The trade deadline is over and done and the team is working on making a late playoff push, but that doesn't mean that we can't look ahead to the summer. Rumors and rampant speculation is fun for all times of the year!
Last summer the team made every effort to get into the star acquisition business and owner Wyc Grousbeck famously hoped for "fireworks." That didn't work out and Danny has since traded away Rajon Rondo, but that doesn't mean that all hope for a quicker path to contention has died.
The Celtics have been lining things up for the summer of 2015 for a while now. Carefully managing contracts that expire this summer and steadfastly avoiding adding contracts that extend beyond this season (with the glaring exception of Isaiah Thomas who's a great value at his price going forward).
So what could they have in mind? Well, all your wildest dreams basically.
The Celtics have a ton of cash and are geared up to use it. Target number one is Kevin Love. Target number two is Greg Monroe. Sources close to the process say the Celtics’ plan to swing for the proverbial fences this summer including runs at Gasol, Leonard and Butler too. With a roster jammed with young guys, there is also a sense that Boston would be open to a sign-and-trade if they can get someone to take an offer as a means to avoid to the matching game and potentially open up more space.
Any one of those guys would dramatically improve this roster and if Ainge managed to find a way to add two of them, we'd be instantly in the mix in the Eastern Conference (depending on what he might have to give up to get them).
As we've discussed numerous times in the past, Ainge has all his options available to him. He can use his trade exceptions, future picks, and other assets to make a trade or a sign-and-trade. He can make a trade around draft time using the trade exceptions that he's picked up in the last year. Or he can renounce all his cap holds and sign free agents outright. Or perhaps it will be a mix of everything. He's got a wizard of a capologist in Mike Zarren and he's about as creative a GM as there is out there.
Of course wanting to go after the biggest fish doesn't guarantee anything. You have to sell them on the direction of the team not unlike the way they had to convince Kevin Garnett to come to Boston in 2007. It is cold and there haven't been a lot of wins lately. But the structure is there from the owners to the GM to the coaches. The team is headed in the right direction and all it takes is one big name to buy in and more would be willing to follow.
Still, if the big names pass us by once again, the team will continue with their plan and await the next big opportunity to capitalize on their assets.
At least one writer wonders if Ainge would be better off holding onto his exceptions.
The Celtics have only about $40.4MM in commitments for next season against a projected $68MM cap, motivation to officially open cap space and chase free agents. ... That $40.4MM doesn’t include a cap hold for the C’s own pick or the one the Clippers owe them. It also doesn’t take into account anyone salary the team might acquire around draft time using its trade exceptions. Boston wouldn’t have to officially renounce its exceptions until after the July Moratorium, at which point many marquee free agents have often already made their decisions. Few stars clamor to join a team in a cold-weather city with no other discernible star on the roster, so Ainge may be better served staying above the cap and using his exceptions to scour the trade market, where players have less control over their destinations. His decision to take on Thomas for the expiring contract of Thornton and add nearly $6.913MM to next year’s commitments as a result is further hint that the Celtics won’t go under the cap this summer.
Personally I doubt that there's any one plan that Ainge is shooting for. He's got to have dozens of options that have dozens of contingencies on top of that. Maybe Kevin Love is his top choice and maybe he isn't. That will be moot if he picks up his player option or decides that he wants to stick around Cleveland long term. There are just so many variables right now that it is impossible to tell what will happen and when. Which is part of why all of this is so much fun.
So stay tuned. The Celtics are going to take another swing for the fences. They want to see fireworks. They want more banners. I don't know if any of this will work, but it will be very entertaining to watch them try.