The Boston Celtics could find themselves with a lot of money to spend this summer.

The unraveling of Danny Ainge’s Kyrie Irving-Anthony Davis plan also cost him Al Horford. After shipping Aron Baynes out to clear more cap room, Ainge has pivoted to a new phase of Boston Celtics team building.

The big question now is who gets that money?

One rumor floating around is Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic. He’s an unrestricted free agent and Ainge has been curious about him for a while.

Here are three reasons for, and three against, signing Vucevic this summer.

Why he would fit

• Boston needs a center. Horford and Baynes are gone, leaving second-year center Robert Williams as the only big left. Williams tantalized with stretches of exciting plays, but the injuries Boston’s bigs suffered last season cost him valuable time with the Maine Red Claws where he could have learned the position through trial and error.

Even if Williams takes a leap forward this summer, chances are good that he’s years away from reaching his full potential. Vucevic would come in and fill a positional need immediately. Boston has three wings in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward that can handle a lot of the scoring, and Marcus Smart has proven to be very capable at running an offense. What Boston lost over this past week is a big to work with those guys. Vucevic fills that role.

• He’s developing a 3-point game. Vucevic made a career-high 84 3-pointers last season while shooting a career-high 36.4 percent from deep. It’s the type of progression that seems promising from an offensive standpoint. Having just lost a stretch-5 in Horford, Boston could use a threat at center who can clear space for the Celtics’ wings.

Stretch-5’s are a commodity in the NBA. A reliable one can really open things up for an offense. It’s important for the development of Tatum and Brown in particular, as they each need to add more attacking and foul-drawing to their repertoires. Giving them that extra space to get to the rim and, ultimately, to the free throw line, is a bit of a priority for Boston.

• He can rebound. Vucevic grabbed 31.9 percent of the available defensive rebounds when he was on the floor last season. Aron Baynes was Boston’s best rotation player with 19.8 percent. Vucevic’s overall rebounding percentage was 20.5, where Baynes’ was 15.6.

Boston’s rebounding has not been great, so getting someone like Vucevic who can at least clear the glass will help Boston get out in transition more, leading to some more easy baskets and more confidence for the wings who can get a few layups under their belts.

Reasons for concern

• He can be a defensive liability. Rebounding is a part of a good defense, but Vucevic has a reputation for saving his effort for the offensive end of the floor. He’s not really known as a rim protector, so fans shouldn’t really expect Vucevic to park himself in the lane and erase layup attempts.

He’s gotten better recently, though, and the Magic finished the season with the NBA’s eighth-best defensive rating, so maybe he’s turning it around. But this brings us to our next concern.

• Was this just a contract year bump? Vucevic set career highs across the board this past season – games played, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, win shares.

It’s suspicious that it came in a contract year, but it also came during a healthy year where he had more help around him than he’s had in the past.

So on the one hand, Vucevic is a guy who has been accused of not trying all the time but suddenly had the best season of his career when his contract was up. On the other, Vucevic has had bizarre lineups with multiple bigs around him and now that he was able to play 80 games with a roster that made sense, he looked pretty good.

“For me, I really do believe this is the start of my prime and I have a lot of years in front of me where I can play at a very high level,” Vucevic told team reporter John Denton. “The game now comes easier for me than ever and it’s only going to get easier with the way that I read the game and read stuff on the court. That’s going to help me a lot with my body and I know this year I felt better than ever. Those are all things that I can build on and improve. So, I can come back as a better player.”

• What’s he going to cost? Vucevic is not a max-contract player, but he’s not going to come cheap.

Will Boston take the money it had earmarked for Horford and give it to the almost 29-year-old Vucevic? Will they be able to get him on a reasonable contract over the next few years as younger players like Jaylen Brown start to become extension eligible or come up for free agency?

And what’s reasonable for Vucevic? Is a four-year, $80 million deal that starts at $18.6 million in the first year something he’d go for? Is that something Orlando would be willing to offer, or will the cost-conscious Magic go with Mo Bamba in the middle and let Vucevic walk?

The Bottom Line

Boston suddenly has to figure out its center position. Vucevic isn’t a perfect answer, but few players are.

It boils down to two simple questions.

1: Was last year’s effort real?

2: Can Boston sign him and maintain flexibility to sign other players or take on bloated contracts in order to extract assets from capped-out teams?

If the Celtics feel like Vucevic’s defensive efforts were legitimate, then they probably feel like they can enhance them in Boston and capitalize on his obvious offensive skills while they do. If they feel like they can get Vucevic at a good price while keeping other options open, then he could fit with the Celtics.

However, if there’s any hint that his contract year bump was an anomaly rather than a player in his prime turning a corner, then their money may be better served being spent elsewhere.


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