What a bizarre season for the Boston Celtics. Rajon Rondo, the theoretical franchise player, was traded away and LeBron James, the most loathed man in Boston sports, prevailed in a sweep, but both the organization and the fans are as enthusiastic about the future as they've been in years.
Everyone is reacting so strangely because this has been a unique season of tumultuous change. Players have gone through the revolving door of Trader Danny's offices so frequently that fans are beginning to realize every player is expendable and there are no untouchables.
And despite all the changes, significant progress was made with a surprise playoff appearance and a tremendous 24-12 record to close the regular season. Even though the Celtics got swept, they showed heart in each of the losses, so the TD Garden faithful chanted ‘Let's go Celtics!" as the buzzer sounded.
"[The crowd] was fantastic. It's something that you want to be a part of," Brad Stevens said when asked about the chanting fans. "But none of us signed up to play for the Boston Celtics for a quick exit. And that's something that is important to keep in mind moving forward. Because that crowd is as good as it gets and the longer that you play - I can't imagine what it would be like."
As much as Stevens enjoyed this season, he already has his sights set on a deep postseason run with the Celtics. With the season over, the organization has changed gears to the summer, with the plans of making moves that will put them closer to winning Banner 18. Only then will Stevens truly understand how loud TD Garden can be, which is something the front office experienced just a few years ago when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett graced the parquet floor.
One of the first pieces of agenda on the table for the Celtics will likely involve their four upcoming free agents and whether or not to retain their services for the 2015-16 season.
I've been asked on Twitter about which of these players Celtics will or won't re-sign, but this summer is honestly difficult to project. The Celtics have so many draft picks and tradable assets that their options are virtually limitless. The market is unpredictable with the impeding rising cap in 2016, so as much as they might like to keep a certain player, it's possible that another team will swoop in with an outrageous offer the front office isn't willing to compete with.
|Player||Positions||FA Status||Cap Hold|
|Brandon Bass||PF, C||Unrestricted||$10,350,000|
|Jae Crowder||SF, PF, SG||Restricted||$1,181,348|
|Gigi Datome||SF, SG||Restricted||$2,275,000|
|Jonas Jerebko||SF, PF, C||Unrestricted||$8,550,000|
But what we can analyze is which upcoming free agents are fits on the roster and how the team could possibly look to retain them.
Prediction: Renounced and signs elsewhere. Bass is the second-longest tenured player on the team, but he saw his role dip this season in favor of younger and more versatile players. Stevens prefers his bigs to spread the floor, which is why they incorporated a corner-3 into his skill-set. Bass is a very good mid-range shooter, but Tyler Zeller already fills that space offensively. Bass is also a weak rebounder, which is an area of need for the Celtics.
With a cap hold of over $10 million the Celtics will likely renounce Bass. While that doesn't rule out their chances of re-signing him using exceptions or cap space, he'd only be a last resort for the organization if they were unable to land a target player.
Prediction: Re-signed before free agency. Jonas Jerebko does everything the Celtics look for in a player: he effectively guarded three different positions, including LeBron James in the playoffs. And he does everything the team looks for in a big offensively, since he can spread the floor, drive closeouts, and facilitate as a passer. Jerebko is the ultimate role player for the Celtics.
But Jerebko has a cap hold of $8.6 million and the Celtics want to maximize their cap space, so they will likely do what they can to re-sign him before free agency begins, much like they did with Avery Bradley last summer. Jerebko has openly said he loves playing for the Celtics, so he might be willing to listen. If the Celtics are lucky, they'll re-sign him to a bargain "hometown discount" deal without him testing the free agent waters.
Prediction: No qualifying offer extended, possibly re-signed later in summer. Gigi Datome shot over 47 percent from behind the arc with the Celtics, just like he did in his 10-year Italian career. Brad Stevens said that he talked to the front office about keeping Gigi around because he loves his shooting and presence in the locker room. But a qualifying offer of $2.3 million is pricey, so it's unlikely the Celtics extend him one, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.
However, the organization would absolutely want to bring him back the right circumstances. But Datome also wants the chance to prove himself as an NBA caliber player and minutes aren't guaranteed with the Celtics. He'll want to explore his other options, but if he can't find anything that guarantees him a role, the Celtics would probably be at the top of his list for a contract near the veteran minimum.
Prediction: Qualifying offer is extended and the decision will be made after an offer sheet is signed. Common thought is that Jae Crowder re-signing with the Celtics is a shoe-in, but that is anything but the case. The Celtics will certainly extend him the tiny qualifying offer of $1.2 million, but what happens after that is anybody's guess.
The best-case scenario for the Celtics is that Crowder re-signs before he hits free agency, but that wouldn't be a good decision on his part. Crowder can defend three positions, play multiple roles on offense, and he'll only be 25 next season, so he's going to improve. What he showed in his stint with the Celtics might be enough for one team to throw a lucrative offer sheet in his direction.
The Celtics would be able to match any offer sheet, but what if the offer sheet he signs is for $7 to $10 million per? The front office wouldn't be willing to match something that expensive. The Celtics better hope that other teams overlook his blossoming talent, otherwise they might have to spend more than they'd like to, or lose him entirely. But with all that said, it's more likely than not that Crowder is back with the Celtics, unless a team does something outrageous.