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Breaking Down the Lower $101m Cap Projection for the Boston Celtics

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The NBA has reportedly lowered its cap projection for the 2017-2018 season from what was once $107 million a year ago all the way down to $101 million. What does this mean for the Celtics? A lot.

Boston Celtics Introduce Brad Stevens Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Recently, we covered three fallacies about the Celtics’ situation as contenders and this summer with the Draft and free agency. The last of those was that Boston would have max cap space this summer. While it is certainly true that Boston could have max cap space, the article covers how tricky that is. With the recent news that the latest salary cap projection has the cap at $101 million, things get even tighter. The Celtics can still get there, but it won’t be easy.

First off, here is the cap picture for Boston this summer:

Fully Guaranteed (7 Players)

Avery Bradley - $8,808,989.00

Jaylen Brown - $4,956,480.00

Jae Crowder - $6,796,117.00

Al Horford - $27,734,405.00

Terry Rozier - $1,988,520.00

Marcus Smart - $4,538,020.00

Isaiah Thomas - $6,261,395.00

Partial/Non-Guaranteed (3 Players)

Demetrius Jackson - $1,384,750.00 ($650,000.00 guaranteed)

Jordan Mickey - $1,471,382.00 ($0.00 guaranteed)

Tyler Zeller - $8,000,000.00 ($0.00 guaranteed)

Free Agents (5 Players) - amount listed is the cap hold

Gerald Green - $1,471,382.00 – Non-Bird Minimum

Jonas Jerebko - $9,500,000.00 – Bird

Amir Johnson - $15,600,000.00 – Early Bird

Kelly Olynyk - $7,735,034.00 – Bird coming off Rookie Scale

James Young - $2,803,507.00 – the amount of his 4th year Rookie Scale Team Option

Draft Picks (3 Players)

2017 #1 Overall Pick - $7,026,240.00

Guerschon Yabusele – $2,247,480.00

Ante Zizic - $1,645,200.00

Total it all up and you have the following:

Fully Guaranteed - $61,083,926.00

Partial/Non-Guaranteed - $10,856,132.00

Free Agent Cap Holds - $37,109,923.00

Draft Pick Cap Holds - $10,918,920.00

Total - $124,247,921.00

As you can see, that leaves the Celtics $23,247,921.00 over the cap for 18 players/picks. Now, Boston doesn’t have to operate as an over the cap team by any means and they likely won’t. Let’s start breaking it down to find out how the Celtics can create cap space.

Start off by renouncing free agents. They can clear Gerald Green and James Young with no worries. Young has no future in Boston, and Green is a minimum player who can be re-signed later using the minimum exception, after the team has used their cap space, for the same salary the Celtics would give him before using space.

Jerebko and Johnson are a little trickier. Both have been productive players for the Celtics, but with Boston trying to go big this summer, they both have to be renounced as well. Either or both could be brought back using part or all of the Room Exception or any leftover cap space the Celtics have after making their big move.

That leaves just Olynyk—and he is easily the most complicated situation the Celtics have this summer. Considering Danny Ainge traded up for him and the team has invested heavily in his development, the Celtics would rather keep him around than lose him. But, if Boston is truly going after a max free agent, Olynyk has to go too.

Then the non-guaranteed players have to go. Zeller and Mickey can both be waived at no cost to Boston and must be. Jackson has to go as well. Ideally, the team would trade him in a salary dump, but more likely is that they eat the $650,000.00 guarantee.

That leaves the Celtics with the seven players who are fully guaranteed, the three draft picks and two roster charges. Roster charges are often forgotten, but are crucial when calculating cap space. For every spot below 12 of players under contract and cap holds, a team incurs a roster charge at the cost of the league minimum salary for each spot. In this scenario, the Celtics are charged $815,615 for each of the two spots for a total of $1,631,230.00.

This scenario leaves Boston at $26,715,924.00 below the cap. That is still shy of the max amount for a free agent 7-9 years of experience, say someone like…oh…Gordon Hayward perhaps? Hayward, or anyone in his tier, has a max salary of $30,300,000.00. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, max salaries are now tied to the cap at the following:

0-6 years of experience – 25%, $25,250,000.00 on a $101 million cap

7-9 years of experience – 30%, $30,300,000.00 on a $101 million cap

10+ years of experience – 35% $35,350,000.00 on a $101 million cap

That leaves Boston short for someone like Hayward (oh…who are we kidding? Hayward is the guy people want!) by $3,584,076.00.

Yes, Hayward’s max number went down accordingly as the cap went down, but Boston is pinched by cap holds for draft picks. Even though the max salaries adjust with the cap, Rookie Scale amounts do not. The cap holds for #1 overall, Yabusele and Zizic all stay where they are. That causes things to tighten up by a greater amount than the max salary slot decreases by.

Now, how does Boston go about getting that extra $3.5 million or so? One often put forward idea is that the team will ask Yabusele to play overseas for another year. It has even been suggested that this was part of the agreement when Boston drafted him. That removes Yabusele’s cap hold, but adds yet another one of those pesky roster charges, netting Boston about $1.4 million more in space. The Celtics are now shy of the max for Hayward by $2.1 million.

The next move that comes up is to trade away Terry Rozier while taking no salary back, perhaps in a deal for a draft pick down the line of some sort. That would net Boston about $1.1 million more in space, because, again, you have to replace his $1.9 million salary with a roster charge. And that leave the Celtics still about $1 million shy.

Once you start to add it all up, everything lends more towards signing Yabusele this year and keeping Rozier. How do you get there if the team keeps them? You have to move on from Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder. Why would the team trade either of two of the best bargains in the NBA? There are a few reasons.

First, the Celtics would be getting a little crowded at the wing position if they brought in Hayward and kept Bradley and Crowder. Depth is great, but players need to play. And this would likely squeeze Brown out of valuable developmental minutes that he needs.

Second, for Bradley, he’s due a new contract after next season. While he’s been a great performer for the Celtics for seven seasons now (How is that possible? Where does the time go?), he’s about to get very expensive. As the NBA shifts more and more to a perimeter based game, perimeter defenders become pricier. And ones who can also shoot the ball, such as Bradley, are even more in demand. Rather than lock themselves in for multiple years at a large salary, Boston could move on now and head in a different direction.

Last is Crowder, and while he’s signed for three more seasons after this current one and is on a very team-friendly contract, the issue of positional crowding again comes up. While Hayward, Crowder and Brown can all play multiple positions, all are best at small forward. It is the spot that allows them to use all of their gifts to the best of their abilities.

While Crowder is beloved in Boston for his scrappy, all-out all the time play, Hayward is simply a better all-around player and a perfect fit for Brad Stevens’s system. And Brown is a younger, even more cost-effective option, who is only scratching the surface of his potential.

For the Celtics, they have so many things going for them, but the cap number continuing to reduce (it originally started a projection of $107 million for 2017-18) isn’t one of them. Some have gone so far as to propose that maybe it is better if the team didn’t have the #1 overall pick. That is probably going a little too far, as you would rather have the option to lead off the Draft than not.

If Boston is in the mix for a max free agent this summer, they will get the necessary space to do so. Golden State made it happen last summer for Kevin Durant and the Celtics would do the same for a player of their choosing. But reconcile with yourself now that it is going to cost the team a player who has become a fan favorite over the years to make it happen. And that will sting no matter the excitement of adding a great new option.