This was the offseason that everyone was waiting for, and now that we know the Celtics have the third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, we can start to draw up the blueprint for the future. It is misleading to look at the Celtics "total dollars spent" that count against the cap because Boston has 35 million dollars worth of contracts on their books that can all be wiped clean, giving them around 58 million dollars to play with this offseason. Here is the cap breakdown for 2016-17:
ACTIVE CONTRACTS- $51,846,266
CAP HOLDS (FREE AGENTS)- $16,668,751
NON-GUARANTEED CONTRACTS- $17,874,636
TOTAL CAP HIT- $68,515,017
CURRENT CAP SPACE- $23,484,983
POTENTIAL CAP SPACE- $58,028,370
The non-guaranteed contracts are not only good for Boston because they can simply choose to not keep them, they can also use them as trade bait and it immediately clears enough cap room to add a player like Jimmy Butler, who's cap hit this upcoming season is $17,552,209. Let's say that, hypothetically speaking, the Celtics trade the No. 3 pick, Avery Bradley ($8,269,663), Amir Johnson ($12,000,000), and about three more first rounders for Butler. Considering that Butler makes $17,552,209, the Celtics would actually save $2,717,454.
The cap holds (Sullinger, Zeller, Turner) have to be dealt with early, and if they don't like what the Celtics are offering on the first try, renounce them. First and foremost, renounce Jared Sullinger, which clears $5,673,150 off the books. The next step is dealing with Tyler Zeller and his absurd $6.5 million dollar cap hold. Zeller should receive an offer for three years/eight million, a palatable number for a backup center who barely played last season. If he balks, he walks.
The most important of the three, Evan Turner, seems likes he wants to return and Boston has already told him they want him back, but they will not overpay for his services. The best way to keep Turner around and give him a raise going forward is to give him say three years/16 million, but backload the deal for when the cap goes up next season. If he makes four million in 16-17 and then six million for the 17-18 and 18-19 seasons, that is a very acceptable contract for a player that fills multiple roles and is still relatively young.
With the cap holds taken care of and at least another 10 million off the books, it's time to re-visit the non-guaranteed deals- Jonas Jerebko (5 million) and John Holland (874,636). Jerebko is a decent player and he did well in the playoffs when called up, but his salary might go towards helping to pay a max deal, so he and Holland will most likely be released or traded before free agency begins.
Now, it is important to note with all these moves that Danny Ainge could do one thing that clears the decks- renounce all their free agents, and release Johnson, Jerebko, and Holland. Johnson will most likely be held onto for trade bait because of his large salary and the fact he can help a team, but if he isn't included in the inevitable draft day trade, he'll most likely be released too. Here is the what the Celtics roster would look like if they simply let the cap holds walk and release any player with a non-guaranteed contract:
*Amir Johnson- PF/C- $12,000,000
Avery Bradley- PG/SG- $8,269,663
Isaiah Thomas- PG- $6,587,132
Jae Crowder- SF- $6,286,408
Marcus Smart- PG- $3,578,880
Kelly Olynyk-C- $3,094,014
Terry Rozier- PG- $1,906,440
James Young- SG- $1,852,200
Jordan Mickey- PF- $1,223,653
R.J. Hunter- SG- $1,200,240
Total Cap Dollars- $45,998,630
Total Cap Room- $46,001,370
*- Amir Johnson retained for trade purposes
Some people may see this and freak out a little because Boston would have only nine players on their roster, but with over $46 million in cap space, Boston could trade for a max, sign a max player, sign a player that makes between 13-15 million, and still have room to add second/third tier free agents and draft picks to round out the roster.
OK, so now that we have done all the initial work of cleaning up the roster and clearing out cap space, it is time to upgrade the roster. Here is the order of transactions:
TRADE: Boston trades Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson, No. 3 Pick to Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler; Boston saves $2,717,454. Total Cap $43,281,176
RE-SIGN: Tyler Zeller, three years/$8 million; cap hit for 2016-17 is two million; cap hit for 17-18 and 18-19 is three million each year. Total Cap $45,281,176
RE-SIGN: Evan Turner, three years/$16 million; cap hit for 2016-17 is four million; cap hit for 17-18 and 18-19 is six million each year. Total Cap $49,281,176
SIGN: C Dwight Howard, three years/$66 million, cap hit is $20 million; cap hit for 17-18 is $21 million; cap hit for 18-19 is 25 million. Total Cap $69,281,176
SIGN: PF Ryan Anderson, four years/$52 million, cap hit is $13 million for each year of the contract. Total Cap $82,281,176
SIGN: SF Matt Barnes, two years/$9 million, cap hit for 16-17 is four million, cap hit for 17-18 is five million. Total Cap $86,821,176
SIGN: PF Jordan Hill, two years/$12 million, cap hit for 16-17 is five million, cap hit for 17-18 is seven million. Total Cap $91,821,176
These pickups will put the Celtics just below the $92 million dollar salary cap and give them a roster that can compete in the East. Boston has other options too, and they'll be very active in the trade market leading up to the draft. Other players like James Harden, Jahlil Okafor, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony may be available to Boston, but there isn't a huge difference in their salaries in comparison to Howard and Butler. Boston also has a mid-level exemption to use if they happen to go over the cap, and that might be the route they have to go if they can't get everyone they want to fit under the cap.
When the Miami Heat built their super team back in 2010, the reason they were able to pull it off was due to Pat Riley's fantastic management of the cap. The Heat basically cleared the decks completely, signed the players they wanted, and then added players that had been released and veterans that were looking for a title and willing to take less money. Danny Ainge has a similar opportunity this offseason as he can clear up to $58 million dollars and add three legit players to a team that is already pretty good. Will Ainge have the guts to roll the dice and clear as much space as possible heading into free agency? We will see, but I get the feeling Celtics fans would rather know the answer sooner than later.
Salary Information Provided by Spotrac.com/Boston Celtics
Follow me @chris_simoneau