Offseason Outlook: Boston Celtics

June 3 at 9:59am CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (6th overall)
  • 1st Round (17th overall)

Cap Outlook

Guaranteed Salary: $44,705,226
Options: $3,800,000
Non-Guaranteed Salary: $7,834,024
Cap Holds: $55,165,187
Total: $111,504,437

The Celtics are just a year removed from a landmark trade, and there is plenty of chatter that another is on its way this summer. The exodus of Kevin Garnett and career Celtic Paul Pierce was an wrenching acknowledgement that the most recent era of Celtics championship contention is over, and the team stands at the precipice of either beginning a new one as soon as next season or a further dismantling the 2008 championship team.

Rajon Rondo on Monday reiterated comments he made in January, when he said that wouldn’t mind spending the next decade in Boston. While he made his initial remarks in the context of talking about an extension he, as most elite NBA veterans would be, is unlikely to sign, there’s plenty of reason to think he’ll be sticking around. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge seems to think so, having spent the months that followed the departure of Pierce and Garnett denying his involvement in trade talks surrounding the point guard. Ainge initially claimed that no team had made any offer for Rondo, though he eventually relented and acknowledged there have been inquiries about the All-Star point guard. A recent report suggested the Celtics are more open to trading Rondo than they’ve ever been, but Ainge once more went on the offensive. The Celtics boss suggested that as long as the 28-year-old sees progress toward another era of contention, he’ll be willing to re-sign when his contract expires after next season.

That makes the summer ahead remarkably important for Ainge, and implicates a fellow member of Rondo’s 2015 free agent class. Kevin Love, even before his high-profile visit to Boston this past weekend, reportedly viewed the city as more and more of an intriguing destination. Soon after the report of his interest surfaced, Ainge spoke of a willingness to trade for a star without the guarantee that he’d sign an extension. Ainge didn’t mention Love by name, as doing so would probably have constituted tampering, but Love would seem to fit the profile. Still, Ainge’s wording is key in other regards. There’s little chance that Love, who could demand max money on the open market, would under any circumstances agree to an extension, which under collective bargaining agreement rules couldn’t approach the value of a new contract. Love could give the Celtics assurances that he’d sign a new deal or opt in for 2015/16, and Ainge didn’t say he’d be willing to trade for a star unwilling to make either such commitment. Boston is nonetheless squarely in the mix for Love, and he’d surely be much more likely to stick with the team for the long-term if Rondo does the same. So, the pressure’s on Ainge to make the team as attractive as possible for both or risk winding up with neither.

There’s much greater flexibility in the coming year for Boston, which spent much of 2013/14 flush against the tax line. The Celtics have finished their guaranteed salary commitment to Keith Bogans, whose player-friendly mid-level contract was one of the spoils of the Pierce/Garnett trade. Bogans and the team parted ways in January, and Ainge indicated then that it was more likely he’d wind up as a trade chip in the summer than at the deadline. Indeed, rival clubs looking to clear cap space for 2014/15 can acquire Bogans and wipe him completely from their books in exchange of an asset of some kind, and there’s a distinct possibility that Ainge will make such a move a part of a larger swap to help make salaries match. Many teams signed players to multiyear contracts with non-guaranteed salary for next season this spring, but Ainge and Boston were already in possession of one of the largest such trade-market weapons.

Chris Johnson, Chris Babb and Phil Pressey are on smaller non-guaranteed deals, and while the Celtics can use those contracts tools in some manner just as with the Bogans deal, the trio have varying degrees of value as developing talent, so they’re less likely to be trade fodder. Ainge has plenty of other arrows in his quiver as he surveys the market for trades that can set off “fireworks,” to use a term that Ainge and owner Wyc Grousbeck have made a favorite. Ainge has said a sign-and-trade involving Kris Humphries is a consideration even though the team and agent Arn Tellem engaged in preliminary talks about a new deal that would keep the 29-year-old in Boston. Ainge even hinted that he’d look for a sign-and-trade that would benefit Humphries financially, suggesting that the Celtics might wind up at the other end of a Bogans-like transaction this summer in which Humphries receives an outsized contract to serve as trade ballast. The former Net is just two seasons removed from averaging 13.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, so he wouldn’t be unattractive to a contending team, whether that’s Boston in the event of a quick turnaround or some other club, as Zach Links of Hoops Rumors examined.

The Celtics possess a gigantic, $10,275,136 trade exception that’s a vestige of Pierce’s salary, and the size of it plus the July 12th expiration date suggests that Ainge won’t hesitate to use it in the weeks ahead. The exception allows Boston to accommodate a salary that’s equal to or less than that amount plus $100K without giving up any salary in return. The C’s have just $48.5MM in commitments for next season, taking into account Joel Anthony‘s apparent decision to opt in, but dipping below the cap would take away the Pierce trade exception, among other key tools.

That bodes well for Avery Bradley, since the Celtics wouldn’t have cap space to sign a replacement. Bradley reportedly turned down a four-year, $24MM extension offer last year, but there’s mutual interest in a new deal between the Celtics and the Mitchell Butler client as his restricted free agency approaches. Bradley seemed to want $8MM salaries last fall, and a career year, including $39.5% three-point shooting that demonstrated he’s more than just a defender, might have him seeking more. The Celtics will no doubt be wary of the projected $77MM tax line, and too large a contract for Bradley might hinder the team’s pursuit of flashier names. Bradley said he’d “love” a new deal in Boston, but he might have to turn down larger offers from other teams to make it happen.

Jerryd Bayless would like to stay with the Celtics, too, and while Brad Stevens is a fan, the backup guard will likely be a secondary priority for Ainge and company. The C’s have only his Early Bird rights, though it’s doubtful a team will exceed the roughly $5.5MM that those rights will allow Boston to pay him next season, even though he, too, shot 39.5% from three-point territory this season and averaged double-figure scoring for just the second time in his career.

Such a coterie of unknowns will probably lead the Celtics to draft the best available talent rather than the best fit for the team with the sixth and 17th overall picks this month, assuming one or both of those selections don’t wind up in a trade. Power forwards Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Dario Saric and Aaron Gordon crowd the scene of those likely to be available at No. 6, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ainge draft one of those prospects even though the Celtics already have a glut of four-men. Wing players dominate the strongest possibilities at No. 17, and our Alex Lee has Boston coming away with Randle and Rodney Hood in the latest Hoops Rumors Mock Draft.

Projecting what the Celtics roster will look like a month from now, much less at the start of next season, is a tall order. Ainge has the gunpowder necessary to set off a fireworks display of blockbuster trades as impressive as any we’ll see on the Fourth of July. No one seems more eager for the show to start than Rondo, but the summer will amount to a dud if Ainge can’t find another team in possession of a match.

Cap footnotes

* — Anthony reportedly intends to opt in.
** — Pressey’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before July 15th.
*** — See our glossary entry on cap holds for an explanation why Krstic and others listed in parentheses below his name technically remain on the books for the Celtics.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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