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2020 Offseason Preview Series: Celtics options, guarantees and qualifying offers

Boston has eight players they need to make decisions on for the 2021 season

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As the offseason approaches, the Boston Celtics have eight players who have a player or team option, a non-guaranteed contract or are eligible to receive a qualifying offer. We covered Gordon Hayward’s player option decision extensively already. We’re going to look at the other seven players here. In order of magnitude they are:

· Daniel Theis - $5,000,000 – fully non-guaranteed

· Enes Kanter - $5,005,350 – player option

· Semi Ojeleye - $1,752,950 – team option (becomes fully non-guaranteed if exercised)

· Brad Wanamaker - $1,820,564 – qualifying offer

· Javonte Green - $1,517,981 – fully non-guaranteed

· Tremont Waters - $1,445,697 – Two-Way qualifying offer

· Tacko Fall - $1,445,697 – Two-Way qualifying offer

As of this writing, all option, guarantee and qualifying offer deadline dates are currently TBD. The NBA and NBPA have not agreed yet as to when 2020 free agency will open. When they do, that will guide the setting of dates for the above deadlines.

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Daniel Theis

This one is really, really simple. By whatever date they have to, the Celtics will make sure Daniel Theis’ contract for 2021 is fully guaranteed for $5 million. Theis is a key player as either the team’s starting center or as a backup big. Boston can’t replace his value if they let him go. He’ll be back in the rotation for certain. Or, less likely, he’ll be part of a bigger trade package after having his contract fully guaranteed.

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Enes Kanter

Enes Kanter’s decision on his player option for 2021 is more complicated than it probably seems on its face. Can Kanter expect to recoup the $5 million or so he’d give up by opting out? That’s unclear. Despite his defensive flaws, Kanter still has value because of his ability to score inside and his elite rebounding. But he’s clearly a backup center and that caps his value for many teams.

Maybe a team convinces themselves, as Boston did, that he can be an option in their center rotation. If so, they could give him around the same as he’d give up from Boston. More likely, Kanter would get something like $8 million over two seasons. Or maybe even $10 million or so on another 1+1 deal, but with a team option attached vs a player option for the second year.

None of that seems quite as enticing as simply opting in and staying with a group of players he likes in a city he enjoys being in. But, not so fast my friend! The minute Kanter opts in, he (or more accurately his $5 million salary) becomes a pretty nice trade chip. That possibility, some have even suggested probability, is part of why Kanter is likely to opt out.

Kanter has political and personal reasons to want a say in wherever he plays next. While Danny Ainge will certainly be conscious of those reasons, he’s going to make the best deal for the Celtics if a trade opportunity comes up. Because of that, Kanter likely won’t want to deal with the uncertainty of being sent to a new team.

Finally, as much as Kanter enjoys Boston and his teammates, he wants to play. He racked up a string of DNPs and low-minute games down the stretch with the Celtics. Even if he has to take slightly less money, Kanter will do so for a bigger role elsewhere.

Add it all up, and Kanter probably opts out for greener, and more certain pastures, for 2021.

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Semi Ojeleye

Ojeleye is a tough one to figure. On one hand, $1.7 million is nothing to pay for a solid defender who has been a rotation player for three seasons. On the other hand, it’s been three seasons of minimal improvement and Boston is facing a roster crunch.

Ojeleye’s situation is also a little bit complex. The Celtics have a team option for 2021 for Ojeleye. If they pick it up, his contract becomes fully non-guaranteed. His fully guaranteed date is likely to just be a day or two later however. Essentially, if Boston picks up the team option, they are also going to guarantee Ojeleye’s contract.

If the Celtics decline their team option for Ojeleye, they then have a second decision to make. Ojeleye is eligible to be a restricted free agent. To make him restricted, Boston would have to issue him a qualifying offer of just over $2 million. If Boston doesn’t issue a qualifying offer, Ojeleye will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

The guess here is that the Celtics decline Ojeleye’s team option and then do not issue a qualifying offer. Ojeleye would likely simply sign the qualifying offer, which would increase his pay for 2021 by about $280,000. That’s not something Boston wants.

Ojeleye’s likely to get caught in the Celtics roster crunch, largely due to no fault of his own. With four potential draft picks and the desire to bring in veterans, Ojeleye is probably playing elsewhere in 2021.

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Brad Wanamaker

Did you know Brad Wanamaker led the NBA in free throw percentage at 92.6%? Oh, you did? Well, did you know he averaged a respectable 6.9 points per game on 45% from the field, including over 36% from behind the arc?

That was kind of a set up to say, cut Wanamaker some slack already! He was better than most Celtics fans give him credit for. Was he amazing? Nope. Is he a fun, young prospect? Nope. Was he a solid backup throughout the season? Sure was!

Wanamaker is eligible for restricted free agency. In an even slightly normal situation, the Celtics would assuredly offer him a qualifying offer of $1.8 million. That would allow them match any reasonable offer he received, or to work out a new deal with him themselves. Or, Wanamaker could simply sign the qualifying offer and return for 2021.

It’s that last part that probably has Boston leaning against giving Wanamaker a qualifying offer. Like with Semi Ojeleye, this one is about roster spots. In an ideal world, the Celtics would have Kemba Walker as the starting point guard, Marcus Smart as his primary backup and a younger option as the third point guard. That doesn’t leave room for Wanamaker.

Given the uncertain market, Wanamaker might not receive an offer larger than the $1.8 million qualifying offer he could get from Boston. If he signs it, that becomes a guaranteed contract. And then the Celtics are a little stuck.

One interesting thing to note for Wanamaker and Boston: should he get and sign the qualifying offer, or any one-year contract, Wanamaker will again be eligible for restricted free agency in 2021. Almost all players who have three years or less of NBA service are eligible for restricted free agency. That’s something teams could consider, given Wanamaker’s status as a dependable backup.

Like with Ojeleye, Wanamaker probably gets caught up in Boston’s roster crunch. He was good, and someone Brad Stevens clearly trusts, but the Celtics probably go in a different direction with their third point guard.

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Javonte Green

Javonte Green was an absolute find at 2019 NBA Summer League. Boston brought him on as a roster-filler and he was so good that he earned a non-guaranteed contract and an invite to training camp. From there, Green did what he’s always done: he worked to make it so the team couldn’t cut him.

Unfortunately for Green, he didn’t show much beyond being a tremendous athlete on the wing. He doesn’t shoot it well enough, nor defend enough to be a 3&D candidate. At 6’4’’, there’s limited opportunities for a player whose best attribute is their dunking ability.

Green’s contract is fully non-guaranteed at $1.5 million. He also carries the latest possible guarantee date, at the league-wide guarantee date. That’s usually right around the season’s halfway point or so. Because his date is so late, Boston could keep Green around and bring him to camp and see how the roster develops.

The most likely scenario however is that the Celtics need Green’s roster spot before then. Let me know if you’ve heard this before, but Boston has quite the roster crunch for the 2021 season! It would also do Green a solid and allow him to catch on somewhere he has a better chance of making the roster with a good camp.

Add it up and while Green was one of the most unlikely, yet fun stories in the NBA this past season, he’s probably trying to find an NBA job somewhere else next year.

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Tremont Waters

Tremont Waters was drafted in the second round in 2019 largely because he was willing to play the season on a Two-Way contract. This is an increasingly used tactic by NBA teams with late second-round picks. Should Boston keep the #47 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, they may run back a similar strategy.

Throughout the course of Summer League and the preseason, it became clear Waters was more of an NBA player than a G-League player. In limited NBA regular season action Waters struggled, but he was clearly better than most of his competition while with the Maine Red Claws of the G-League.

The worry with Waters is that he might be the NBA equivalent of what Major League Baseball front offices call a “4A player”. That’s someone who is too good for the minors, but not quite good enough for the majors.

The Celtics have the opportunity to issue Waters a Two-Way qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent. That’s the most likely course of action, as it affords Boston the most flexibility. Unlike with Brad Wanamaker, if Waters signs this qualifying offer, he’d be locking into another year as a Two-Way player. That’s a win for the Celtics, but not for Waters.

What’s likely to happen is by making Waters a restricted free agent, Boston can scare off other teams from giving him any offers. That will allow Danny Ainge to work out a deal with Waters for a standard contract with the Celtics to be their third point guard as a younger, developmental project. If they can’t come to that agreement, then Waters can sign the qualifying offer and return as a Two-Way player.

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Tacko Fall

Before he even played in a single Summer League game, Tacko Fall was already the Celtics most popular player. By the time Summer League was over, Boston had signed Fall to a training camp contract that could be converted into a Two-Way deal. By the end of training camp, that’s exactly what happened.

At 7’6’’, Fall is the epitome of the old NBA adage: “You can’t teach height”. But what really has Boston excited is how rapidly he improved throughout his first season as a professional.

Fall got his body into NBA shape, even though it’s a constant work-in-progress considering his enormous frame. He was quicker on the defensive end by the time the NBA season ended than he had ever shown in college. And his positioning on offense and defense had greatly improved as well.

Like Waters, Fall is eligible for a Two-Way qualifying offer. Also, like Waters, Boston will issue one to Fall. Unless a team gets silly with an offer sheet, the Celtics will likely keep Fall around for another season. The ideal situation would be for Fall to sign another Two-Way deal. That will allow Boston to continue to give him the development time he needs in the G-League without tying up a standard roster spot.

Barring another team signing Fall to a large offer sheet, it’ll continue to be Tacko Time in Boston and Maine in 2021.

Let us know who think will be back in Boston and who is playing for another team in 2021!

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