On Monday, the Boston Celtics will finalize their third trade in 26 days when Jeff Green formally is delivered to the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team swap. A fourth trade could follow soon after to send incoming Austin Rivers out to his father's squad in Los Angeles. Even then, the Celtics won't be done working the phones in advance of February's trade deadline while trying to liquidate all remaining veteran talent and increase its incredible pile of draft picks, all with a focus on a brighter future.
We spent this weekend examining where the 2014-15 Celtics stand after the most recent deals and breaking down how Boston might utilize its draft picks. We wrap up our mini State of the Celtics by examining the salary cap situation moving forward, including how it impacts the team at this year's trade deadline.
First, here's a quick glance at how Boston's salary commitment for the next three seasons should look following the Green trade (with the usual tip of the cap to salary numbers from ShamSports):
Celtics salaries for next three seasons
A look at where the Celtics stand in salary commitment over the next three seasons:
For the purposes of this exercise, we're including Rivers' salary until Boston finalizes that potential swap. As part of its recent moves, the Celtics have slashed their total salary commitment for the current season. Boston remains over the salary cap, but very comfortably beneath the $76.8 million tax line. That could make them an intriguing facilitator at the deadline.
For the moment, the Celtics still have 15 bodies, but additional moves -- or buyouts -- could free up a roster spot or two. With the savings from the recent trades, Boston could consider offering salary cap relief to potential tax teams and can absorb salary (preferably expiring deals) into its recent trade exceptions in exchange for adding to its draft pick stash.
Why would the Celtics utilize those exceptions now and not wait until this offseason?
With the team set to dip well below the cap this summer, Boston will -- for really the first time in recent memory -- be able to purge its books and have honest-to-goodness cap space to sign free agents. You'll get a fun trip down memory lane when you hear that the team is renouncing the rights to players such as Roshown McLeod, Michael Olowokandi and even Shaquille O'Neal -- players who linger on their books as cap holds despite having long since hung up their high tops. Why are they even there now, you ask? Boston has never been in a position to need to clear out those holds as a team that lived above the cap in recent years, but will have to do so to ensure salary cap freedom this summer.
And part of that renouncing could include dispatching larger trade exceptions that could clog up available cap space. Boston generated a pair of chunky exceptions recently, $12.9 million as part of the Rondo swap and a $5 million exception when Brandan Wright went to Phoenix. Boston might be better served utilizing those now in hopes of seeking additional picks through absorbing salary while it has the space, then purge its books this summer and hope to sell a big-ticket free agent on being the face of its rebuild.
Depending on how Boston proceeds this summer, it will have to make a decision on Wallace. If the team has the space, it might be better to stomach the final year of his bloated contract rather than part with the assets it might take for another team to take him away. Boston could also stretch the final season of his contract out, but would be paying $3.4 million for each of the next three seasons to simply clear one bulky charge.
How Boston proceeds could depend on just how much salary it needs to clear to land the players its covets this offseason. For the first time in his tenure, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have a chance to sell big name free agents on why they should sign in Boston without having to navigate the trade route to get them here.
And even if Boston strikes out in that pursuit, it still has all those draft picks to go the familiar trade route. The team can continue to take the rebuild slowly by utilizing its picks and sticking to a "draft and develop" path, but the more likely scenario would be adding a couple of fresh faces to the young core and trying to utilize other picks to obtain established talent.
The goal here is to try to show you the path that Ainge and the team are navigating as part of their rebuild. There's still a ton of work to be done, and Ainge has to make an awful lot of good decisions to accelerate this team back to contender status. But the moves the Celtics have made this season -- and will continue to make -- all are aimed at giving the team as many possible assets to work with, which increases the margin for error along the way.
Amid the overhaul, coach Brad Stevens and the young Celtics core must continue to make strides on the court while understanding that the team has a desire to turn things around quickly. What we learned earlier in the season is that a team helmed by Rondo and Green was not making the sort of progress the Celtics had hoped and, with their looming potential free-agent status, Boston ushered in a larger roster overhaul than might have been previously expected.
The next month will be spent trying to further position the roster for an upgrade this summer. The players that remain must try to elevate their own games because part of the free-agent pitch is going to be selling an intriguing young core that Boston has built in hopes that it's the base of a contender.
Boston still has enough talent that, in a head-shaking East, it will linger just outside playoff contention (though a tougher slate of upcoming games should drop the team back toward the lottery pack a bit). The Celtics certainly wouldn't mind some additional help from the ping-pong balls this spring, but are not reliant on it.
No, Boston has positioned itself well with cap flexibility, a surplus of draft picks and a burning desire to leave this rebuild behind. Sometimes it's hard to see the forest from the trees, but these Celtics are trying to navigate their way out of the woods.