Kevin did a great job looking at some quick thoughts on the Courtney Lee for Jerryd Bayless trade. If you scroll through the articles done by the media, it is pretty universally considered a great long-term deal for the Celtics. Once he's allowed to comment on the trade, you can bet that Ainge is going to sell us on the great talent that Bayless possesses. That's all well and good and we get a few months to evaluate Bayless to see if he's a long term fit. But the real prize here is cap flexibility.
Most importantly, the Celtics cut their guaranteed payroll to just $42.5 million next season — well below the projected salary cap of $62.1 million — offering Celtics president Danny Ainge even more flexibility to re-sign Avery Bradley, acquire anyone on the free-agent market and/or make any trade under the sun. The Celtics now also have some wiggle room to add another player this season to fill the roster at 15.
My caution here is that there are some cap holds associated with our 2 draft picks that need to be factored into the final number. See here for a full breakdown of the cap situation but the upshot is that the team is likely to be around the $50M salary level without further moves.
Also, the team will have to make a decision on re-signing Avery Bradley, who will be a restricted free agent (rumored to be worth in the $8 to $9M per year range at this point). The Celtics and Bradley failed to reach a commitment early this season in part because Boston wanted to maintain cap flexibility.
In theory we could shed some more salary and offer a pretty big contract to a prime free agent (no, not LeBron or Melo and the like). This is where I remind you that Boston isn't a "destination city" (especially now that Doc Rivers is gone) and the team hasn't signed a major free agent ...well, ever. The last time Ainge had this much salary cap space, he re-upped Bass and Green and rolled the dice on another few years of the Big 3 era. Probably the best he could do at the time, but not exactly the home run deal many were dreaming of at the time.
Regression to the mean
I hate to say I told you so... naw, that's not true. I love telling you I told you so. I've been on record all year saying I thought this was about a 30 win team and right now we're about on pace for 32 wins.
So who would the Celtics target on the free agent landscape? Restricted free agent Gordon Hayward might be getting a call from the Celtics in early July. Same with Greg Monroe. Both are likely to have any offers matched by their current teams, but the Celtics are at least in a position to test their resolve. Plus, if either team wants to work out a sign and trade or even trade them at the deadline before their contracts come up for renewal, the Celtics have the assets to go get them.
Or we might see a slower approach. If things don't pan out for an immediate upgrade, the Celtics could use their cap room to facilitate trades that add even more assets. Look no further than this past offseason when teams were shedding the contracts of good, useful players in exchange for the cap flexibility to sign major free agents. The Celtics could help another team make a small deal at the trade deadline or a bigger deal in the offseason and pick up even more draft picks for their trouble.
"Wait," you say, "how many picks do we really need?" That's a very fair point. At some point you have to turn these assets into real, live basketball players that help you win basketball games. I still think Ainge is going to be open to move some salary guys around the trade deadline if a deal presents itself. But come the summer, I think he's going to be in bigtime buying mode.
Think of the assets at his disposal. 2 first round picks this year (in a much ballyhooed draft). Several future draft picks. Young players with promise and still on their rookie deals (Olynyk, Sullinger). Movable (and matchable) contracts (Green, Bass). Creative solutions (trade exception from the Pierce/Garnett trade, potential sign-and-trade of Avery Bradley). And of course, cap space that allows you to take back more in salary than you send out in a trade.
That's a better setup than we had in 2007.
We've got a ways to go till then and we have to see where we land on the draft board with our two picks, but that's enough to make me very hopeful for the future.