With Jerryd Bayless in and Courtney Lee out this week, the Celtics took a step closer to attaining some of that coveted “financial flexibility” they’ve been pursuing. But the question people really want to know is… what kind of money will the Celtics really have to pursue a free agent this summer?
People are getting excited about the team’s future. The team’s early success has already shown Brad Stevens can be a pretty good NBA coach, and many fans will gladly play the “what if” game when it comes to having Rajon Rondo during all those blown fourth-quarter leads. Those things alone have people wondering if the right draft pick and free agent acquisition could combine to end the rebuild early, and return to “contender” status.
So let’s see where the Celtics are, and what they can do.
After the trade (and subsequent release of Ryan Gomes), the Celtics payroll went from $71,219,789 to $69,639,268… for a savings of basically $1.6 million dollars. They key short-term impact for the C’s here is moving well back of the luxury tax line, which is $71.7 million.
The big part of the Lee trade was what it means for the C’s financial future. Bayless is a free agent after this season, so the Celtics can choose to let him walk. He’s not the only one that can go away this summer to free up space, so let’s start deducting to see how far down we can get the C’s salary number before we have to add to it.
Assuming the Celtics don’t trade any of their free agents (Kris Humphries, and Marshon Brooks… Bayless can’t be traded now unless it’s a sign-and-trade after the season is over), the team will save $16.3 million. The Celtics payroll at that point would be $53,294,188 for 11 players.
The Celtics will almost certainly waive Keith Bogans. None of his $5,285,816 is guaranteed. The Celtics payroll at that point would be $48,008,372 for 10 players.
The Celtics could choose to use the “stretch provision” on Gerald Wallace. That means they could waive him and spread the cap hit over twice the remaining years on his contact, plus one year. So the $20.2 million he’s owed would become a slightly more than $4 million cap hit over the next five years (ending after the 2018-19 season). Next year’s cap number becomes $43,966,030 for 9 players.
The Celtics could waive Phil Pressey, saving about $800k and bringing their payroll down to $43,149,548 for 8 players.
From there, the Celtics will have some tougher choices to make, namely with Jordan Crawford. He’s a restricted free agent. Will they make the $3.2 million qualifying offer and retain the right to match offers made by other teams? If they don’t, and they let him walk too, they can get the cap number down to $39,942,681 for 7 players.
The estimated salary cap for the 2014-15 season is expected to be about $62.1 million.
That means the Celtics have $22,157,319 in cap room, and 7 players under contract.
Let’s start adding.
Avery Bradley, in this scenario, is still on the books at the qualifying offer slot of just under $3.6 million. The Celtics could certainly let him go just like Jordan Crawford in this scenario, but let’s just assume they want to keep Avery.
The baseline for Bradley is Tony Allen. Allen is 32 years old and Bradley is 23. Bradley is also, currently, in the top 25 in 3-point field goal percentage, and is regarded as one of the premier on-ball defenders in the league.
So if Allen is making $5 million, we can safely assume Bradley will make a few more million based on his youth and performance. Let’s assume he earns an extension starting at $8 million a year. Some might think that’s high, some might think that’s low, but it’s a number that won’t be too far off either extreme and will work for our purposes.
Bradley, at $8 million even next year means the Celtics have $17,738,621 in cap space.
Let’s just pretend the Celtics hit the jackpot and get the #1 overall pick. That would be an automatic salary of $4,592,200. (the second overall pick would make $4,108,800, third would make $3,689,700, fourth: $3,326,700, and fifth: $3,012,500 as detailed by Larry Coon). The top overall selection would bring the cap space down to $13,146,421. That would be the eighth player under contract.
So as of right now in this scenario, the Celtics have signed the top overall pick, extended Avery Bradley, let all of their other free agents walk, waived Bogans and Pressey, and used the stretch provision on Wallace.
That leaves this roster: Rondo, Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Vitor Faverani, and our top overall pick.
The Celtics would have just over $13 million to fill up to seven spots. There is also the possible use of the “room exception” in this that allows for an extra player at a $2.5 million salary.
But still, $13 million for between four and seven spots isn’t exactly going to land you a premier free agent… at least not the traditional free-agent route. Even if you play with the numbers (sign Bradley for less, get a lower than first overall pick), it’s still not going to be enough throw tons of cash at a big-name guy.
For the Celtics to be in the running for a top-notch guy, they’ll probably have to go the trade route. If Danny can swing a major deal to go along with a top-5 pick and the return of Rondo, then suddenly some of that cap money can go to filling in some holes.
If the C’s are going to hasten this rebuild, Trader Danny’s going to have to go to work. We know he’s got no problem with that.