In a move that just about everyone expected, the Celtics will be extending qualifying offers to Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, making them restricted free agents.
According to sources Wednesday, the club has chosen to retain a right of first refusal over both by giving them the offers as prescribed in the language regarding rookie contracts. But it’s possible that neither will be here next season. The qualifying offers would appear to be a no-lose matter for the Celts. Sullinger’s number is $4,433,683; Zeller’s is $3,695,169 — both reasonable figures should either accept the one-year offer, but nothing that will get the C’s in trouble vis-a-vis the new and greatly enlarged cap.
Both will likely explore the market for a big payday, and I could see both of them finding their money somewhere in the league. They'll probably have to wait a few days for the big-fish free agents to find their homes, then see which teams have money to spend. A number of teams will struggle to reach their salary floor, so they would be interested in giving Sully or Zeller an offer just to use up the money on a productive big man.
Obviously the Celtics have the option to match, and depending on the offers they might just do that. On the other hand, if the Celtics have interest in retaining one or both of them, they could try to preemptively beat the market by coming to an agreement before they had a chance to get an offer sheet elsewhere.
Or if either player doesn't get a great offer and wants to bet on themselves having a breakout year next season, they could accept the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next season.
Either way, by extending the qualifying offer the Celtics maintained the flexibility they've worked so hard to get. They can always rescind the offers if they need the added cap room.