Celtic fans received an unexpected surprise in 2014-15 as the men in green went 24-12 in their final 36 games to finish 40-42, a record that earned them the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Granted, they were swept by the Cavs so the season didn’t end on a high note, but making the playoffs was the best thing that could happen to this up and coming team. Some experts will lead you to believe that the Celtics are stuck in the middle, but with the youth and flexibility of the Boston roster, Ainge, Stevens, and Co. are far from stuck. If anything, they are the team in the best position to strike if (when) a big time star(s) becomes available.
The Celtics head into the offseason with roughly $20 million in cap space and a numerous amount of trade exemptions and draft picks. There are two trade exemptions that stand out and may explain Danny Ainge’ thought process when it comes to taking on contracts because the cap is going up. Ainge has a $13 million dollar exemption from the Rajon Rondo trade and roughly eight million from the Tayshaun Prince trade. Gerald Wallace is finally in the last year of his deal ($10 million), and teams that are looking for expiring contracts will most likely be willing to trade for the aging small forward.
With $20 million is cap space, two substantial trade exemptions equaling $21 million, and Wallace’ expiring $10 million, Boston has roughly $50 million to play with, and with that type of room, they could land two max players and two additional higher priced players that aren’t max but will bring significant talent upgrades. The free agent class is strong, especially if Kevin Love decides to opt out and test the market. Even if Love decides to stay in Cleveland, there will be other options for Boston that could help push them to the top tier in the Eastern Conference. Lamarcus Aldridge is an unrestricted free agent, as is Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. The Celtics need to do everything they possibly can to land one of the top big men on the market. It has been reported that Ainge plans to pursue Aldridge and Wesley Matthews in a package deal, and if that is the case, they would have two players that fill their biggest areas of need- a true big man and a wing that can spread the floor.
After attacking the free agent market, there is no need for Boston to stop there. You’ll hear some media members talk about how the Celtics picks this year aren’t tradable assets, which may be true pertaining to their own picks, but they do own the Brooklyn picks, and those are GOLD. Ainge could package a Brooklyn pick with one of his own, throw in Gerald Wallace and acquire a player(s) that could help push Boston into the 50-plus win category. The ownership team in Boston has proven that they are willing to spend to win, and if the opportunities arise that Ainge thinks MAY arise; the owners will be paying a luxury tax. There will definitely be teams looking to unload high priced players, especially with Kevin Durant sweepstakes occurring after next season. Last summer Danny Ainge swung an absolute steal of a trade with Cleveland when he landed Tyler Zeller, a player that had his salary accepted because of the Paul Pierce trade exemption; he’ll be in the same boat this summer as he tries to pull it off twice.
Celtics fans thought they were going to see fireworks in the summer of ’14, but instead of fireworks, Ainge accumulated the materials he needed to have a an explosive summer of ’15, and fans won’t only see fireworks, they’ll see Ainge bring this team back to the talent level from 2007 to 2013. Everything is in place for Boston to make a huge leap; now they just need to make it happen.