- The Celtics will enter the 2018/19 season as the favorites to win the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors and Sixers won’t make things easy. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston identifies five keys that could help Toronto or Philadelphia knock off the C’s next season.
AUGUST 21: The Celtics have officially signed Dozier to a two-way contract, according to RealGM’s NBA transactions log.
AUGUST 3: The Celtics will sign free agent guard P.J. Dozier to a two-way contract, reports Sean Deveney of The Sporting News (Twitter link). While Deveney classifies it as a done deal, there has been no confirmation yet from the club.
[RELATED: 2018/19 NBA Two-Way Contract Tracker]
Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina in 2017, spent training camp with the Mavericks last fall, then signed a two-way deal with the Thunder after being cut by Dallas. The 6’6″ shooting guard made his NBA debut in February, but appeared in just two games for the Thunder, spending most of his rookie year with the team’s G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.
In 43 NBAGL contests (28.5 MPG), Dozier averaged 12.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, and 1.3 SPG. He posted a shooting line of .465/.340/.653. Dozier stuck with OKC for Summer League action last month, recording 11.0 PPG on 52.2% shooting in five games in Las Vegas.
Looking to turn over their two-way contract slots this summer, the Thunder didn’t tender qualifying offers to Daniel Hamilton or Dozier earlier this offseason, freeing them up to sign anywhere. Dozier will join a Celtics team that has already filled its other two-way spot with Walter Lemon Jr.
- After a stellar rookie season, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has spent the summer working on his strength, tweets ESPN’s Chris Forsberg. “That’s probably been the biggest focus,” Tatum said. “I’m still young so it’s hard to really just throw on a bunch of extra pounds. But I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger. … I just wanted to get my body right and keep getting stronger.”
As we explored earlier this summer, both Irving and Butler have reportedly expressed interested in playing together, and the panel obviously took that into consideration, predicting both players to suit up for the Knicks next season. However, the Celtics were a close second for Irving.
After the NBA salary cap increased by nearly 35% for the 2016/17 league year, it has grown at a far more modest rate in two subsequent seasons, increasing from $94.1MM to $99.1MM to $101.9MM. Still, the cap spike in 2016 resulted in a free agent spending spree that is still haunting some teams.
Many of the clubs that currently project to be taxpayers for the 2018/19 season still have an unwieldy contract or two from the summer of 2016 on their books. That list includes Ian Mahinmi for the Wizards, Evan Turner for the Trail Blazers, and Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson for the Heat.
Even this year’s projected taxpayers that spent their money more wisely in 2016 can blame that summer at least in part for their substantial team salaries — clubs like the Warriors and Celtics likely wouldn’t have been able to land stars like Kevin Durant and Al Horford without the cap spike, and commitments to those players are helping push both teams into tax territory today.
In total, nearly one-third of the NBA’s teams could end up over the luxury tax threshold this season. Currently, eight teams have crossed that $123.733MM line, while two more are narrowly below it. Teams have until the end of the 2018/19 regular season to adjust team salary in an effort to get back under the tax line, but most of those clubs will have little leverage if they try to dump salary, so it won’t be easy to cut costs.
Here’s an early look at the teams likely to finish 2018/19 as taxpayers:
Oklahoma City Thunder
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $149.58MM
The Thunder have actually reduced their projected tax bill in the last month by trading Carmelo Anthony and his $28MM salary, but this roster will still have a massive price tag attached to it. Because they’ll finish the season having been in the tax in three of the last four years, the Thunder will be subject to the repeater tax, resulting in more punitive penalties. As a result, their tax bill currently projects to be worth a staggering $93.19MM.
Golden State Warriors
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $143.64MM
The Warriors will actually get off relatively easy this year, despite a projected tax bill of $51MM+ if Patrick McCaw returns on his qualifying offer. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are still on old contracts that pay them well below their current maximum salaries, and Golden State won’t get hit with the repeater tax until 2019/20. If Thompson and Durant sign lucrative new deals next summer, the Dubs may well face more significant tax penalties in future seasons.
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $139.79MM
The Raptors have avoided the tax during their recent run of 50-win seasons, but they’re unlikely to do so again this year. Even if they’re able to dump one unwanted contract, it probably won’t be enough to slip below the tax line. That’s not the end of the world though, as team ownership should be willing to pay a little extra in 2018/19 for what could be a championship-caliber roster. Some money will come off the books in 2019, and much more will be cleared by 2020, so the club likely won’t have to worry about spending the next several years in tax territory.
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $134.86MM
One of four taxpayers last season, the Wizards came away with little to show for the extra investment in their roster — the club finished eighth in the East and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. That didn’t dissuade ownership from spending big again this season on a roster that looks pretty similar to last year’s, plus Dwight Howard. Based on their current team salary, the Wizards are on the hook for a projected tax bill of $19MM+.
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $133.72MM
The Rockets‘ guaranteed team salary currently only accounts for 11 fully guaranteed contracts and one partially guaranteed deal, so that total figures to increase by the time Houston sets its final 14- or 15-man roster. With expensive multiyear deals for James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela and others on the books for 2019/20 as well, it will be interesting to see just how willing new owner Tilman Fertitta is to remain in tax territory for multiple years if the Rockets once again fall short of the NBA Finals in 2018/19.
Portland Trail Blazers
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $131.64MM
The Trail Blazers deftly ducked below the tax line at the 2018 trade deadline when they shipped Noah Vonleh‘s expiring contract to Chicago. Barring a fire sale, it will be more difficult to get below that threshold this season — the Blazers would have to shed about $8MM to do so, and there are no big expiring contracts on their books that would make good trade chips.
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $126.98MM
Like the Rockets, the Heat don’t have a full roster yet, so their total guaranteed team salary is based on just 12 players. If they bring back Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, even on minimum salary contracts, the gap between the Heat’s team salary and the tax line will increase. That will make it trickier to get out of the tax at the trade deadline, though Miami has reportedly explored potential trades this offseason involving some of the team’s highest-paid players.
Current guaranteed team salary (approximate): $126.75MM
The Celtics‘ tax bill is currently only projected to be about $5.8MM, which is modest enough that the club won’t do anything drastic to move below the tax line. Still, the front office will be mindful of the cost of the roster in future seasons. With lucrative new contracts for the likes of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum due before too long, the Celtics could eventually become a perennial taxpayer, so it might be in the club’s best interests to sneak out of the tax in 2018/19 to avoid starting the clock on the repeater tax.
Outside of the eight teams listed above, the Pistons and Grizzlies will be the wariest about their standing in relation to the tax line in 2018/19. Both clubs currently have about $123.25MM in team salary on their books, leaving them less than $500K away from tax territory. Memphis could create some extra breathing room by waiving Andrew Harrison‘s non-guaranteed salary.
Salary information from Basketball Insiders was used in the creation of this post.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Winning a division isn’t as crucial in the NBA as it is in many other major professional sports leagues in North America. In the NBA, a club is more likely to worry about its playoff seed within the conference than its spot in the divisional standings.
Still, even if winning a division doesn’t assure a team of a first-round bye or a weak opponent in the postseason, there will be at least one NBA divisional race worth keeping a close eye on in 2018/19. The Celtics, Raptors, and Sixers project to be not just the top three teams in the Atlantic but also the three best teams in the Eastern Conference, based on a handful of early win-loss projections from oddsmakers.
According to sports betting site Bodog.eu, for instance, the Celtics have an over/under of 58.5 wins for next season, followed by Toronto and Philadelphia at 54.5. No other Eastern Conference team is projected for more than 46.5 wins.
The forecast for the Atlantic makes sense. The Raptors (59-23), Celtics (55-27), and 76ers (52-30) were the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference in 2017/18, and there’s no reason to expect any of them to take a huge step back.
The Celtics should have Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving back to lead a deep rotation that includes Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Morris, among others. Young Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons now have a full year under their belts, and if 2017’s first overall pick Markelle Fultz can bounce back from a lost rookie season, Philadelphia has a scary amount of high-level talent on its roster.
The Raptors underwent the most significant changes of any of the Atlantic’s top three teams this summer, with Nick Nurse replacing Dwane Casey on the sidelines and Kawhi Leonard replacing DeMar DeRozan on the court. If Nurse struggles in his first NBA head coaching job and/or Leonard isn’t fully healthy, the Raptors figure to fall short of their projections, but their upside is as high as that of any team in the East.
We want to get your thoughts on how the Atlantic division will play out this season. Will the Celtics make good on their status as favorites and take the division? Will the Raptors defend their Atlantic title? Will the Sixers take a big step forward as their young stars continue to improve? What order do you expect those top three Atlantic teams to finish in?
Vote below in our poll and jump into the comment section below to share your thoughts!
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NBA teams have now completed the brunt of their offseason work, with the draft and free agency practically distant memories. Still, with training camps more than a month away, most clubs around the league have at least one or two outstanding issues they’ve yet to address.
Over the next week, we’ll be looking at all 30 NBA teams, separating them by division and checking in on the key outstanding question that each club still needs to answer before the 2018/19 regular season begins.
We’re starting today with the Atlantic division, so let’s dive right in…
Outside of continuing to work with both Hayward and Irving during their rehab processes, the Celtics don’t have a ton of agency when it comes to answering this question — they can only hope for the best for their two injured stars.
While Hayward and Irving are both expected to be ready to go for the 2018/19 season, that’s not an absolute lock, as neither player has participated in 5-on-5 action to date.
Given the constant speculation about the health of other key Eastern players returning from injuries (think Kawhi Leonard), it only seems fair to take a similar view on the Celtics — they’ll be title contenders if Hayward and Irving get healthy and stay healthy. With just over two months until opening night arrives, that’s the key issue facing a Celtics team that otherwise seems all set for the season.
Much has been made about the Nets‘ projected 2019 cap space, particularly after the team was able to ditch Timofey Mozgov‘s pricey multiyear contract earlier this summer. While we expect the Nets to pursue multiple top free agents from other clubs, it’s also worth noting that they could be faced with decisions on a couple key restricted free agents of their own.
Russell and Hollis-Jefferson are eligible for rookie scale extensions right up until October 15, but if they don’t sign new deals by that point, they’ll be on track for restricted free agency next summer. While the Nets would still have the right of first refusal on both players at that point, they’d have less control over each player’s future — if another team comes in with an aggressive offer sheet for either RFA, it could complicate Brooklyn’s own free agency plans.
Even if the Nets view Russell and Hollis-Jefferson as key parts of their core, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither player is extended this year. Letting those contracts expire will allow Brooklyn to maximize its flexibility in the free agent market in 2019.
New York Knicks
Will the Knicks sign Kristaps Porzingis to a rookie scale extension?
Like their crosstown rivals, the Knicks have a rookie scale extension of their own to worry about. Porzingis is a lock to be extended by New York at some point, likely on a maximum-salary deal. But the timing of his next contract remains up in the air.
The Knicks don’t project to have as much cap room next offseason as the Nets and other clubs, but they can still create enough space to potentially make a splash on the free agent market. That would become much more difficult with a new extension for Porzingis already on their cap.
If the Knicks sign KP to a max extension now, he’d count for approximately $27.25MM in 2019/20 when the new league year begins. If they wait until next year to give him a new deal, his cap hold would be about $17.1MM until he officially signs, creating about $10MM in extra space for the Knicks to use before going over the cap to lock up Porzingis.
Between the extra cap flexibility and Porzingis’ ongoing ACL recovery, I expect New York to pass on a rookie scale extension this year. If they take that route though, the Knicks will have to be ready to put a huge, player-friendly offer on the table next year to avoid having Porzingis accept an offer sheet from another team that would allow him to reach free agency sooner.
Who will the Sixers hire as their new head of basketball operations?
Since Bryan Colangelo‘s dismissal in early June, the Sixers have operated without a permanent general manager. Head coach Brett Brown has technically served as the interim GM over the last couple months, though several members of Philadelphia’s front office have been involved in roster decisions.
With the Sixers’ roster for 2018/19 all but set, there’s no longer a rush to get a permanent replacement for Colangelo installed right away, but it’s still an issue the organization should look to address before the regular season begins.
The 76ers reportedly made a run at Rockets GM Daryl Morey, and have been rumored to be targeting other big names too. However, outside of the Morey report, we haven’t heard a whole lot of specifics on the team’s search as of late.
Although the top candidates for the job and the timeline for a hire remain uncertain, it’s important that the Sixers get this right — next summer will be the last time that the club projects to have significant cap room before extensions for Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are due, so it’ll be a big year for Philadelphia’s front office.
Will the Raptors look to shed salary before the season begins?
The Raptors‘ offseason player movement has been fairly clear-cut — Kawhi Leonard replaces DeMar DeRozan as the team’s on-court leader, and Greg Monroe and Danny Green figure to step in for Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira in the rotation. However, those roster moves didn’t cut costs at all for a Raptors squad whose team salary is now well beyond the tax line.
With approximately $140MM in guaranteed money on Toronto’s books after the signing of Monroe, it will be interesting to see whether the club still hopes to shed salary in a salary-dump deal, or if team ownership is prepared to pay a sizable tax bill for a roster with the potential to contend for a title.
While Green or C.J. Miles would probably be easier to trade, the Raptors may prefer to move someone like Norman Powell, assuming they’re still looking to make a deal. Powell no longer has a clear role in a crowded wing rotation and his four-year, $42MM extension represents one of the only commitments on Toronto’s books beyond 2019/20.
I’d be surprised if the Raptors haven’t talked to the Kings, who could use some help at small forward and still have the cap room necessary to take on Powell. But there’s not necessarily a huge rush for the Raps to move a contract or two immediately — they could always wait until the trade deadline to try again to trim salary.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
When Gordon Hayward reports to training camp next month, he will find a very different Celtics team than the one he signed with last summer, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. While Hayward sat out last season with a severe ankle fracture he suffered on opening night, some of Boston’s young players developed into stars, with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier all raising their games on the way to the Eastern Conference finals.
- The Celtics‘ success last season has helped turn them into a booming business, relays Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. The team will have 27 nationally televised games for 2018/19, all its season ticket packages are already sold out and the newly opened Auerbach Center practice facility is seen as a future recruiting tool in free agency. “There’s a higher than ever demand for pretty much all things Celtics this offseason,” said team president Rich Gotham. “The television ratings reflected that during the regular season and during the playoffs.”
Forward Daniel Theis is making steady progress in his recovery from a torn left meniscus injury and expects to be ready for training camp, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston reports. The 6’9” German native was enjoying a solid rookie campaign before his season ended in mid-March. Theis has returned to the team’s training facility to continue his rehab and recently began doing full-court sprints. “I’ve been back two weeks,” he told Blakely. “I’ve been doing new stuff every day.” Theis was a rotation player last season, appearing in 63 games, including three starts. He averaged 5.3 PPG and 4.3 RPG in 14.8 MPG. He’ll have to fight for minutes next season with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum established as starters and Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele and rookie Robert Williams also on the 15-man roster.
In other developments involving the Celtics:
- Swingman Jabari Bird considers his first opportunity to play last season as a turning point in his career, as he explained to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com. Bird got his number called in the second half with the team trailing by eight against the Sixers. Boston rallied for its first win of the season. “Getting drafted is one thing. That’s an honor. Playing Summer League and having some good games, that’s one thing,” he said. “But when you do it in an NBA game, regular season, road game, hostile environment, it just felt like I really belong at this level. Moving forward, I just knew: I’m here for a reason.” Bird parlayed his two-way deal last season into a standard two-year contract this summer with the first season guaranteed.
- Kyrie Irving is expected to opt out of his contract next summer and become a free agent but coach Brad Stevens has no plans to discuss the situation with his point guard, Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports reports. Stevens told Mannix that the atmosphere around the franchise speaks for itself. “I’m not going to talk to him about it at all,” Stevens said. “One of the things I want to do is give everything I can to all these guys while they’re here. Hopefully, the people that are here recognize that it’s a really good environment with a high upside for a long time.”
- In his latest post, Blakely offers a month-by-month breakdown of the Celtics’ just-released regular-season schedule.