Cap Questions: Can The Celts Sign A Max Free Agent To Replace Kevin Garnett And Paul Pierce?

Kevin C. Cox

Day-dreaming about cap space in the event that KG and Pierce move on? Don't count on it...

Many fans have been speculating recently about Kevin Garnett retiring and/or Paul Pierce getting traded or waived before next year. Many of those fans further wonder what types of free agents we could sign in the event that our two veteran stars decided to move on. A name frequently tossed around is that of Josh Smith, who is a free agent this off-season. In examining our cap flexibility, we'll use Smith as an example, but the following analysis would apply to just about any "max" or "near-max" unrestricted free agent out there.

Could we sign Josh Smith or another "max" free agent in free agency? It's complicated. Barring trades, here's what our current salary structure looks like*:

Player 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Paul Pierce $16,790,345 $15,333,334
n/a n/a n/a
Kevin Garnett $11,566,265 $12,443,735 $12,000,000 n/a n/a
Rajon Rondo $11,000,000 $11,954,545 $12,909,091 n/a n/a
Jeff Green $8,385,000 $8,965,000 $9,445,000 $9,445,000 n/a
Brandon Bass $6,000,000 $6,450,000 $6,900,000 n/a n/a
Courtney Lee $5,000,000 $5,225,000 $5,450,000 $5,675,000 n/a
Jason Terry $5,000,000 $5,225,000 $5,450,000 n/a n/a
Avery Bradley $1,630,800 $2,511,432 $3,581,302 n/a n/a
Jared Sullinger
$1,365,720 $1,424,520 $2,269,260 $3,270,004 n/a
Fab Melo $1,311,240 $1,367,640 $2,249,768 $3,257,664 n/a
Jason Collins
$854,389 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Chris Wilcox
$854,389 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Leandro Barbosa $854,389 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Waived / Non-guaranteed Players $1,084,948
n/a n/a n/a n/a





Total Salary: $71,582,165 $73,437,885 $54,946,251 $19,639,028 $0

* All salaries are via this site, which I've found to be the most accurate source out there. In some instances, these may conflict with reported salaries on Hoopshype. Additionally, certain salaries may be affected by the payout / subtraction of certain bonuses. Team options are in red and qualifying offers are in green. Salaries shown in purple represent non-guaranteed / partially guaranteed deals.

If KG were to formally retire before July 1, his entire salary would come off the books. Things get a bit murkier if KG doesn't formally retire and instead requests a buyout, or if he delays his retirement and gets paid some portion of his contract in the interim. For purposes of this article, though, we'll assume he formally retires around draft time. (Note: If KG were to do so, he wouldn't be allowed to change his mind and come back next season unless all 30 teams agreed).

Taking KG's 2014 salary off our books, our committed salaries would still be just under $61 million. With a salary cap expected to be somewhere around $60 million, that doesn't give us any space to sign free agents (and that's without getting into things like cap holds, etc.)

If KG leaves, there's a good chance the team will look to move Pierce's salary, as well. Only $5 million of his contract is guaranteed next year. The most likely option would be for the Celtics to trade Pierce to another team looking to clear some salary around draft time. (Pierce's contract becomes fully guaranteed on July 1, so including him in a sign-and-trade isn't an option.) However, for purposes of this article, let's assume that the Celtics waive the Captain, and are only on the hook for $5 million.

If KG retires and the Celtics waive Pierce, our salary structure looks like this:

Player 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Paul Pierce (waived) $5,000,000 n/a n/a n/a
Kevin Garnett (retired) n/a n/a n/a n/a
Rajon Rondo $11,954,545 $12,909,091 n/a n/a
Jeff Green $8,965,000 $9,445,000 $9,445,000 n/a
Brandon Bass $6,450,000 $6,900,000 n/a n/a
Courtney Lee $5,225,000 $5,450,000 $5,675,000 n/a
Jason Terry $5,225,000 $5,450,000 n/a n/a
Avery Bradley $2,511,432 $3,581,302 n/a n/a
Jared Sullinger
$1,424,520 $2,269,260 $3,270,004 n/a
Fab Melo $1,367,640 $2,249,768 $3,257,664 n/a
Jason Collins
n/a n/a n/a n/a
Chris Wilcox
n/a n/a n/a n/a
Leandro Barbosa n/a n/a n/a n/a
Waived / Non-guaranteed Players n/a n/a n/a n/a





Total Salary: $50,660,816 $54,946,251 $19,639,028 $0

$50.6 million salary on a $60 million cap seemingly leaves $9.4 million in cap space. However, if Danny decides to keep our first rounder, that salary must be accounted for. If the season were to end today, the Celtics would pick 17th in the draft. The "scale" amount for that pick for the 2013-14 season will be $1,348,200. Therefore, that amount has to be counted against the Celtics' cap, leaving approximately $8 million.

However, the Celtics would only have nine players under contract. For each empty roster spot below 13 players, there is a roster charge equal to the rookie minimum of $490,180 that is added to the cap. That's four slots, equaling $1,960,720, that is subtracted from our available cap room. That brings the Celtics down to approximately $6.0 million in space. In other words, they'd be able to offer just over the mid-level exception to free agents, but would lose Bird rights to any of their own free agents in the process.

So, even if KG and Pierce depart, things are looking pretty bleak in terms of cap room. However, under the new CBA, the Celtics could clear enough room to sign a max free agent, if they wanted to both spend a ton of extra money and add "dead money" to their cap in future seasons.

First, there's a provision of the CBA that allows teams to "amnesty" one player who was signed under the last CBA. Paul Pierce would fall into this category. Under the amnesty provision, the Celtics could decide to waive Pierce. They'd still owe him his full contract value of $15,333,334, but none of that would count against the cap. (It's unclear if the Celtics could waive Pierce around draft time, and then "amnesty" the $5,000,000 he is owed. For purposes of this article, we'll assume that the Celts would be on the hook for the full contract).

Clearing another $5 million could potentially be big, as it would allow the Celtics to sign somebody in the range of $11 million+. That's probably not enough to sign a guy like Josh Smith -- he's eligible for an $18+ million contract in the first year of his new deal -- but it could land us a decent guy in free agency.

Still, where there's a will in free agency, there's often a way. In this case, the "way" is the new "stretch provision" of the CBA. Under this provision, a team can waive a player, and "stretch" his salary over double the length of the player's current deal, plus one year. So, if a player has one year left on his deal, the team can pay that player over three years (1 year, doubled = 2 years + 1 year = 3 years). The player would become a free agent (assuming he cleared waivers), and the team would pay the contract in equal installments for the number of "stretched" years.

For example: Brandon Bass is owed $13,350,000 over the next two seasons after this one. His contract could be "stretched" to five years, making his annual cap hit $2,670,000. The Celtics could choose to have up to $9 million in dead money on their cap, equaling 15% of the projected $60 million salary cap.

So, let's assume the Celtics decide to "stretch" Brandon Bass and Jason Terry. That gets us to here:

Player 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Paul Pierce (waived) n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Kevin Garnett (retired) n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Rajon Rondo $11,954,545 $12,909,091 n/a n/a n/a
Jeff Green $8,965,000 $9,445,000 $9,445,000 n/a n/a
Brandon Bass (waived) $2,670,000 $2,670,000 $2,670,000 $2,670,000 $2,670,000
Courtney Lee $5,225,000 $5,450,000 $5,675,000 n/a n/a
Jason Terry (waived) $2,135,000 $2,135,000 $2,135,000 $2,135,000 $2,135,000
Avery Bradley $2,511,432 $3,581,302 n/a n/a n/a
Jared Sullinger
$1,424,520 $2,269,260 $3,270,004 n/a n/a
Fab Melo $1,367,640 $2,249,768 $3,257,664 n/a n/a
#17 pick $1,348,200 $1,408,900 $1,469,500 $2,257,152 n/a
Cap hold $490,180 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Cap hold $490,180 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Cap hold $490,180 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Cap hold $490,180 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Cap hold $490,180 n/a n/a n/a n/a
Cap hold $490,180 n/a n/a n/a n/a






Total Salary: $39,332,417 $42,118,321 $27,922,168 $7,062,152 $4,805,000

Somebody please check my math, but under that scenario, the Celtics would have approximately $20,667,583 in cap room. Additionally, they'd have a "room" exception of $2.575 million. They'd have to sign any free agents using this cap space, the room exception, or minimum contracts.

The team would be left with this roster:

Jared Sullinger / Fab Melo / Free Agent (min)

Josh Smith / #17 pick / Free Agent (min)

Jeff Green / Free Agent ($2.575 million)

Avery Bradley / Courtney Lee / Free Agent (min)

Rajon Rondo / Free Agent (min)

The team would be pretty capped out, most likely limited to bringing in free agents using the MLE and bi-annual exception in future years. The team could always decide to "stretch" Jeff Green and/or Courtney Lee to create even more cap space, but with that comes further dead money, which doesn't seem to be a recipe for success.

So what do you think? Is it worth it? If KG does retire, what path should the Celtics take?

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