Post-game Reactions

(The following comes from the paranoid mind of a life-long Celtics fan.  Instead of gearing up for an exciting playoff series, this tortured soul spent the previous night toiling over the intricacies of the NBA Salary Cap.  It reads more like a David Foster Wallace novel and if you have any hope the Celtics will be active in the free agent market, feel free to refrain from reading.)

As I watched the Celtics dispatch the Heat in the first round of 2010 NBA playoffs, I could not help but keep one eye (or at least my mind’s eye) on the impending offseason- and the potential drama that may ensue.

If there is a GM in the league willing to take some big risks with big moves, it is the Celtics’ Danny Ainge.  Remember, this is the same guy who traded away Boston fan-favorite Antoine Walker, brought in league pariah Vin Baker, and took flyers on personal busts favorites Jiri Welsch, Marcus Banks, and Yi Jianlian (well, almost anyway).  While Ainge is not so proudly remembered for making these moves early in his General Managerial career, he also deserves credit for the moves he orchestrated that eventually led the Celtics to hang their 17th Championship banner.

The bottom line: when it comes to Danny Ainge and the Celtics, you cannot always count on the conventional.

As it stands now, the Celtics will have little wiggle room when it comes to shopping for free agents.  Next year the Celtics have roughly 63 million dollars committed to six players (assuming Paul Pierce exercises his 21 million dollar player option).  The most recent salary cap projection for next season is 56.1 million dollars.   Now I am no math genius, but I think it’s safe to say the Celtics are going to have a little trouble filling out the rest of their roster with warm bodies.

What complicates this situation even more is the fact that a year ago Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said that the Celtics would be in a position to offer a max contract in the 2010 offseason.  This prompted Brian Robb to channel his inner Arnold Jackson (no relation) and ask the relevant question, “What you talkin’ ‘bout Wyc?”

Assuming this quote was not made up, misheard, or taken out of context, the question still stands:  just what was Wyc talking about?

Given this statement, the first and most obvious needs to happen: Pierce needs to not exercise his player option.  There are quite a few ramifications for this proposition.  First, if Pierce does not exercise his player option, than does he renegotiate a new contract for less money?  Does he sign somewhere else?  Does he retire?

Zach Lowe has a hard time believing Pierce would just not exercise his option and his logic is simple and justified.  Who leaves 21 million in guaranteed money on the table just to help out his team?  I’m not even sure Gandhi leaves that kind of money on the table.

Let’s just assume for Wyc’s sake that Pierce does not exercise his player option and becomes a free agent.  That leaves the Celtics with a team salary of around 41.8 million, which theoretically leaves enough cap space to offer a player a maximum contract.  I will admit that my knowledge of the NBA Salary Cap is limited to cursory looks at the Larry Coon Bible but there are a few things-I think- I know:

  • Mandatory minimum number of players on an NBA roster is 12
  • Teams cannot go over the salary cap to sign free agents unless they meet some exception explained clearly in legal jargon I do not understand.

If the C’s were to sign a max player- for say 16.83 million a year- and their Bird Rights’ free agents, they still only have 10 people on the roster: Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Max Player, Mid-level Exception player.  Even at two contracts at the veteran minimum, how can the Celtics get to 12 players without going over the salary cap?

The answer would appear to be simple: they can’t.  Unless all Nine planets in our solar system (I’m still holding out for Pluto) aligned and somehow both Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace voluntarily retired from the league.  If they were to retire and Pierce decides to not exercise his option, the Celtics 2010-2011 team salary would be a paltry 16.6 million doled out among Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis.  The Celtics would then have around 40 million to complete the roster plus exceptions.  They could theoretically offer two maximum contracts and then still have enough money to round out their roster with some solid players.

Now that you have read all that nonsense- factual, but nonsense- I will explain what will most likely happen.

The Celtics will attempt to get Pierce to not exercise his player option and renegotiate cheaper deals for both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.  Each contract will most likely be for around 3 years to give Pierce and Allen some security.  The Celtics will attempt mend the bridge they burned last offseason when they were undecided as to whether or not they would waive Tony Allen and attempt to resign him.  The Celtics will have virtually the same team for the next three seasons, ending the era of the Big Three and frustrating budding star Rajon Rondo.

If the Celtics have a team next year that is nearly the same squad they are fielding this year, then they have not solved any of their roster problems.  They still need a back up point guard, they still need a back up swingman, and they still need an active/athletic big man.  Finding serviceable and playoff-tested veterans for these positions- at the right prices, mind you- is not a likely scenario.  This is probably the reason why the Celtics essentially “called dibs” on Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette- an athletic/ active big man and a back up point guard and two guys they can get on the cheap.

The feeling that the Celtics have a good chance to sign their own free agents, let alone other teams’ free agents, may be a bit premature in and of itself.  Who says Ray Allen’s services would not be requested by another team?  Every time I watch a Thunder vs. Lakers game, I can not help but think of how much better they would be if Thabo Sefolosha could put the ball in the bucket.  Ray Allen could solve a huge issue with the Thunder and spread the floor enough for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to go to work.

In conclusion, enjoy the playoffs while they last because unless the Celtics have some crafty accountants working for them, I do not see the potential for growth and contention in the seasons to come.

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  • I love Green

    Alright screw you Brendan you just crushed my heart.

  • John

    Continued growth of Rondo (and Davis, to some extent) gives me some hope. Wyc has shown every indication of willingness to continue to spend to field a contender, and there are players available for the mid-level that could fill holes– swingman who can shoot (Mike Miller, Kyle Korver, Raja Bell, Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow (RFA)), backup point (Luke Ridnour, Steve Blake, Sergio Rodriguez, CJ Watson (RFA)) and even a few interesting energy bigs (Amir Johnson, Hakim Warrick, Darko Milicic).

    If we can resign Ray and TA (we have his bird rights) for reasonable salaries (3 years at 22 million, 2 years, 5 million?) and sign a couple projects to minimum contracts (or hell, maybe Scal for the minimum since Doc loves him so much) and then split the exception on two of the players I named above, that’d be a top 4 playoff team in the East with a chance to compete for the title if the rolls go our way.

  • can’t blame Ainge for Gin Baker, that was Chris Wallace (and some would say Thanksdad Gaston)

  • also, I think Wyc made his statement before Rondo signed his extension – and maybe before Sheed signed – so I think that scenario is long gone by

  • Banner 18?

    With the upcoming CBA rearrangement after next season, I would say PP has a better chance of opting out for long term security (maybe 10-12 mil. for 3 years?) than accepting his player option. Also, Ray has said he wants to retire in Boston and is willing to take a pay cut, but he hasn’t specified how much or for how long, If only Garnett wasn’t on the books for 3 more years at 22 mil…

  • Thanksdad. That was a gem, wasn’t it?

  • Brendan Jackson

    Ahh my memory betrays me. I guess you can replace the Vin baker trade with trading the 7th overall pick for Sebastian Telfair….that was a doozy… anyway, a complete list of Ainge transactions can be found here: http://hoopshype.com/general_managers/danny_ainge.htm

  • Steve

    If Danny does somehow pull off signing that max level guy, couldn’t those last two roster spots be their ’10 draft picks? Pretty sure they still actually own their picks this year and that’d give them an even 12 guys.

  • al

    to be fair, the whole telfair trade was to atone for the raef lafrentz trade, to get theo ratliff’s expiring contract, and lucky for ainge it worked out

  • Arvin

    How might trades influence the make-up of the 2010-11 Celtics team? Would a team trade for Sheed for cap relief? Might it be Big Baby that gets traded? M. Daniels, R. Allen, Scal, and Nate Robinson’s salaries come off the books, but is not enough? Could Pierce give up his option, we sign a max contract player and then resign PP and Allen to deals? Would D. Wade join the Big 3? Is it possible? Please feel free to point out my errors in thinking . . .

  • Cptn Bubbles

    We could of had a back up point guard……Analysts were shocked when Mario Chalmers fell in the draft. Here was the mvp of the national tourney champions. Other good things had come out of Kansas besides Dorothy & Toto, Paul whatshisname…..

    I just knew sitting there watching that this pick for Boston was gonna be a slam dunk with us getting a legit back up point guard & Danny selects…..JR Giddens….who??? I remember being shocked. JR who? I read that Danny had watched him play & liked him in that smaller league out west. Didn’t Danny watch the 64 team tourney, the final four, & the championship game???? There was our back up point guard, Mario Chalmers….and poof it was gone. Thanks so much Danny for the last 3 picks wherever they are….

  • Ray Leighton

    Maybe not a max-player, but….. maybe….

    OK, we cannot and should not move KG. We should not move Rondo. We know that Ray wants to stay in New England, and we should take advantage of this — give him three years, no-trade clause, at $5 million per year. That just saved us $14 million per year. The critical question becomes Paul Pierce — if he really wants another championship, and he wants to finish his career in a Celtics uniform — and truthfully (no pun intended), it would be truly disloyal of the Celtics to try to unload him, when Paul stuck with us and stayed even after several mediocre seasons — then he needs to renegotiate for less money, but perhaps more years. If we can get Paul down to $10-12 million a year, we just saved another $7-9 million per year. That puts us around the salary cap, but we have no room to play. So how do we get under it enough? The big problem is Sheed. In so many ways. And the only way we get rid of Sheed and that contract is to tell other teams, you can have “this player” but only if you also take Sheed.

    I don’t see any other way around this, but “so long, Perk”. We shop Perk and Sheed as a package deal for a more mobile, cheap, center, or a draft pick. The league is going smaller, and the need for the big center is not quite as critical as it was a few years ago. Perk has quite literally the worst hands-rating of any starter at any position in the Eastern Conference (possibly in the league; I just haven’t checked the West), and we’ve seen in earlier posts how much those turnovers can hurt us. If Perk was still holding it down defensively, we could tolerate that, but unfortunately, Perk’s opposing center has scored five more points per 48 minutes this year than last year, dropping Perk from 5th to 19th in this category in just one season. Basically, Perk has turned into one of the most mediocre centers in the league. It’s possible that Perk’s injuries have handicapped him in this regard, and it is possible that Perk will improve next year. Can we afford to take that risk? Under normal circumstances, I would be happy to keep Perk and give him another chance — I don’t like the option of trading him much, I like Perk even if I have been harsh on him, but how else do we get rid of Sheed and his contract? Perk is our only legitimate trade-bait, and the fact that his contract will expire in a year might make him more attractive to other teams, and more willing to take on Sheed. Even if Perk had a breakout season this year, this still might be our only chance to get rid of Sheed. Look at it this way — no matter how much you like Perk, is it worth keeping Sheed? And once Sheed is gone, we are now under the cap with some room to spare.

    So here’s my pipe-dream scenario:
    We pull off all of the above, and we trade Sheed and Perk to Miami (who wants a Dwight Howard counter) in return for a first-round pick a year later down the road.

    Lebron is staying in Cleveland, which means that DWade has no incentive whatsoever to stay in Miami.
    We then offer D-Wade the following contract:
    $14 million for the next three years, and then $20 million for the following three. He could probably get more, but for a guy with his injury history, and his desire for more rings, six years with a proven winner including Rajon Rondo throwing alley-oops for you (excuse me, as a fan, I had to wipe up some drool) would be awfully tempting.

    And then, since Miami would be without their franchise player, that draft-choice just became a probable lottery pick, so we trade that first to someone else for a cheap, young, mobile and defensive-oriented center. Ray comes off the bench and wins 6th-man awards.

    And then hang up several more banners, while discussing the word “dynasty”.

    And I would also like a pony.

  • mitch

    Ainge has been a failure as a GM until the garnett and allen trades….and even then…he gave up 7 players for a used Up KG….judging by ainges tendencies…i wouldn’t be suprised at all if he tried going after Amir Johnson or Kwame brown in the offseason and trade 5 guys for them

  • DRJ1

    @Ray– Sadly, I completely agree with your take on Perk. After 5 years in the league, he has managed this year to finally achieve…. mediocrity. And that’s on his good days. On his bad days — which come about 50% of the time lately — he’s a serious liability.

    And it’s not physical… it’s between the ears. I’m completely sick of his traveling and gathering and moving picks and oh-so-earnest outrage at the refs when they’re clearly right. I would gladly put him and Sheed out for sale, especially if we could pick up a couple of smart and/or energetic bigs cheap somehow. I just don’t see Perk improving from here. He’s had plenty of time, and the best training money can buy…. and he still can’t remember that he’s in a basketball game, not a walkathon.

  • dslack

    @DRJ1 I agree – Perk has been in the league the same length of time as LeBron. It’s long enough for a guy to figure out the NBA.

    @Brendan – Celtics cannot sign a max free agent and sign their own Bird free agents. The only way to sign a max free agent would be to renounce their Bird rights (otherwise the Bird “cap holds” still count against the cap – see http://members.cox.net/lmcoon/salarycap.htm#Q33).

  • @ Ray, Pat Riley is NOT going to let that happen…

    @ddslack, yeah but I think it’s possible using questions 27-28 http://members.cox.net/lmcoon/salarycap.htm#Q27

    I really don’t know for sure. I wish my school offered a “Understanding the NBA Salary Cap” class, but they didn’t. What a waste of money….

  • dslack

    @Brendan, I really think it’s not possible. See http://members.cox.net/lmcoon/salarycap.htm#Q29

    The Bird free agents count against the cap, eliminating what would be the cap space. The only way to sign the max free agent would be to renounce the Bird free agents, which means Celtics lose their Bird rights and can only offer veterans minimum salaries.

  • John V

    They could renounce their Bird rights to Pierce and then sign him with the midlevel exception. Also, I’m pretty sure the rules say you can always fill out your roster with minimum salary guys, no matter how far over the cap you are.

  • Zack

    So if we don’t want Perk (which I think is a mistake), why would other teams want to give up a 1st for a “Mediocre” center and the corpse of Sheed? Wouldn’t the resulting draft need to be spent on a center (since we just gave ours away and no one try to say Big Baby), also wouldn’t the entire league know that and try to Center-block us? If cheap good young defensive centers were growing from trees then wouldn’t the league be trending towards getting bigger? I think we somehow need to get Sheed to retire, thats really the only thing that can save us. Say what you will about Perk but if (using your flattering statistics) do you think a rookie will be any better than “50/50”?
    I think we missed the boat with Tyrus Thomas; young athletic PF who could use some guidance and has lots of upside who we could have gotten on the cheap.
    Miami has been trying to clear cap space forever, they won’t trade their 1st and D-wade for Perk a (in your opinion) half good half bad center with walking tendencies?

  • Mike

    David Foster Wallace? I don’t think so.

  • dslack

    @John, Yes, teams can always sign minimum salary guys. But the Celtics would have to renounce the midlevel exception in order to sign a max guy, in which case they wouldn’t still have it available to sign Pierce. see http://members.cox.net/lmcoon/salarycap.htm#Q20

  • rav


    We could have got the backup SF in Luc Mbah a Moute or Chris Douglas-Roberts

    Or a 4th big for defense and rebounding: DeAndre Jordan, and a backup SF with the MLE and a backup PG with the LLE last offseason. Guaranteeing banners the next 2 yearss

  • J-P

    @Ray — I, too, would like a pony

  • Max

    Even the highly esteemed author of this blog post missed the most obvious max guy free agent – sign and trade. Since RayRay made 19M this season, we can sign him to a 15M, one year contract, then trade him and a few #1’s for a max guy, who simply signs with his former team. Also, PP could opt out, with a verbal commitment from ownership to sign him to the same exact deal. So long as he was willing to risk that, since we have his bird rights, his salary would temporarily disappear from the books, leaving us with “cap space,” whatever that means. Also, for all you Perk-Wallace combo speculators, Perk has one year, 5M left on his contract, Wallace has two years, 13M. So you’d effectively be asking the other team to pay 18M + draft pick for one year of Perk plus the additional probability of extending him? I don’t think you’ll find any takers, unless Wallace suddenly morphs back five years in the series against the Cavs.

  • ralph

    are celtics fans forgetting that the celtics will have 2 draft picks! that means 2 new players, to fill out the roster. and danny should take daequon cook off pat riley’s hands, pat has been trying to trade cooks’s contract. celtics really need the type of shooter cook is. and they could sign travis outlaw for the MLE, or rasual butler, or even amir johnson.

  • JJ

    Ainge did not bring in Vin Baker, but he did manage to figure out how to get rid of him and his supposedly immovable contract.

  • I think overall we should keep the big three figure out a way to keep pp Allen and Garnett keep the up and rising superstar rondo no matter what I would hate for them to split them up what are the chances to keeping the squad?

  • Charlie Phillips

    What is Nate Robinsons status? Can we keep him? Do we want to keep him, especially if Ray goes ?

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