happy in Boston and the very next season the team traded the big man back to the Lakers in exchange for Tony Battie.
In their ongoing search for a backup big man, in 2009 the Celtics signed former NBA champion Rasheed Wallace to a two-year deal worth $12 million. Despite being 35 years old, the Celtics had high hopes for Wallace, who had been an All-Star four times throughout his illustrious NBA career. Wallace played 79 games in 2009-10 for the Celtics and averaged nine points per game to go along with 4.1 rebounds. It was the first time Wallace had averaged single digits in scoring for his entire career and he shot a career-low from the field (.409 percent). Wallace was solid defensively, but became little more than a spot-up 3-point shooter and despite his horrendous .283 shooting percentage from 3, he took nearly four attempts from downtown per game. Wallace’s stats would dip to 6.1 points and three rebounds in the playoffs and the big man announced his retirement at the end of the 2009-10 season.
3. Jermaine O’Neal
In 2010 the Celtics tried to fill the void left by the retiring Wallace by signing veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal to the same two-year deal worth $12 million. O’Neal, who was 32 years old at the time, was a former seven-time All-Star, an experienced playoff campaigner and was coming off a season where he averaged a respectable 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. His time in Boston was a disaster, not only did he only play 49 games total over two seasons due to injury, but he was underwhelming whenever he was on the court. He averaged just 5.1 points and 4.5 points over the course of his two seasons in Boston and provided much of the same in the playoffs. O’Neal was considerably better this past season in Phoenix at age 34 than he was during his time for the Celtics.
Next up on the list of free-agency failures for the Celtics is yet another veteran big man, one-time All-Star Tom Gugliotta. Gugliotta was signed in 2004 at age 35 after averaging 5.1 points and 4.1 rebounds the season before. Expectations were not high for Gugliotta with the Celtics, but they were no doubt higher than the paltry 26 points and 43 rebounds he managed over his 20-game career in green. His averages dipped to 1.3 points per game and 1.4 rebounds before the Celtics traded him to the Atlanta Hawks. He closed out the season averaging 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds for Atlanta before retiring from the NBA.
In 1994, the Celtics signed former No 1 pick, former NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player and the 1991-92 NBA Most Improved Player Pervis Ellison to a six-year, $11.5 million contract. Ellison was coming off two injury-plagued seasons with the Washington Bullets, but just two years earlier had posted 20 points and 11.2 rebounds a game. Ellison played just 193 games over the course of six seasons with the Celtics due to countless injury issues, including missing the entire 1998-99 season. When healthy, Ellison contributed just 4.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for the Celtics. One of the most disappointing No 1 picks in draft history, Ellison spent what would usually be the prime of a player’s career collecting checks on the Celtics bench and his six-year stay makes him the worst free-agent signing in franchise history.
Topics: Boston, Celtics, Dana Barros, Dominique Wilkins, Free Agency, Free Agent, History, James Posey, Jermaine O'neal, Pervis Ellison, Pj Brown, Rasheed Wallace, Sam Cassell, Travis Knight, Xavier Mcdaniel