31 Jul What are the Boston Celtics Up To?
The Celtics surprised us last season with their 7th place finish and again when they make no noise in the off-season. What is the strategy in Boston?
Let’s find out:
Getting David Lee
The Celtics have acquired forward/center David Lee from the Warriors in exchange for Gerald Wallace and Chris Babb: http://t.co/l58D4xon6z
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 27, 2015
The Celtics failed to land a marquee name in the market, but they bagged a decent one via trade. The Celtics acquired Forward David Lee from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Gerald Wallace. Eyebrows were raised in the addition of Lee, now 32 years old and clearly on the decline. But remember that before Lee yielded his minutes to Draymond Green in Steve Kerr’s rotation, he averaged 18.2 points and 9.3 boards in Golden State’s 2014 playoff team. Sure, Lee averaged just 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds last season, but when his number was called in Games 3 and 4 of the 2015 NBA Finals, he responded with 10.0 points in 14.4 minutes of action in those two crucial championship games.
Like Gerald Wallace, Lee is in entering the final year of his contract although he is more expensive at $15.5M versus $10.1M. But if you compare both, Lee should have more impact to the team than Wallace this season because he provides their young frontline with a more consistent and efficient scorer. In Brad Stevens’ pace and space offense, Lee can be the excellent screener to Isaiah Thomas or Marcus Smart, considering that he is a capable finisher and a very good mid-range shooter.
On a Relief Mission
— TAXMAPUSA (@TAXMAPUSA) July 9, 2015
In taking David Lee, the Celtics did the defending champions Warriors a favor by cutting their luxury taxes by around $30-$34M. Now that’s some relief right there for the Dubs. But the Celtics’ “relief mission” didn’t end with David Lee, in fact it started with him. The Celtics also lent a helping hand to Oklahoma City and took in the Thunder’s 2012 1st round pick (28th overall) Perry Jones in exchange for a conditional second round pick. The trade sliced OKC’s luxury bill by $7M.
The Thunder are preparing to trade Perry Jones and a future second round pick to the Celtics. The deal will create roughly $7m in savings.
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 14, 2015
Then on 7.26.15, the Celtics took in Zoran Dragic from the Miami Heat for a conditional pick that will likely not go to Miami. As part of absorbing Dragic’s $1.7M guaranteed salary, the Celtics will get the Heat’s 2020 2nd round pick. On the other hand, the Heat will shave off Zoran’s numbers from the $10M cap excess they are trying to shed. Look, Zoran is no Goran Dragic but he’s a solid player who can turn out to be an asset. If not, the Celtics still have that 2nd round pick as a consolation anyway and the same goes with Perry Jones.
Crowder, Johnson and Jerebko
Perry Jones, David Lee and Amir Johnson are introduced w/ Jerbeko & Crowder in Waltham. pic.twitter.com/dWsueNHgbQ
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 27, 2015
On July 9, 2015, the Celtics announced their first free agency moves by signing Toronto Raptors’ big man Amir Johnson and re-signing forward Jonas Jerebko. Both were signed to two year deals worth $24M for Johnson and $10M for Jerebko and while these weren’t the big signings fans were hoping for, the Celtics still got two assets in modest deals.
On July 27, 2015, the Celtics also officially re-signed Jae Crowder to a five year extension worth $35M. Crowder was supposed to be a sweetener in the Rajon Rondo deal, but as the 2015 season went on, he became a crucial figure in the second half surge that saw the C’s take the 7th playoff spot in the East. Crowder averaged 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 57 games as a Celtic. Those were career best numbers for the 34th pick of the 2012 NBA draft.
Here is the official Summer League roster: pic.twitter.com/HyvgDYP1MX
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 1, 2015
The fact that the Celtics don’t have any maximum contract right now is proof that this team isn’t what the future is for the franchise. Once they finalize all their current deals, the Celtics will have 17 guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season. The highest paid player is Johnson at $12M while 11 of those contracts are below $3.5M per annum.
If you take a look at the contracts of their players, only Crowder, Thomas and Bradley are guaranteed beyond this season with Crowder being tied up the longest until 2020. That shows us what Ainge’s long term plans are: Nothing yet except Crowder and perhaps Bradley and Thomas. Ainge even joked about Jerebko’s contract during the press conference to announce his signing:
“We’re excited to have Jonas back for a year. Or two, we’ll see.”
While Jerebko and Johnson were signed to two year deals, the second year of both contracts isn’t guaranteed, meaning if they don’t fit into the Celtics’ system, Ainge can save $17M in salaries next season or he can package the non-guaranteed years as trade weapons. David Lee, Perry Jones and Zoran Dragic are also on a one year leash so the Celtics have a lot of flexibility going to the 2016 free agent market.
2016 Free Agency
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) June 30, 2015
The 2016 NBA free agency is expected to be the biggest in recent years with stars likes Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and LeBron James on the board. Superstars like Al Horford, Mike Conley and DeMar DeRozan will also be available as well as veterans like Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Rajon Rondo and DeRon Williams. Count in too perennial starters like Roy Hibbert, Chandler Parsons, Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, Timofey Mozgov, Eric Gordon, Gerald Henderson, Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin and even O.J. Mayo.
2016-17 is also the season when the new TV deal kicks off and it’s the year when the salary cap is expected to balloon from around $70M to around $90M. It’s the very reason why LeBron James re-signed with Cleveland for a one-and-one deal, so he can cash in. So if the Celtics are saving money and creating flexibility for 2016, what advantage will they have over the other teams when the significant increase in cap space is applicable to all teams?
War Chest of Picks
Celtics draft picks through 2021. pic.twitter.com/WnsYbHz8TN
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) July 27, 2015
In a span of one week last season, Danny Ainge pulled off a “four in five” which was four trades in a span of five working days. During that trading spree, Ainge traded their top scorer Jeff Green, Brandan Wright and Jameer Nelson (the principals in the Rondo deal) and Austin Rivers (by product of Jeff Green trade). In doing so, the Celtics acquired 2 conditional first round picks, 1 second round pick and some $7.4M in trade exceptions.
Prior to that, they also traded superstar point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks, getting three players and two future draft picks. So what was Ainge thinking in giving away his top two scorers in Rondo and Green? He was building a war chest of draft picks which he could use to acquire talent, use as trade leverage or both. The Celtics had six picks in the last two drafts and if projections hold, they will have eight picks in the 2016 draft, three of which would be first rounders. In 2017, the Celtics are also projected to have three more first round picks as a result of Ainge’s moves in the past three seasons, beginning with the blockbuster trade with Brooklyn in 2013. Now that’s a whole lot of young talent coming in, if they are going to keep them.
"We've taken a step forward by adding these guys and our draft picks." ? pic.twitter.com/KSil2GDGaW
— GREEN RUNS DEEP™☘ (@CelticsNation5) July 27, 2015
Having a war chest of draft picks will be the Celtics’ main weapon in the 2016 Free Agency wars and beyond. Having the flexibility of contracts makes them ready for change. One thing is sure though. Because most players on the Celtics’ squad are on a short leash, these 17 players or so will be fighting not just for playing time but for roster space, meaning the Celtics’ should be having a real competitive training camp. Having said that, the trimmed down roster should be one that is born out of blood, sweat and tears literally. No, it won’t be star-laden like the pre-season title favorites are. It will be a blue-collar team led by a blue-collar Jae Crowder-nothing fancy, nothing spectacular but very effective. The team isn’t great but it’s solid enough to compete.
Now take a look at the bench and the guy calling the shots. 38 year old Brad Stevens is the male version of Cinderella. This fairy tale bench tactician led obscure Butler to two trips to the NCAA Championship game. Although he lost both times, his first appearance came down to the final possession with Gordon Hayward barely missing a last second half-court shot that allowed Duke to win 61-59. Stevens is a master of maximizing talents and putting them together in one cohesive unit. We saw it with the Celtics post-All Star Break 2015 and just like repeating his title game appearance in Butler, there is reason to believe he will lead the Celtics to the playoffs again. We wonder what he does with a clearly more talented team this time around. Now come to think of it, isn’t this where Danny Ainge wanted his Celtics to be at this point in their rebuilding?
RELATED IN THE SKYBOX…