Reality and the Salary Cap

Like myself prior to educating myself over the past month, Paul Pierce clearly has no idea how the salary cap works and the limitations that the team had to face going into this offseason.

Like many, I was hopeful the C’s could upgrade and get younger in the offseason. I figured that if Ray Allen was not resigned that would free up ~$19M per year which I wanted the team to use in pursuit of Dwyane Wade. I figured that Wade would sign with us for that, immediately put himself in a position to win additional championships and the future with he and Rondo manning the guard positions for the next 5+ years would be exceptionally bright.

It was a very hard reality when after reading and researching the topic I realized that due to the salary cap, this personal dream scenario had absolutely no chance of working. Clearly there are many here in the same boat as I that don’t clearly grasp the reality of the salary cap situation.

Here is my modest attempt at trying to clear up some of the confusion.


The salary cap for the upcoming season is ~ $58M.

Players that were under contract before free agency began:

Rajon Rondo: $9M
Avery Bradley: $1.4M
Kevin Garnett: $18.8M
Glen Davis: $3M
Kendrick Perkins: $4.1M
Rasheed Wallace: $6.3M

For these 6 players, The Celtics are on the hook for ~$43M. Those contracts cannot be renegotiated or lowered in any way. You would think that would leave them approximately $15M in cap space to sign a big name free agent. Unfortunately that is not the way the NBA salary cap works. All NBA teams are assessed something called a cap hold for all of their free agents. Not sure why they do it, but they do, and because of it, the Celtics were/are way, way over the $58M cap.

The only way to get around the cap holds are to renounce your rights to the free agents which means you no longer have the ability to sign those players for anything other than the vet minimum (I think that is correct – if not please feel free to correct me.) In other words we would not have been able to resign Pierce or Allen or Robinson to reasonable contracts and they all would have left, retired or had to sign for next to nothing. Additionally, we would not have been allowed our MLE because we would have been under the cap.

What does that mean? Well, we MIGHT have been able to sign a Wade or a James for $15M although the odds are remote. IF we could have signed one of them we would then have had 7 guys on the roster taking ALL of our cap space. One of them, Perkins, is going to be out for an extended period of time. The other, Wallace has strongly hinted at retirement. That leaves us 5 players and nothing but vet minimum contracts to fill out the roster with.

Knowing this, Ainge and the FO have done everything they can to bring back their own players in order to assemble the most competitive roster they can to compete for the next several years, as the league allows teams to go over the salary cap to resign their own players. I’m sure you’ve all read about them – things such as "Bird Right’s" and "non Bird RIghts", etc.

Additionally, because the team is over the cap the league allows a "mid-level exception" which as everybody knows was used to bring in Jermaine O’ Neal.

So, essentially, for the $15M in cap space the team would have had at the start of free agency if they had renounced all of their free agents, the team has already added Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Nate Robinson and Jermaine O’ Neal. They additionally still retain their "Bird" and "non-Bird" rights to the likes of Daniels, Scalabrine and Finley and can either sign said players or sign and trade players if they can find a willing partner.

What this off season really boils down to is which would you rather have?

1. Rondo, Garnett, Perkins, Davis, Bradley, Wallace, MAYBE Wade or James, and 6-8 vet minimum players. (7 players – one injured and one possibly retiring)

2. Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, Perkins, O’ Neal, Davis, Robinson, Bradley, Wallace, Erden, the possibilities of signing or sign and trades of Daniels, Finley and Scalabrine and 1-3 vet minimum players (10-11 players and some flexibility with the remaining players from last year’s roster)

3. Scrap the team and start from scratch - which is essentially what option 1 is since none of the big name free agents are going to join a team with 6-8 vet minimum players (6 players, 1 injured, 1 retiring and ~$15M to fill out a roster)

Can you imagine how dismal the team would be had the FO opted for option #1 and it had backfired?  Rondo, Garnett, Davis, Bradley, and only $15M to fill out the roster? I think it’s pretty clear Ainge and the FO have done the right thing this off season by selecting option #2 based on the fact they only had $15M available to start the free agency period.

Thank you for again assembling a team that has a chance to compete on a nightly basis Mr. Ainge!  I for one truly appreciate it.

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