Yesterday’s trade brought a little clarity to the Boston Celtics payroll and roster for the ’14-’15 season. Now all of that could be changed dramatically in a matter of seconds if a major trade, possibly involving a certain power forward who makes great outlet passes and whose name inspires some decent puns, goes down. The NBA also officially announced the salary cap ($63,065,000) and luxury tax threshold ($76,829,000) for next season as well. The Celtics are on the books for a projected $71,986,666 in ’14-’15. That puts them above the cap but still allows them to purchase the contracts of Phil Pressey and one more of their summer league guys without jumping into a tax bracket.
Here’s a closer look. Black = fully guaranteed contract. Blue = player option. Green = team option. Red = non-guaranteed.
The salary cap and tax line numbers for ’14-’15 are official via the NBA. The salary cap rose 7.5% from last year, while the tax line rose 7.1%. I used those rates to estimate what the cap and tax line will be at for the next three years, though considering the NBA’s TV contract expires in two, there’s a chance that those numbers are way larger than I estimated in ’16-’17 and ’17-’18.
The only really bad contract the Celtics have is that of Gerald Wallace. Marcus Thornton’s deal was taken on using the trade exception from Brooklyn. Brandon Bass and Joel Anthony, while overpaid, are expiring deals. Jeff Green is probably overpaid a bit too, but given how this years free agency has played out, $9.5 million a year for Green isn’t terrible. Besides, if he plays well this year he’ll likely err on the side of caution and decline his player option so he can sign a long-term deal that may have a smaller cap hit (with Boston or someone else).
Regardless, the team is in position to have major money to spend the next two summers.
Having a lot of decent young players on rookie contracts gives the Celtics an advantage in terms of both trading and signing free agents. If players like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and James Young don’t emerge as nice trades chips the Celtics have plenty of time to watch them develop before making a decision on whether or not they’re part of the teams long-term plan. Considering the way free agency has played out and how the cap is likely to skyrocket two years from now, Avery Bradley at $8 million a year doesn’t look nearly as and as it did a week ago.
The Celtics have 13 payers with guaranteed contacts next year, and are about $5 million below that tax line. What does that mean for the non-guaranteed guys?
Keith Bogans is as good as gone. A rebuilding team is not going to bring back a 34 player that expensive at a crowded position. If the Celtics have another trade in them this offseason, Bogans might serve as a chip to make the salaries line up, but that’s about it. Phil Pressey should be, and probably is, a roster lock at this point. The coaches like him. He’s a an NBA-level backup point guard. He’s cheap. He’s young. The acquisition of Thornton probably meant the end of Chris Babb’s roster hopes.
Assuming no other trade is made this offseason, the Celtics finals roster spot likely comes down to Chris Johnson, Colton Iverson, or Mike Moser. Adding a seven-footer in Tyler Zeller certainly didn’t help Iverson’s chances. It could come down to whether Vitor Faverani, who’s recovering from a knee surgery, is ready to go come October. The Celtics liked what they saw out of Chris Johnson last season and Mike Moser has impressed so far in the summer league. Both are still in the hunt.
And now for the biggest mystery on the chart above, Rajon Rondo. Rondo is an arguably-elite player in a contract year who, at the age of 28, is right in the thick of his prime. As long no more problems with his knee pop up, he’s going to command max money or very close to it. I don’t know if the Celtics plan to trade Rondo or extend him. You don’t know either. So this isn’t going to be one of those “What do the Celtics do with Rondo?” debates. I’m here to show you what it would look like if the Celtics did extend him.
Next season will be Rondo’s 9th, meaning that a max extension would cost the Celtics 30% of their cap for the first year and 35% for the following years. Let’s jump forward 2 years, after Gerald Wallace is off the books and Jeff Green is likely gone. A max deal for Rondo would probably pay him something close to $25 million. Smart, Olynyk, and Young would all still be under rookie contracts then. Factor in Bradley’s $8 million and you’re still looking at well over $30 million in pure cap room. Obviously some of that will need to be allocated to fill the roster, but there will likely be exceptions.
The wild card here is the all the draft picks (5 1st rounders over the next two year). If the Celtics were to keep them all or most of them, they’d still have more than enough money to go after a max guy (on top of having Rondo) in 2016. Trading them for a superstar would of course mean much less cap room.
Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Brook Lopez, Damian Lillard, Joakim Noah and more will all be free agents then (though Davis, Lillard, and Drummond will be RFA’s). The Celtics don’t usually make major splashes in free agency, but given the way their contracts are at the moment, they’re in position too do so two years from now.
Again, I want to reinforce the fact that this is all speculation and projections. Guys like Lillard, Davis, and Drummond may very well sign max extensions with their own teams before they even hit the market. And if the Celtics make any major trades over the next two years, their books will look very different.
But hope is on the horizon. The Celtics have only one more year of truly being stuck, contract-wise. They have the draft picks and money to turn this thing around. Maybe it won’t happen as quickly as those hoping for Kevin Love expect, but Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge have both said this is a three-year rebuild. Assuming they’re still operating under that plan, they’re doing an exceptional job of putting the Celtics in position to be a major player soon.