The Boston Celtics made a minor move Friday by shipping Joel Anthony to Detroit in exchange for Will Bynum. The move saves Boston about $900,000 as it begins to tinker with its roster in preparation for cutting down to 15 players for the start of the regular season later this month.
Let's take a look at where Boston's roster, salary cap situation, and rotation stand at the moment with our latest roster reset.
2014-15 CAP GLANCE
A look at Boston's current cap commitment for the 2014-15 season:
THE QUEST FOR 15 BODIES
For the purpose of this exercise, we'll ignore the three training camp invites on the roster -- Tim Frazier, Christian Watford, and Rodney McGruder. The trio is on minimum contract, nonguaranteed deals and will be waived soon with the expectation that they will land with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League as affiliated players.
Boston still has 17 players under contract, though recently acquired Erik Murphy's deal is only $100,000 guaranteed if waived before Nov. 1, which makes him a likely victim of an overcrowded roster.
Essentially, the Celtics have 16 players for 15 spots. The team also likes Dwight Powell, a rookie second-round pick acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers last month, and would desire to carry him if space allows. So Boston is left with a couple options:
• The easy route: The Celtics, under our scenario above, can get to 15 bodies by simply cutting one player. While it would be easier to stomach a smaller contract like the one belonging to Powell, the Celtics might simply swallow hard on Bynum -- they saved themselves $900,000 with Friday's deal -- and be content to stay roughly $2 million under the luxury tax line ($76.8 million) with a total commitment of roughly $74.8 million entering the season. That affords Boston a little bit of a wiggle room to take on additional salary during any in-season trades, a luxury that shouldn't be overlooked in Friday's deal.
• The difficult route: Ever since Boston's roster became bloated, the team has sought ways to trim salary and open roster spots. One key for any rebuilding team -- or even a contending team -- is having the necessary space and money to make in-season moves. The Celtics have some avenues to take on salary this season, including a portion of the midlevel exception not used on Evan Turner, but would also have to create roster room in order to add future-minded talent. Even while simply trying to trim to 15 players, the Celtics will continue to pursue deals that would bring back less players than the team would send out. While this is an ideal route because it prevents Boston from eating a contract, the team seemingly hasn't found a willing trade partner to this point and would have to hope teams with training camp injuries might be desperate to make a deal. And let's face it, the team is more likely to generate that sort of move with in-season deals than maneuvering now when teams are typically in trim mode.
Some have wondered if second-year guard Phil Pressey's spot might be in jeopardy with the arrival of Bynum, a 31-year-old guard who has proven to be a capable player -- averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 assists over 18.5 minutes per game over seven NBA seasons -- and was a fan favorite in Detroit. But Boston is overstocked with guards and the guess here is that they'd prefer to hold onto the 23-year-old Pressey, who has a minimum contract and showed in his rookie season that he can be a serviceable quarterback off the bench. That said, Bynum's contract is a nice size to potentially be moved as part of a package deal down the road, but that might not be reason enough to part with Pressey. One way or another, you're probably paying both players, so who means more to the future of your team?
While the end-of-the-roster maneuvering is interesting to us cap geeks and those intrigued by general roster construction, the more pressing issue for the team is hammering down its rotation for the start of the season.
Rondo's absence has made that a slightly more daunting task. In recent games, coach Brad Stevens has utilized a starting lineup that has featured Turner in the point guard role. This accomplishes two things: (1) It gets Turner minutes, which he has earned with his play, including being one of the only players on the roster who can consistently get into the paint off the dribble and (2) Puts Marcus Smart in the reserve role he's likely to occupy when Rondo returns.
The rest of the starting unit seems pretty entrenched in Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk. The Celtics appear content to be undersized up front and hope the versatility of the Sullinger/Olynyk combo can create mismatches, particularly on the offensive end. As long as Boston's guards can help on the glass -- Bradley emerged as a strong rebounder by the end of last year and Turner can help there, too -- then the Celtics can survive being small.
That leaves Stevens with a five-man reserve unit of Smart, Marcus Thornton, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass, and Tyler Zeller. Smart's defense is going to make him a big part of Boston's rotation, while Zeller is Boston's only true big while Vitor Faverani recovers from his latest surgery. Thornton is going to get minutes, especially when his shots are falling. Veterans Bass and Wallace? They are a bit more in limbo. Bass gives Stevens some flexibility to mix-and-match his bigs off the bench, but if Boston is focused on the future, then bigs like Olynynk, Sullinger, and Zeller need the bulk of the minutes.
When James Young and, further down the road, Faverani are healthy, things get a little bit more difficult for Stevens, though injuries always have a way of creating opportunities for younger players. Does Young get priority over a veteran like Wallace? Can a healthy Faverani reenter the competition at center? The D-League remains an option for Boston's younger players to get consistent time if it's not available with the parent club.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Celtics have shown encouraging glimpses this preseason, but ultimately everything resolves back to Rondo. Just how much can he lift this team when fully healthy? Stevens is ready to inject Rondo whenever his hand heals and he's able to return to action. What this team is capable won't be answered until that happens.