The Boston Celtics currently have 18 players under contract for the 2014-15 season with a total salary commitment of more than $80 million. While we wait for the official numbers on Evan Turner's free-agent deal, Boston is expected to sit $3+ million over the luxury-tax line ($76.8 million) with a need to trim at least three bodies before the start of the regular season.
A look at the Boston Celtics' current salary commitment (with help from salary site ShamSports.com). Note: Evan Turner is omitted while awaiting his official numbers:
If next season is heavy on development, the Celtics will have no desire to pax luxury tax, and avoiding the tax for a second straight season sets them up well to avoid stiff repeater penalties when they do launch back to contender status.
Before the start of the regular season, Boston must trim at least three bodies to get to the league maximum of 15, but must also consider giving itself some additional room -- both in terms of available salary below the tax line and roster space -- for potential in-season moves, particularly when future-minded bodies might become available at discounted rates.
So how can Boston trim the necessary space? A few options and ideas:
THE EASY ROUTE
Boston still has three nonguaranteed contracts totaling about $7 million headlined by the long-since excused Keith Bogans. If unable to cut costs in any other way, Boston could simply waive Bogans, Chris Babb, and Chris Johnson to get to 15 players and a salary safely below the tax line.
While this is the easiest route, it's not ideal. Bogans' nonguaranteed deal has potential to be a key trade asset, allowing Boston to offer a trading partner immediate salary-cap relief. Bogans got a monster raise while being a sign-and-trade inclusion in last summer's swap with the Brooklyn Nets and Boston stomached that salary because (1) it could do such in a rebuilding season and (2) that value was likely to be reimbursed in the future trade market. Simply waiving Bogans doesn't maximize his return. We'd go so far as to suggest that, if Boston can trim in other ways, it' be better to carry Bogans into the season as an invisible 15th man than to trim his deal now. The other downside here is parting ways with Johnson, a player that really endeared himself to the Celtics' coaching staff last season and who is playing on a team-friendly, long-term deal (though his minutes likely decreased with the addition of Turner and first-round pick James Young).
Tax payments are not calculated until after the season, so Boston doesn't necessarily have to trim to below the tax line to start the year. The Celtics could waive Babb and Johnson and look to make some sort of 2-for-1 trade that could get the team to 15 bodies while staying, say, $2 million above the tax line to start the season.
Because Bogans' contract doesn't become guaranteed until January, the Celtics would still have a safety net. The more difficult part might be finding a trade partner that can take on two players and willing to give back one (and that player would ideally be on a nonguaranteed deal or at the very least an expiring contract).
One option Boston ought to consider that wouldn't muddy up their books too badly and would offer some immediate relief: Utilizing the stretch provision on Joel Anthony.
Yes, the Celtics could try to find a team with the necessary trade exception or cap space to take on Anthony's $3.6 million salary in exchange for a draft pick, but using the stretch provision is a decent fallback route that could help protect draft picks or other assets like Bogans' contract. And let's face it, there's a reason Anthony triggered a $3.6 million player option to return to Boston: He wasn't getting that money anywhere else.
The stretch provision allows a team to waive a player and spread their remaining salary over twice the length of the contract plus one season. So Boston could waive Anthony and pay him a modest $1.2 million for the next three seasons. The idea of dead money on your books is never ideal and simply eating that $3.6 million this season, while rebuilding, is a more better situation. But Boston would generate $2.4 million in immediate savings and, coupled with releasing Babb and Johnson, could seemingly trim to 15 players and get under the tax line without sacrificing Bogans as a trade chip.
WHO WANTS TO MAKE A DEAL?
The best route for Boston is the toughest, because it involves finding a willing trade partner, which, as emphasized by the lack of fireworks this offseason, isn't exactly easy.
OK, so Boston probably isn't finding a taker for the two years and $20.2 million left on Gerald Wallace's pact (unless it's willing to give up a future first-rounder to entice a team and even that might have to wait until next summer). Boston has three big contracts on their books belonging to players whose long-term futures here are not certain:
• Jeff Green: The 27-year-old swingman will earn $9.2 million this season with a player option for the same amount next year. There's a line of thinking that wonders, if Green has a decent 2014-15 season, if he'll explore free agency next summer when he might just be able to land an attractive long-term payday (remember, NBA teams love to overpay for potential). Bulky salary could make it difficult to move him this time of year, however.
• Brandon Bass: We've heard his name bubble up in whispers, whether it's been as part of the Omer Asik pursuit, or potential interest from Golden State before its trade exception expired. Boston's best bet might be to continue to explore all options for moving Bass. Let's face it, there's a logjam at the power forward position with younger players like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger demanding increased minutes this season. Bass is a versatile player with a great work ethic and he's exactly the sort of player a contending team could benefit from. He's also in the final year of a contract that will pay him a modest $6.9 million, making him all the more attractive to contenders (though that might be more at the February deadline than at this point of the summer).
• Marcus Thornton: Boston's growing logjam at the 2-guard spot could make the recently acquired guard a trade option. Like Green he has a cumbersome $8.6 million salary and there are limitations for how quickly Boston can move him (at least while including other salaries in an outgoing package). The guess here is that the Celtics would be more willing to carry Thornton as an expiring and gauge his trade value before February.
The hurdle here is any deal is sending out high salary and finding a way to generate cap relief, meaning the trade partner has to have either a large trade exception to stomach a deal or can offer nonguaranteed contracts as part of the return package.
Lost in the logjam is a player like Colton Iverson, last year's second-round pick who spent a season in Turkey. Boston looked like it was going to have ample roster space to carry the 7-footer this season, now he's forced again to hope more shuffling opens spots.
The bottom line here is that Boston has some work to do to shape its roster, and it must determine what the best way to trim down while protecting all of its assets.