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Celtics 2023 Offseason Primer

Boston has some major decisions to make this summer that will have short- and long-term ramifications

Philadelphia 76ers (117) Vs. Boston Celtics (126) at TD Garden Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics 2022-23 season ended in disappointment, as they fell in the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the NBA calendar doesn’t provide for a lot of time to sulk to celebrate. It just keeps moving forward.

With that in mind, we present the 2023 Celtics Offseason Primer! In here, you’ll find all the key dates you need to aware of. We’ll present a few major questions that Brad Stevens and his staff need to ask and answer this summer. We’ll also lay out what the team hits the offseason working with in terms of the roster, the salary cap and the luxury tax.

Key Dates

· June 20 – Danilo Gallinari player option deadline: Gallinari missed the entire season while recovering from a torn ACL while playing for Italy in the summer of 2022. It’s likely he’ll pick up his $6.8 million option and will debut for the Celtics in 2023.

· June 22 – 2023 NBA Draft: Boston has one pick in the draft at #35, which is the fifth pick of the second round. The Celtics got this pick from the Portland Trail Blazers (via the Atlanta Hawks) in the three-team trade with the Hawks and Sacramento Kings in 2021.

Boston’s first-round pick was sent to the Indiana Pacers last summer in the Malcolm Brogdon trade. Boston’s second-round pick was sent to the Washington Wizards (via the Charlotte Hornets) from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade in 2020.

· June 29 – Mike Muscala team option deadline: Muscala didn’t play a key role for Boston, but he was a valuable depth big for the Celtics. Given the age and injury history of Al Horford and Rob Williams, it’s likely Boston will pick up Muscala’s $3.5 million option and he’ll be back next season.

· June 29 – Qualifying Offer deadline for Grant Williams, JD Davison and Mfiondu Kabengele: Grant Williams is the big name here. He’ll get a qualifying offer, because that will allow Boston to control the free agency process for him. Whether he’ll be back with the Celtics is a different question entirely. More on that in a bit.

It’s fairly likely Boston will give a qualifying offer to Davison too. They drafted him a year ago and he showed flashes in the G League. If a standard roster spot doesn’t open up for him, the Celtics can bring him back on a Two-Way deal again.

Kabengele is a bit of a different story. He’s got one year of Two-Way eligibility left, but he’s also going to be 26 years old before next season. Boston may cut him loose to pursue other opportunities.

· June 30 (6:00 PM ET) – Free Agent negotiations can begin: Outside of the players with options and pending qualifying offers, Boston’s only other free agent is Blake Griffin.

· July 1 (12:00 AM ET) – Extensions can be officially offered: This is a big one, given Jaylen Brown’s situation. We’ll cover that in detail later. It’s also the opening for the window for Boston to extend Payton Pritchard on his rookie scale contract. Oh, and Jayson Tatum could be offered a super max extension too!

· July 6 (12:00 PM ET) – Free Agency officially opens: All the deals we’ll have heard about days earlier can start becoming official!

· July 7 – July 17 – Las Vegas NBA Summer League: This will be the first chance to see the Summer Celtics. It’s highly unlikely anyone from the current roster, outside of JD Davison and maybe Mfiondu Kabengele, will play in Summer League for the Celtics. It’s possible Justin Champagne could play, but most third-year and later players don’t play in Summer League.

The other players to keep an eye on will be whoever Boston selects at #35 at the 2023 NBA Draft and overseas draftees Juhann Begarin and Yam Madar. Both Begarin and Madar have done the Summer League circuit twice previously, so they may not come over for a third trip, unless real roster spots await them next season.

· August 1 – Justin Champagnie’s contract guarantee increases to $50,000: This is the minimum Champagnie can be guaranteed while maintaining eligibility to play in the G League for Boston. His deal becomes $350,000 guaranteed on opening night, so a training camp spot could be in line for Champagnie.

· August 25 – September 10 – 2023 FIBA World Cup: Four current Celtics (Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Derrick White) played for Team USA in the last World Cup. It’s unclear who will be a part of the roster this time, but it’s likely that at least Brown and Tatum will be invited to take part in camp leading up the competition.

· October 23 – Last day to sign veterans to extensions who have two or more years remaining on their contracts: This is really only a meaningful deadline to watch with Jayson Tatum and the so-called super max. If he doesn’t sign it by this day, Tatum will have to wait until the summer of 2024.

· October 23 – Last day to sign players to rookie scale extensions: This is the deadline for Payton Pritchard to ink a rookie scale extension with Boston, unlikely as that may be.

Key Decisions

· Jaylen Brown and the super max: By now, everyone knows the numbers. Brown is eligible to sign a five-year extension with Boston worth between $290 and $300 million, pending where the salary cap lands for the 2024-25 (which is when the deal would begin).

Will Boston offer Brown the full super max at 35% of the cap? Will Brown accept it?

Let’s start with that last one…

If Brown doesn’t accept and sign a super max offer, the Celtics need to trade him. He can’t make more by delaying re-signing (it’s tied to 35% of whatever the cap lands at for the 2024-25 season no matter what). The only reason to not sign the offer is that Brown is uncertain about staying in Boston long-term. Since the super max extension has been a thing, only Kawhi Leonard turned it down, and that was because he wanted a trade.

So, if Brown turns down the super max, it’s a pretty clear sign he’s ready to move on. The Celtics can’t risk him walking for nothing in the summer of 2024, so trading him is the logical move. And getting a deal done over the summer is always easier than making a trade in-season.

That said…Brown probably won’t turn down the super max.

The play for years now has been for the player to accept the largest deal possible. Then, if they’re unhappy in a year or two, they ask for a trade. That’s just sort of how this works now. And, you know what? If teams can trade players whenever they feel like it, no one should have an issue with a player asking for a trade.

(Important note: If Brown does sign a super max extension, it comes with a one-year trade restriction.)

From the Boston side…should they even offer the super max?

On one hand, Jaylen Brown is awesome and in the current NBA hierarchy, he’s definitely worth 35% of the cap. He’s entering his prime as an All-Star/All-NBA level guy who can score efficiently and hold his own defensively.

On the other hand, the new CBA (which starts on July 1) makes it really hard to be really expensive. It used to be just a matter of how much would the ownership group spend, along with a few team-building restrictions.

That matter of how much an ownership group will spend remains, but those restrictions have gone from few to many.

For the Celtics, they need to ask themselves if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown making over $100 million per season combined (and likely 2/3 or so of the cap) leaves enough room to build out the rest of the roster. It’s very likely Boston will be a “super tax” team in 2024-25 and beyond if they have both Brown and Tatum on max deals.

As a super tax team, you lose most of the flexibility you have to add to your roster. You’re down to signing your draft picks and signing minimum contracts for free agents. In trades, you can’t aggregate salaries together anymore and you can only take back as much salary as you send out. And you’re limited in trading future draft picks. There are some other restrictions too, but you get the idea. It’s hard to flesh out your roster around your stars.

Jaylen Brown, by his own admission, failed in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. When Boston needed him to be THE man, he didn’t deliver.

Now, you can’t base everything on one game, but it’s a data point to examine in deciding if you can commit over a quarter-of-a-billion dollars to Brown. That’s a tricky needle to thread. Don’t offer the deal in full, you risk insulting Brown and making him feel less valued. That’s already reportedly been an issue from Brown being in trade rumors for years.

Offer the deal in full, you have to trust ownership won’t balk at a big tax bill and that the front office can fill out the roster around the two stars.

One last thing on an extension for Brown…it isn’t a super max or bust. If Boston uses the Designated Player designation, that just means the deal has to be for five years. They could offer him any salary figure they want. Brown is already eligible for 30% of the cap, and can earn up to 35% of the cap. In his last extension, Brown took less than the max, and also beefed up his earning potential with some incentives. Boston could offer something like that again.

The challenge? Jaylen Brown is far better now than he was then. He became everything the Celtics wanted and hit all of his incentives. It’s unlikely he’s giving any sort of discount this time around.

· Grant Williams new deal: Williams is going to be a restricted free agent. That’s true even if Boston isn’t sure about re-signing him or for how much. By making Williams a restricted free agent, it allows the Celtics to control his free agency. It’s that simple.

If Williams gets a bigger offer than Boston wants to match, they can let him go. The Celtics could also approach that team to try and make the deal into a sign-and-trade.

If the market proves to be less-than-hoped-for for Williams, and money dries up quickly in free agency (especially for restricted free agents), then Boston could get him back on a deal they find reasonable.

Williams has real value. He can play both the four and the five, and he can defend bigger threes and hold his own in switches on the perimeter. Williams has also become a very good, and consistent, shooter. He’s a good passer and screener, and has shown a little more off-the-bounce game.

Williams also fills a valuable role for Boston as their third big in a rotation with Al Horford and Rob Williams. Given the age and injury history of those two, Grant Williams’ importance to the team only increases.

There’s the possibility this is one where Williams gets caught up in the looming super tax concerns, especially if Jaylen Brown is back in the fold on a super max deal. But it’s also possible that Boston re-signs Williams and just tries to figure it out later.

And, of course, if one of the cap space teams has eyes on a versatile frontcourt player that can shoot, they could give Williams such a big offer that this won’t matter at all.

· Trading a guard: It was pretty great for the Celtics to have such great depth in their backcourt this season. Marcus Smart slipped some defensively, but he was still plenty good. Derrick White picked up that slack and made All-Defense himself, while being better than ever on offense. Malcolm Brogdon gave Boston everything they asked for off the bench and won Sixth Man of the Year.

That said…there’s a shelf-life for this trio. If Jaylen Brown is back, the roster can’t really roster three guards making between $18 and $22 million. Especially when Boston’s best lineups may still involve Brown playing a lot of minutes on the guard line next season.

So, who goes?

It’s hard to imagine the Celtics without Marcus Smart at this point. This upcoming season will be Year 10 for him. He’s the heart and soul of the team. Unless there is a major trade package that Smart is needed in to bring back a star, he’s probably coming back.

Derrick White was arguably the team’s most consistent player in the playoffs. He was particularly good in the East finals. If we believe White is now a 38% shooter from deep (and we should), he has to stay. His defense and playmaking were already too important to let go, and the improved shooting just makes it a lock.

That leaves Malcolm Brogdon. It’s unfortunate that an injury wrecked Brogdon at the worst possible time. But, it’s not exactly surprising.

Brogdon played in 67 regular season games. That was the first time Brogdon has turned in a mostly-healthy season in the last three years. It’s only the third time in his career that Brogdon has played in as many as 64 games.

Simply put: Boston got lucky that Brogdon stayed healthy and made it through almost the entire season. The chance that happens again next year, even in a high-usage bench role, is fairly slim.

Brogdon also talked openly about how hard it was to adjust to coming off the bench, and how it’s not really his ideal role. He wasn’t griping, but being matter of fact. He’s always been a starter and would presumably like to be one again.

Add all of that together, and it’s probably worth exploring the trade market for Brogdon. If Boston could turn his $22.5 million into versatile big or a big wing, or into a couple of depth pieces on reasonable deals, that’s worth considering.

· Other questions: Should the Celtics keep or trade Payton Pritchard? That’s probably linked to what happens at the guard spot. Pritchard has earned a chance to play more, be it in Boston or elsewhere. If there are minutes to be had with the Celtics because they trade a guard, he should stay. If not, Boston should move him to pick up a future asset to add in team-building down the line.

What happens to Luke Kornet and Mike Muscala and Blake Griffin? Kornet and Muscala are probably both back, as their deals are small enough that they bring great value as depth bigs. Griffin could retire, or he could come back in the same role he played this year. It’s probably his choice to some extent.

Is it time to bring over Juhann Begarin and/or Yam Madar? This likely depends how the bottom of the roster shakes out. Begarin didn’t develop as hoped for in France this year. He seems to have stagnated a bit. He’s a tremendous athlete and a solid defender, but his offensive game may not fit in the NBA because he just can’t shoot. Madar had a very good year, mostly because he improved as a defender. He’s become a solid shooter and he’s a better playmaker than the assist-stingy European stat-keepers would have you believe.

Is Joe Mazzulla coming back? We left this one for last, because he’ll be back. Getting to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year as head coach clinched that. Expect a ton of staff turnover, and maybe an experienced assistant or two to be added to the bench. Probably even at least one former head coach. And the leash might be pretty short next season. If real improvement isn’t seen, Boston could move on relatively quickly.

Roster and Cap Situation

Guaranteed Contracts (11)

· Malcolm Brogdon - $22,500,000

· Jaylen Brown - $31,830,357

· Danilo Gallinari - $6,802,950 (if player option exercised)

· Sam Hauser - $1.927,896

· Al Horford - $10,000,000

· Mike Muscala - $3,500,000 (if team option exercised)

· Payton Pritchard - $4,037,278

· Marcus Smart - $18,583,713

· Jayson Tatum - $32,600,060

· Derrick White - $18,357,143

· Robert Williams - $11,571,429

Non-Guaranteed Contracts (2)

· Justin Champagnie - $1,927,896

· Luke Kornet - $2,413,304

Free Agents (4)

· JD Davison - $1,774,999 (restricted – two-way cap hold)

· Blake Griffin - $1,989,698 (unrestricted – non-Bird cap hold)

· Mfiondu Kabengele - $1,774,999 (restricted – two-way cap hold)

· Grant Williams - $12,918,843 (restricted – rookie scale Bird cap hold)

Cap Space: $54.7 million over the cap

Luxury Tax: $12.6 million over the tax

Luxury Tax Apron: $7.6 million over the tax apron

Second Tax Apron (Super Tax): $2.9 million under the super tax

Projected Exceptions: $5,000,000 Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (but only if Grant Williams is not re-signed)

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