Technically free agency hasn't officially begun. Sure, teams have "agreed to terms" with players and just about all the big names have come to terms with their teams (new or old). But due to the moratorium, the players can't actually put pen to paper and be officially signed until July 9th. Here's a quick explainer.
Although NBA teams can begin talking to free agents July 1, players cannot officially sign until the moratorium period has ended. This year that timeframe is July 1-8. On July 9, teams and players can begin to announce and reach official agreements. NBA teams are prohibited from making public announcements of signings until July 9.
Why is this important? Because finances, that's why. There are rules and processes and stipulations that must be followed in order for everything to be official. This is where guys like Mike Zarren of the Celtics make their money. By being able to work within the system and occasionally by being creative enough to take advantage of the system.
For an example, look no further than last year when Ainge and company used the Traded Player Exception to take on Tyler Zeller and a draft pick, just because Cleveland needed some more cap space to sign LeBron James. He later used that same pick to pick up Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline.
Some teams have already made moves to dump immediate salary. The Spurs unloaded Tiago Splitter and the Kings used picks and pick swaps to send 3 contracts to the Sixers. But some other teams might still need to make a move or two to fit their new free agents into their books. Or perhaps some team that is staring at boatloads of luxury tax payments is looking to save some cash. Or finally, some teams might be looking to move some really huge contracts and might need a 3rd team to get involved to ease the burden of the transactions.
Want some theoretical examples? Glad you asked.
My favorite idea is a simple deal, sending Gerald Wallace and Phil Pressey to the Warriors for David Lee. (Note: This isn't even an original idea. It was first floated to me by a Warriors blogger.) Golden State has told Lee that they'll look to send him to a team where he'll have more of a chance to play. They would save about $5M (they have the option of waiving Pressey by July 15) which would help reduce their tax hit. The Celtics would be getting an offensively talented big man to add to the rotation. He's even on a one year deal, so the team maintains cap flexibility for next summer.
Or how about getting involved in the Cavs-Nets trade talks for Joe Johnson. Don't worry, I don't want to add Johnson's iso-ball, which would be a bad fit for Brad Stevens' system. Rather, I would take the above scenario and expand it to include the Cavs an the Nets. Here's the 4 team deal details. Basically the Nets dump a lot of immediate salary by being able to waive Haywood right away, the Cavs get Johnson, the Celtics get Lee, and the Warriors get Varejao. I think the only team that hesitates on this is the Warriors since they have to sign up for 3 years of waiting for his next injury. But getting a veteran defensive center might be worth the gamble.
Obviously there are other options that don't involve David Lee, but I'm mostly using him to illustrate the market inefficiencies that a smart team like the Celtics can take advantage of if they so choose.
And if all else fails, I suppose we can punt and wait till next year when we'll have even more cap space.
As it stands now, the Celtics are looking at a major window of opportunity next summer. The thinking around NBA front offices is that the salary cap for 2016-17 will be around $89 million as some of the revenue from the new television deals kick in. Cap experts are saying the Celts could potentially get themselves some $50 million under that cap to around $39 million if they play their cards properly. That means they would have the ability to sign two free agents to maximum contracts.
I would counter that a lot of teams are going to have boatloads of cap space next year as well. However, Bulpett's "don't do something stupid" point is still valid. If we make a bad move now that eats up that future cap space, then we won't even have the option of doing something next summer.
So can Danny Ainge and his cap experts do something fun on July 9th? What kinds of creative ideas can you come up with?
Bonus reading: Over on reddit, dangercart breaks down some detailed options the Celtics have on and around July 9.