The trade deadline has come and gone, with nary a peep from the Boston Celtics. Buyout season was a little more momentous, as the team filled the open roster spot they carried for most of the year with Greg Monroe. With the Playoff Eligibility Waiver deadline now behind us, the Celtics cap sheet for the upcoming summer has come into focus.
Below is a list of where the Celtics stand, both in terms of players and in terms of salaries. A few primers:
- The latest projection from the NBA for the 2018-19 salary cap is $101 million. This is a jump of approximately $2 million from this year’s cap line.
- The luxury tax is project to be $123 million, with the tax apron (also known as the hard cap line) set at $129 million.
- The salary floor (nothing Boston will have to worry about) is set at $90.9 million.
With that behind us, here is where the Celtics sit heading into the summer.
Fully Guaranteed Contracts (9): Kadeem Allen (two-way), Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Guerschon Yabusele
Total: $103.2 million
Analysis: With three players (Hayward, Horford and Irving) each making north of $20 million a year and two on rookie scale contract for the third slot in the draft (Brown and Tatum), Boston is already north of the salary cap, before we even get into cap holds or partial guaranteed money. Morris will be heading into the final season of his contract, while Rozier will be hitting the last year of his rookie scale deal.
Yabusele is arguably the most likely player to be moved, as he will have three more season of team control for just $10.5 million total. That makes him a desirable trade acquisition for a rebuilding team.
Allen was one of the rare players to sign a contract for two years as a two-way player. This means he’s under contract for next season, but his deal doesn’t count against the cap.
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (3): Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis
Total: $4.1 million ($1.4 million guaranteed)
Analysis: Nader has $450,000 guaranteed, while Ojeleye makes up the rest of the guaranteed money at just over $900,000. Theis is fully non-guaranteed, which makes him one of the biggest bargains in the NBA. There are too important things to note. First, if Boston were to trade either Nader or Ojeleye this summer, only the guaranteed portion of their contract counts towards salary matching in a trade. The second is guarantee dates for all three players. Theis is up first, as his contract becomes fully guaranteed on 7/10/18. Ojeleye comes in just after on 7/15/18, while Nader checks in last on 8/1/18. That gives the Celtics some flexibility, as they plan for the upcoming season.
Free Agents (5): Aron Baynes, Jabari Bird (expected to be restricted), Shane Larkin, Greg Monroe, Marcus Smart (restricted)
Total: $27.6 million
Analysis: Smart is the big one here. He’s eligible to be a restricted free agent. In order to make him a restricted free agent, the Celtics have to issue Smart a qualifying offer of just over $6 million. That would allow Boston to match any offer sheet Smart might sign. Unlike the last couple of summers, cap space isn’t nearly as plentiful around the NBA this offseason. This has made many speculate that restricted free agents, such as Smart, could be squeezed. That may be why the Celtics didn’t push to extend Smart when he was eligible last year. Now they can control his free agency to some extent, and possibly retain him at a team friendly number. Another option is for Smart to bet on himself and sign the qualifying offer. He would then be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019 and free to sign whatever offer he deems best.
Baynes and Monroe are both a little tricky. As both will have just one year with the team, Boston won’t have any form of Bird Rights for either player. This means they are limited to paying them up to either 120% of their previous salary ($5.2 million for Baynes and $6 million for Monroe), or they have to use part of an exception to re-sign either player. More than any other free agents on the team, how the rest of this season goes, including playoffs, will determine their future in Boston.
Larkin has played well and become a favorite of Brad Stevens as a change of pace player. He could certainly return on another minimum contract. He could also seek a bigger role elsewhere, as he’s proven he’s an NBA player in his return to the league this season.
As for Bird, he’s a new type of free agent, as he’s coming off a two-way contract. Assuming he gets to 15 total games on the NBA roster, either active or inactive, the Celtics could extend him a qualifying offer and make him a restricted free agent as well. That qualifying offer would only need to be for the equivalent of a second two-way contract. With two-way contracts being new, how teams handle free agents coming off such deals will be something to monitor this offseason.
First Round Draft Picks (1): Boston’s own, currently project to be #27.
Total: $1.6 million
Analysis: Dreams of snagging the Los Angeles Lakers pick this year seem pretty distant now. LA has played better than expected and it will take some serious lottery luck for Boston to land that pick. It has to land between #2 and #5 for it to convey to the Celtics this year which means the Celtics need the ping pong balls to bounce their way, but only somewhat. If the Lakers win the lottery, the pick will go to Philadelphia. This means Boston fans want to root for the Lakers to move up, but only to two or three. The more likely scenario is, Celtics fans are now rooting for the Sacramento Kings to have a poor 2018-19 season, as the pick will likely roll over to that one for the 2019 NBA Draft.
That leaves Boston with just their own late first round pick. With a relatively full roster and somewhat bulging cap sheet, the Celtics could target a draft and stash player. This would allow Boston to remove their cap hold and/or salary and give them some breathing room under the luxury tax.
Overall Picture: The Boston Celtics are going to be operating as an over the cap team this summer, barring something really unexpected that sees them shed some serious salary, while taking little to none back.
That means Boston’s primary moves in free agency will come via re-signing players and/or using their exceptions. As an over the cap team, the Celtics will initially have access to the Non-Taxpayer Midlevel Exception, which currently projects to come in at $8.6 million. They should also have access to the Bi-Annual Exception, which projects to be $3.4 million. Should Boston use the Bi-Annual Exception, it removes it from being a tool they can use in 2019, as you can only use this exception every other season.
Another complicating factor is the luxury tax. The Celtics are going to be flirting with being a tax team next summer. A lot will depend what happens with Smart, Baynes and Monroe. If each are signed to any sort of significant raise, it means Boston is likely to be over the tax line. If they go too far over, they’ll be up against the tax apron, or hard cap. That will only matter if they do any one, or any combo, of three things:
- Use a portion of the Non-Taxpayer Midlevel Exception that is equal to or greater than the Taxpayer Midlevel Exception (currently projected at $5.3 million).
- Use the Bi-Annual Exception.
- Acquire a player via a Sign & Trade transaction.
Doing any of the above subjects a team as being hard capped at the apron. That is because if you go over the apron you get the lower Midlevel Exception, you lose the Bi-Annual Exception and you can’t acquire a player via a Sign & Trade.
This summer doesn’t set up to be nearly as exciting as last summer, when all of Celtics nation breathless sat waiting for Gordon Hayward to make his decision on the Fourth of July. Following Hayward picking Boston, a dizzying set of transactions were set in motion, as Danny Ainge cleared the necessary cap space to sign Hayward and to fill out the rest of the roster.
This year it is more likely Boston will look to re-sign Marcus Smart, likely one of Aron Baynes or Greg Monroe, and then fill out the rest of the roster using minimum contracts. Fans can dream of blockbuster trades that put Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard in green, but that isn’t all that probable. Instead, the Celtics are likely to look forward to a return to full health for Gordon Hayward, further growth from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, extension talks for Terry Rozier as he comes off his rookie scale contract and momentum towards a contract extension with Kyrie Irving. It might not be fireworks, but it is the kind of quiet, business-like summer that contenders generally have.