BOSTON — Grant Williams and the Celtics could not come to terms on a rookie scale extension before Monday’s deadline, setting the versatile big man up for restricted free agency next summer.
Multiple reports indicated progress made between the two sides, but with a comparable player in Williams’ class like Keldon Johnson receiving a four-year, $80 million contract ($74M guaranteed) with the Spurs, it set a high bar for Williams to hold out on. Particularly since Williams holds a role within the NBA Player’s Association as vice president, he needed to ensure his and other salaries advance alongside projected league revenue growth. The NBA is reportedly anticipating a new television deal for the 2025 season.
“It’s one of those things that, you never want to take a bad deal for no one around you,” Williams said. “The role that I play as VP of the player’s association, you understand where the league is going in the future and where the league is currently at. For me, it wasn’t a matter of life-changing money, it was a matter of value, not only for this year, but for years to come. I think that from both sides, we all negotiated from that point, and there was no ill will. There were no frustrations.”
Players signed under the current collective bargaining agreement and cap structure have their annual increases in their contract set under that year’s cap and CBA, and Williams’ hypothetical four-year deal would extend through 2027.
With 11 first-round picks from the 2019 NBA Draft receiving extensions, Williams headlined the 13 who did not alongside Suns forward Cam Johnson and 76ers forward Matisse Thybulle. Stars and top selections Zion Williamson and Ja Morant netted max contracts early, while De’Andre Hunter and the Hawks signed a four-year, $90 million deal before the buzzer yesterday.
The Athletic projected a floor of around $9-11 million annually due to recent free agent contracts and cap of $20-million due to Williams’ statistical output falling below Keldon Johnson’s. Three-point shooting might be the most valuable asset in the NBA though, and Williams converting 41.1% of his shots from deep last season before winning Boston a Game 7 with 7-for-18 three-point shooting against Milwaukee drove his price up. Williams also finished as a top-10 most versatile defender last year, according to BBall Index’s positional versatility metric referenced in that Athletic report.
Erik Kabe and Bill Duffy of BDA/WME Sports represent Williams, and they likely gained some leverage points this summer, whether Danilo Gallinari’s ACL tear and Robert Williams III’s knee surgery at Williams’ positions, alongside the already looming prospect of Al Horford also becoming a free agent (unrestricted) ahead of his 37-year-old season.
Grant could still see a deal getting done, he said, but enters a free agent class loaded with salary cap space compared to recent seasons. Numerous teams have the potential to clear $20-million in room.
“It was one of those things that you couldn’t come to terms,” Williams said. “It doesn’t mean that the deal doesn’t get done next year, it doesn’t mean that a deal won’t get done in the future. For us, it’s a matter of perspective. I want to make sure that not only this deal that I take is something I feel confident in, but it’s something that doesn’t mess up the market for guys that do the things that I do.”
The Celtics project to enter next offseason with $149.5-million in cap commitments against a projected $134-million cap. That would place the luxury tax at $162-million, inevitably setting up Boston to cross that threshold again and for years to come ahead of Jaylen Brown’s free agency that summer and Tatum becoming eligible for another extension.
This roster will become as expensive as any other quickly, increasing some urgency to get a team-friendly deal done with Williams, who posted one great season in three years. Boston can make Williams a restricted free agent by offering the $6.2-million qualifying offer, a one-year figure he almost certainly won’t sign.
Then, it comes down to who would put themselves in position to withhold their cap space for three days by signing Williams and giving the Celtics the ability to match, their chief leverage in this summer’s negotiations. The Pistons, Pacers, Williams’ hometown Hornets could all create over $50-million in cap, while the Lakers, Kings and Timberwolves have some flexibility too.
“You look at the guys who didn’t take extensions, they’re pretty much in the same position,” And for me, that’s huge, that’s valuable, because I are about every single player in this league,” Williams said. “I care about every single player in each organization that has to deal with free agency, that has to deal with the issues that necessarily we have within in this league. So we’re on the right path. We’re on the right steps. So we just have to go out there and do what we do.”