While much of the focus from the Boston Celtics' recent roster moves has been on the team's accumulation of future draft picks -- and with what's likely to be at least 24 total selections over the next five drafts, that's certainly noteworthy -- the Celtics have also positioned themselves to be major players on the free-agent market this offseason.
The Celtics are currently committed to roughly $35.6 million in salary for the 2015-16 season1, but that number could drop even further if the team elected to use some of its draft-pick stash to shed the final year of Gerald Wallace's bloated contract2. Educated calculations3 project that Boston could end up as much as $40 million below the $67 million salary cap, though that number is likely to be significantly less.
What's certain is, if Boston desires, it is going to have the resources available to pursue a top-line free agent with a maximum-contract offer this summer. You'll hear a lot about this year's free-agent class being weak, particularly if some top names (LeBron James, Kevin Love) either elect not to opt-out of their current deals or if some others (Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard) decide to simply re-sign with their current squads.
And that very scenario might just happen with DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers. But after watching Jordan put up 19 points and 12 rebounds during a 102-93 triumph over the Celtics on Monday at Staples Center, it did make us ponder the possibility of Jordan in green.
You'll remember the buzz about that very possibility a couple summers ago, before the NBA stepped in and made sure that Kevin Garnett didn't follow Doc Rivers to Los Angeles. Jordan will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and can pick his next destination.
Now, the obvious question is why would Jordan leave his current situation in sunny LA with a surefire contender? It would seem the most likely scenario is for Jordan to sign a five-year, $100+ million extension with the Clippers, especially as new owner Steve Ballmer pledges to utilize his deep pockets to keep LA competitive moving forward.
But for the sake of this exercise, let's assume there's a bump in the road. The Clippers get scared of the looming repeater penalties that sticking in the tax would cause, or the team suffers an early playoff exit and reevaluates its needs moving forward. Anything that might make Jordan more likely to consider outside offers.
Should the Celtics consider a maximum salary offer to Jordan, which would start at around $18.8 million in year 1 and cost around $84 million over four seasons?
This armchair GM has been leery of such a big contract for Jordan. He's a player with a limited offensive range (essentially at the basket, or wherever he leaps from), who has never averaged more than 6.3 field goal attempts per contest, and is a liability at the end of games because of his free-throw shooting (even Boston went Hack-a-Jordan late Monday and the Boston bench chuckled when he airballed one).
And yet all you need to do is watch the first few minutes of Monday's game and there's Jordan taking a feed in the circle and delivered a thunderous jam that left Tyler Zeller sprawling on the baseline.
After a turnover on Boston's ensuing possession, Jordan outraces everyone else down the floor and finishes an alley-oop jam from Lob City partner in crime Blake Griffin. Next trip down, Jordan catches it near the baseline, bullies his way into the paint with his shoulder, and finishes an easy layup. Just like that, Los Angeles is running away with the game.
Jordan made his first eight shots Monday and his spinning alley-oop layup with 4:14 to play in the third quarter put the Clippers out front by 23, their biggest lead of the night.
And we haven't even talked about Jordan's defense. He's morphed into an elite rebounder the past two seasons, grabbing a career-best 23.2 percent of all rebounds this season, including a league-best 31.3 percent of caroms on the defensive glass. He's also second in blocks per game (2.3) this season.
We could gush for a while. But Jordan may be a bit of a pipe dream. Sports Illustrated pubished a Q&A with Jordan last week and, when asked about his priorities for free agency, he started, "Obviously, great weather." He later added, "I don’t want to be freezing every day. But if the team is great, then you have to make a choice. And they have heaters."
Few would describe the Celtics' current situation as "great," all while the team navigates Year 2 of this rebuilding process. In order to get to great, the team likely needs to convince a player the caliber of Jordan to come join a young core, and even then there's work to do to shape the team into a true contender (though that's easier in the East, at least for the moment).
Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers did offer some encouraging words before Monday's game.
"I've said it: I think [the Celtics have] done the best as far as rebuilding," said Rivers. "They have the most assets, for sure. And getting assets are hard. Now the hardest step is the next one and turning those assets into actual players. I asked Danny jokingly, do you even know how many picks you have? I think it’s 26 [potential picks over next five drafts] -- it’s amazing what they’ve done in a short time. And they still have some pretty good players. I think they’ve done a nice job."
The main takeaway here for Celtics fans is, as you're watching these games and lamenting the pains that come with rebuilding, remember that Boston's maneuvering has created an opportunity to accelerate through the rebuild. Those draft picks will help supplement the young core, while others will be traded away to add impact players.
And for the first time in recent memory, an impact player could also arrive via free agency. Allow yourself to daydream a bit. It'll help you get through the year.
2: Boston could also lower its salary commitment by stretching Wallace's final year.