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Will The NBA Lockout Close The Celtics Window?

In case you missed every breathless report coming from the media this week on the CBA negotiations, we're looking at a possible lockout starting at midnight on Friday.  This could all be posturing and perhaps the two sides can strike a deal before training camp and we'll have a full season.  Or perhaps we could have a shortened season like we did back in 1998.  Or, yes, it is very possible that the league could shut down the entire season in 2011-12.  And if that happens, the window is shut, the doors are closed, and the Big 3 era will be over without so much as a victory lap.

Think this is premature?  Perhaps, but if you listen to the warnings from Stern and the owners, things will get a lot worse before they get better.

Mike Monroe: It only gets harder for owners, players

According to NBA executives familiar with the league’s strategies, once the lockout is in place, the owners will push for a hard salary cap of $45 million, the elimination of guaranteed contracts and ask that the players swallow a 33 percent salary cut. The concessions made in recent weeks, including the "flex cap" of $62 million and a guarantee of $2 billion in annual player payroll, will be off the table. If this seems certain to guarantee the loss of the entire 2011-12 season, it is because there are owners who think it is necessary for the long-term viability of the league.

In other words, whatever gains the two sides made in recent weeks (real or imagined) are gone by tomorrow.  This is not good news.

So what if the worst case happens and there's no season?

On the bright side, once the lockout is lifted we'll have Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce (presumably well rested but a year older), Avery Bradley, and lots of cap space (depending on the CBA) as well as the rights to 2 years worth of draft picks.  Lots of flexibility there.

On the down side, well, how many legitimate chances do you get to compete for a championship?  Every year since 2008 we've had at least a shot at a banner.  Injuries happen, bad trades happen, bad luck happens, but there's always that shot.  To have one last chance stolen away from you because millionaires can't agree with billionaires on how to split up our money doesn't sit too well with me.

Could the Celtics re-sign KG and Ray Allen to lower priced deals just to see if they've got one last run in them?  Yes, yes they could.  Will they?  Doubtful.  First of all, KG has hinted around retirement and might just hang it up if the lockout lingers all year.  Though Ray keeps himself in great shape, eventually age catches up with everyone and jump shooters that lose their lift drop off a cliff in terms of productivity.

Secondly, Danny is going to want to start the new era, and that is likely going to require all the cap space he can get his hands on.  So unless KG and Ray want to come back for vet minimum deals or some kind of steep discounts, I'm not anticipating there being much room for them.

One odd side effect of the lockout is Jeff Green becoming an unrestricted free agent.  Without a season he wouldn't have the need or ability to sign the one year tender offer, the Celtics wouldn't have an opportunity to extend him, and they also wouldn't have a year to try and acclimate him into the system better than they did at the end of last year.  He just hits the open market.

Last food for thought, and this is looking a couple of years ahead.  Paul Pierce's deal goes through the 2013-14 season, but is only fully guaranteed up to $5M that year (only $4M if he misses more than 50% of the team's games).  So if his productivity dropped off a great deal, it wouldn't shock anyone if he walked away or got bought out sometime before the beginning of the following year.

Anyway, the cap flexibility would allow the Celtics to be players in just about any post-lockout scenario.  Whatever new deal they have in place, the fewer guaranteed contracts on the payroll the better positioned we'll be.  Would that make up for the lost season and the missed opportunity to take one last shot at a title with this core group?  No.  Not at all.  But it could be worse.  I wouldn't want to trade places with the Lakers ($91M committed in 2012-13) or Magic (who would almost surely lose Howard for nothing).

Bonus Link: Bulpett looks at the same topic.

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