Anything is possible! How quickly we forget Kevin Garnett's burst of emotion after winning the 2008 NBA Finals, Banner 17 for the Boston Celtics. Just one year before that, if someone had told you that the Celtics would acquire both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, you would've been told that it's impossible and to stop living in your video game fantasy world.
Well, not quite impossible, because it did happen. Sure, the stars had to align, but Danny Ainge and his brilliant front office made it a reality.
Garnett's "anything is possible" scream might've just been said out of passion, but he's right. As humans, we've got to think big since that's the only way dreams can ever manifest into reality.
Don't you think that Ainge is still dreaming big heading into this offseason? It'll be difficult for the Celtics to pair Kevin Love with Rajon Rondo, and it's highly unlikely that they'd be able to add Carmelo Anthony on top of that, but it's not impossible like some claim it is.
Earlier this year Danny Ainge and Celtics president Rich Gotham discussed the organization's approach to the offseason. "We do have flexibility to react to opportunities that might present themselves," said Gotham. "I think that's a big part of what we've tried to accomplish, whether that goes to a free agent or a trade."
"Not just by signing free agents into cap space this summer, but through sign and trades," added Ainge. "We have a lot of flexibility for sign and trade potential."
The key words from those quotes are flexibility, react, and opportunities. As the league inches towards the NBA Draft, those opportunities could possibly present themselves and the Celtics will have the flexibility to react.
In a salary cap exercise here's how the Boston Celtics can assemble the next Big 3 this summer and set themselves up for a run at Banner 18. To be clear, the events outlined are highly unlikely to happen, but the point of this article is to outline how it can happen, just like the "impossible" blockbuster trades in 2007 were made possible by intelligent manipulation of the salary cap, and a lot of luck.
Phase 1, Pre-Draft: Acquire Kevin Love
Boston is actually in a very good position to acquire Kevin Love, contrary to the belief of the national media because of Flip Saunders' public posturing. They have the most assets to offer, and if they're serious about acquiring Love, they'll probably end up with the best offer with its all said and done. What could that best offer be? How about something along these lines:
|Boston Celtics Trade:
|Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Keith Bogans
2014 Celtics 1st (#6), 2014 Nets 1st (#17)
2015 Clippers 1st, 2016 Nets 1st
|Minnesota Timberwolves Trade:
(Promises to Sign Five-Year Max
Contract Extension in 2015)
It's hard to imagine any team being able to top Boston's offer of four first rounders, with two this season, and two quality players in Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger. Minnesota would be able to decline Keith Bogans' unguaranteed deal and save themselves cap room. In addition, Green could opt out for free agency in 2015, opening up even more space for them going forward, or they'd have the option of signing him to a large extension and making him part of the future.
For the Celtics, they'd acquire a superstar talent to pair alongside Rajon Rondo and they'd retain their ability to make further impact moves. They'd be left without draft picks in 2014, but a "total salary" $56,147,976 would give them plenty of room to make more moves.
However, Love will be a free agent in 2015 (assuming he opts out of his contract), which gives him two options in the event of a trade. He could agree to an "extend-and-trade," which would essentially be a three-year, $51.5 million extension. Or, he could "promise" to sign a full five-year max contract extension worth roughly $100 million after the conclusion of the 2015 season. For the sake realism, the "promise" is the most likely scenario.
Phase 2, Early July: Acquire Omer Asik
Houston is reportedly trying and trade Asik in order to open up cap room this summer. They have their sights set on the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dirk Nowitzki, so unloading Asik and Jeremy Lin without taking salary back is a must. Not a lot of teams can take both, but the Celtics can at least take one of them.
|Boston Celtics Trade:
|Paul Pierce Trade Exception
2017 Boston or Brooklyn 1st
|Houston Rockets Trade:
The deal makes sense for the Rockets considering their plans this offseason to clear cap space, and they'd acquire a future first rounder; the Celtics could even add some future second round draft picks to sweeten the deal if necessary.
Assistant coach Ron Adams who formerly worked with Omer Asik in Chicago has said that he's one of best defenders in the NBA, and he could be right. To put it simply, Asik would totally revamp Boston's defense as a sensational rim protector.
At this point, Boston would be above the projected soft cap of $63.2 million with a total salary of $64,522,622. Here is what the Boston Celtics' roster would look like after the Asik trade:
Phase 3, Late July: Acquire Carmelo Anthony
This is where it gets very complicated and it's often when some of the crazy intricacies of the NBA salary cap start to get confusing. But with a lot of luck, it's possible.
Phase 3.1: Carmelo Anthony opts out and is willing to do a sign-and-trade
In order for Boston to realistically (and reasonably) acquire Carmelo Anthony this summer, he'd first have to opt out of his 2014/15 deal with the Knicks, but then he'd have to agree with a sign-and-trade contract that would bring him to Boston. And, of course, the Knicks would have to sign off on a deal -- not that they wouldn't if Melo put them in a position like this.
If Anthony agrees to a four-year, maximum contract extension with the Knicks, it'll be valued at $95,897,372 with a starting salary of $22,458,401 in 2014. He could receive more money and an extra year by straight-up resigning with the Knicks, but if he opts out, it appears that he may be willing to do this.
Phase 3.2: Use the stretch provision on Gerald Wallace
Then on Boston's end, the move would still be difficult. Assuming all of those things all happened, the Celtics would have to use the stretch provision on Gerald Wallace in order to release him and open up the space required to add Carmelo and sign players later in the offseason.
If Boston used the stretch provision on Wallace, his two-year, $20,211,710 contract would instead be stretched over a five-year period, worth $4,042,342 per. In many ways, this would be a bad move for the Celtics, but considering everything it's well worth it. Doing this, the Celtics would open $6,063,513.
Phase 3.3: Agree to a sign-and-trade with Kris Humphries
So, to acquire Carmelo Anthony, the Celtics would need to also sign-and-trade one of their own pending free agents to a large contract that could satisfy the difference in salary. How about Kris Humphries?
The Nets used a loophole to resign Keith Bogans last year to make the blockbuster deal with the Boston work, and the Celtics could essentially do the same here by using their bird rights to resign Humphries to a three-year deal with the following years unguaranteed. Just like with Bogans, the only important year would be his first-year salary of $12 million.
This would make a lot of sense for Humphries to do since he'd get loads of playing time on the rebuilding Knicks, and he's not getting paid like that anywhere else. Doing this would set him up for a potentially big payday in 2015.
If all of this happened, the trade could finally go down and look something like this:
|Boston Celtics Trade:
|Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries, Joel Anthony
2015 Celtics 1st, 2015 76ers 1st (or two 2nds)
|New York Knicks Trade:
Agreeing to this only makes sense for the Knicks if they're put in a position where Anthony says he's willing to sign-and-trade to Boston and only Boston. They could probably be offered more by other organizations, but that doesn't exactly matter if Melo is threatening to walk elsewhere, leaving the Knicks with nothing in return.
And for the Celtics, they'd be completing one of the greatest trios in the NBA of Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and Rajon Rondo. Paired with Omer Asik, the only thing they'd really lack is a shooting guard and some bench players. At this point, this is what their depth chart would look like:
Phase 4, Late July: Resign Avery Bradley
Boston's total salary would now be at $70,217,510 and they'd still have their cap holds on Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless, giving them the freedom of signing them using exceptions, like they did with Humphries in the sign-and-trade.
The 2014 luxury tax is projected to be around $77 million, but since the Celtics already used a sign-and-trade exception, they wouldn't be able to go past the "apron" of $81 million. The reasons for this are far too complicated and wordy to explain in depth, but at this point the Celtics would have about $10,782,490 to spend before they're out of room.
Now the Celtics could use their bird rights to resign Avery Bradley to a reasonable three-year deal worth $7 million per; this seems fair considering the market, his youth, and his increased progression last season. Starting Bradley's salary at $6,494,000 during the first year would momentarily keep them under the luxury tax as they prepare for their next couple of moves.
Phase 5, Summer: Fill The Roster
Boston would now have a new total salary of $76,711,510, so they would be able to use their non-taxpayer mid-level exception or bi-annual exception and their minimum player exception. But since they're hard capped at $81 million, they'd only have $4,288,490 available. With only four bigs on the roster, declining Chris Babb's unguaranteed salary would make sense to increase their total space to $5,104,972.
With Babb's open salary, they could sign Colton Iverson to the league minimum to bolster their depth at the center position. They'd have $4,597,636 remaining and could use that space to resign Jerryd Bayless, who likely will demand somewhere between $1.5 and $3 million on the open market. If he's serious about wanting to call Boston "home," then accepting a two-year deal worth $1.5 million per is a bit of a hometown discount.
At this point the Celtics would be in need of a backup small forward and there seems to be one perfect option out there on the free agent market: Paul Pierce.
Boston could use part of their non-taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Pierce to a deal of one-year, $2 million to complete their roster and their perfect offseason.
They'd only have $1,097,636 available in "cap space" but with 12 players on the roster and positional versatility, the lack of depth on the backend wouldn't be a big problem, and they'd have enough breathing room to add another player during the season if necessary.
Here is what the Boston Celtics' 2014/15 roster would look like on paper:
Obviously, the roster is absolutely stacked -- that's why this article is a total "fantasy." But if the Celtics want to put themselves in the best-possible position to win Banner 18 in 2015, then this could be the roster that Danny Ainge is also dreaming about building this offseason.
The Celtics would have a perfect blend of offense with Rondo's playmaking abilities, Bradley's complimentary scoring, Anthony's go-to scorer ability, Love's dominance, and Asik's ability to finish near the rim. With Olynyk, Pierce, and Bayless coming off the bench, the Celtics would have plenty of scoring to keep the activity going for all 48-minutes of the game. And Iverson, Johnson, Pressey, and Faverani are all energy players that can provide a spark when needed.
And defensively, the Celtics would have arguably the best perimeter defender in the league in Bradley and the best rim protector in Asik. Even though Love and Anthony are poor individual defenders, they are outstanding rebounders at their positions, so it's hard to see the Celtics giving up too many offensive boards, especially when paired with Asik.
It is arguably the perfect roster on paper. But as you can tell from the 2000 words preceding this: It's not easy to get to this point. To get an idea of how unlikely it is, here is how the salary breakdown would look:
|Kevin Love (Extend in 2015)
|Rajon Rondo (Extension)
|Gerald Wallace (Stretched)
|Vitor Faverani (2015 Option)
|Kelly Olynyk (2017 RFA)
|Phil Pressey (2016 RFA)
With Anthony, Love, and Rondo locked up, the Celtics would have their Big 3 set through 2018, but Asik would need to be resigned in 2015. However, they wouldn't be able to re-up him until after June 30, 2015, which is when their hard cap restriction would be rescinded.
Gerald Wallace's salary is also a glaring wart to look at through 2017, but it could be worth it considering all the star power on the roster. With Olynyk, Johnson, and Pressey, the Celtics could have a handful of rookies that could develop into quality role players at a fair price anyway.
It's also worth mentioning that the Celtics would retain their 2016 first round draft pick. They'd have no firsts in 2015 or 2017, but they likely wouldn't be in a position to add a guaranteed rookie salary in 2015 anyway. Losing the picks wouldn't be a major problem considering everything coming in.
It's a stacked roster and the Celtics would be paying luxury tax virtually every year, but they did the same thing during the Garnett, Pierce, and Allen Big 3 era, so it's likely that they would now. This roster would put them into NBA Finals contention every season, possibly soon as soon is this season if Brad Stevens was able to get the chemistry flowing.
This was a salary cap exercise only to show that it can happen, but as you can obviously tell it will take a lot of luck and fortunate circumstances. It was important to illuminate some light onto the fact that this offseason is virtually unpredictable, but to also show that anything is possible as long as the organization puts themselves in a flexible position to react to opportunities. And the Boston Celtics have certainly done that.