It was surprising when both Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko agreed to two-year contracts with the second-year nonguaranteed with the Boston Celtics. It undeniably provides the front office with an exuberant amount of flexibility entering next summer, which is even more apparent now after Grantland's Zach Lowe reported the trigger date for their contracts is on July 3.
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...Boston somehow convinced Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko to swallow fully nonguaranteed contracts, worth about $17 million combined, for 2016-17. Boston can waive them any time before July 3, per league documents, giving the C’s two days to court big-money free agents who would justify opening up that extra $17 million in room.
As Lowe points out, that'll give the Celtics two days to talk to free agents before making their decisions on Johnson and Jerebko. The Celtics could decide to keep them for 2016-17 at reasonable cap numbers ($12 mil for Johnson and $5 mil for Jerebko), but before they choose their deals might operate as trade chips prior to their July 3 trigger date.
At a combined $17 million, they can be used to absorb a contract worth up to $22 million (per CBAFaq, outgoing salaries between $9.6 and $19.6 million can be traded for a maximum of the outgoing salary plus $5 million). This would come before the July Moratorium when most teams will have open cap space.
On draft night, the Celtics will be one of the few teams armed with multiple first-round draft picks, including a potential top five pick from the Brooklyn Nets and nonguaranteed contracts. Combined with young trade assets, they could be in the pole position for any potential blockbuster trades.
It's impossible to project so far ahead in the NBA calendar, but so much can change in one summer. Just one year ago few would've expected LaMarcus Aldridge to leave Portland and land in San Antonio, or Rajon Rondo to fail to sign a long-term deal.
With an unpredictable future in mind, here are five stars the Celtics could fantasize about as trade targets:
DeMarcus Cousins, Big, Sacramento, $16.9 mil
If the Sacramento Kings implode this season, it's not out of the question for the organization to blow things up: fire George Karl, trade Cousins, and build through the draft. Cousins is a certified superstar and would be a franchise changer for the Celtics, possibly in the same way Kevin Garnett was in 2007.
Kevin Love, Big, Cleveland, $21.2 mil
If the Cavaliers once again fail to integrate Love into the system and he's the third wheel behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, maybe they ultimately decide to trade him for a draft pick, open cap space, and turn their attention to free agency.
Serge Ibaka, Big, Oklahoma City, $12.3 mil
If the Thunder know they're about to lose Kevin Durant, perhaps they consider pressing the restart button and trade Ibaka to the highest bidder. Boston could offer both expiring contracts and draft picks; in return they'd receive a rare big man that can protect the rim and shoot threes.
Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Phoenix, $14 mil
The Suns are well positioned for success now and in the future, but there's always a chance Bledsoe and Brandon Knight don't mesh. The Celtics already have enough young guards on their roster, but remember just how much the makeup of a roster can change.
Paul Millsap, Big, Atlanta, $20.1 mil
After losing DeMarre Carroll this summer, the Hawks managed to retain Millsap, but Al Horford will be a free agent in 2016. If the Hawks experience a setback, maybe they decide to rebuild.
It's possible that none of these players will be available. Maybe the Kings excel and make the playoffs. Maybe Love returns to dominance. Maybe Durant re-signs after the Thunder win the title.
It's taxing on the mind to focus on the "what ifs" of the past, but many of the most successful businesses are those that predict ahead by positioning themselves to be able to react to opportunities that may arise. That's precisely what the Boston Celtics have done by signing Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko to contracts with the second-year nonguaranteed. If a star player is available, savvy forward thinking could be the reason why they're able to turn their fantasy into reality.