Mailbag: Answering offseason questions

Even as we pushed pause on the Celtics mailbag for the postseason, your letters kept coming in -- lots of them, in fact. Most were just angry rants or streams of consciousness whenever bad news popped up for the Celtics, but we always appreciate those, even if there's rarely a question involved (at least one that doesn't end in a four-letter expletive).

But after a near-three-month break, we dusted off the old mailbag to find this query on top earlier this week:

Q: Are we doing this mailbag or not? (Smitthers, Boston)

I know, I know, it's been a while. The postseason is so chaotic, it simply didn't make sense to do one. But now it's the offseason and everyone wants to know how the Celtics plan to build a roster for the 2010-11 campaign capable of making a similar run at the title. So enough excuses, let's do this thing.

Many, many thanks to those who helped refill the bag this week. There were tons of great questions, some of which we'll save for next week. Let's dive in:

Hot Topics | Cap Education | Get this guy! | Best of the rest

Hot Topics

The most common questions to fill this week's bag

Q: Why has Rasheed Wallace yet to comment on the speculation surrounding his retirement? Does his silence help or hinder the Celtics' attempts to move his contract? (Chuck, Nashua, N.H.)

A: Well, there's two potential reasons here. If Wallace truly hasn't made up his mind and is still debating a possible return, that's not a great thing for Boston. Not only does that leave the team in wait-and-see mode, but then the Celtics can't trade his contract without being assured that he's walking away.

Now, if Wallace has made up his mind and informed the Celtics of his plans, then Boston is sitting pretty but still needs to keep his decision quiet. Until he's officially retired, the Celtics can shop his contract to teams seeking cap relief and attempt to get a quality player (or players) in return.

There are two wrinkles here: Wallace's trade kicker (which increases his salary if he's traded) and its impact on any potential deals, and whether he plans to seek a buyout in order to walk away. The latter could end up costing the Celtics a couple million dollars regardless of whether he's traded, and that would go against this year's cap.

Q: Is it possible for the Celts to retain Wallace and still obtain Josh Howard? What is the likelihood Wallace retires? (Jet, Boston)

A: Howard was a popular name in this week's bag after a Yahoo Sports report earlier this week suggested that the Celtics were interested in him.

No, it's not possible for the Celtics to land Howard and retain Wallace. In fact, I'm not even sure the Celtics can get a deal done for Howard without including another body (or draft pick) on top of Wallace, considering Howard made $10.9 million last season, unless he took a substantial pay cut.

Yes, he's coming off an ACL injury, but it's hard to imagine him taking too big of a slash, especially in this market, even if he did average just 12.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game last year with the Washington Wizards. Boston would need a team to agree to a sign-and-trade, whereby that team inks Howard, an unrestricted free agent, and then flips him to Boston for Wallace, who then -- presumably -- retires. Will Wallace definitely retire? All indications from the Celtics are that he hasn't changed his mind since Game 7, which point towards him hanging up his headband (though, don't rule out some sort of post-trade-deadline return to a contender if Wallace gets the itch. He might simply want to avoid going through the grind of a full season again).

Q: Why isn't Avery Bradley playing in the summer league? (Julian, Allentown, Pa.)

A: Bradley injured himself in a pre-draft workout for the Oklahoma City Thunder, which might have contributed to his stock dipping in the days leading up to the draft. As Boston's first-round pick (19th overall), Bradley had a scope on his injured left ankle and will be sidelined about six weeks (hence, why he's missing the summer league). He's expected to be in full health when training camp opens.

Q: Who do you think the Celts are going to target to fill Tony Allen's role or do you think Bradley is ready for prime time? (Parm, Atlanta)

A: Honestly, the market for Allen's replacements probably won't play out for a couple weeks. There's no one among the unrestricted free agents that jumps out, especially not one that will play for the minimum. So the Celtics will, presumably, shop Wallace's contract to a team seeking relief from the salary cap and/or luxury tax line. That means the market has to play out more and teams have to make final signings, which might open up the opportunity to land an experienced player for a team eager to shed some payroll.

Cap education

Tons of questions filled our box with impossible trade scenarios or requests to sign free agents whom the Celtics simply can't afford. We try to sort out the confusion about Boston's cap flexibility

Q: Why doesn't Boston save some money to go after Tracy McGrady or Josh Childress, or is that a stretch right now for the Celtics budget? (JJ, Fordyce, Ark.)

A: (Note: This question came before Childress landed with the Phoenix Suns.) I won't profess to be a cap expert, but here's what I think I know that should help temper expectations moving forward. The Celtics are over the salary cap, which means three main things:

1. They cannot sign any player to anything more than a minimum (or entry-level) contract without using an exception.

2. The Celtics used one of their lone exceptions -- the mid-level -- to sign unrestricted free agent Jermaine O'Neal. They used a bi-annual exception last season to sign Marquis Daniels and cannot use it again until 2011.

3. The Celtics can only go over the salary cap to sign their own free agents. This is why the Tony Allen departure stings. The Celtics could have paid him way more than the minimum that they can offer his replacement; instead, they elected not to, likely scared off by the length of a deal for the injury-prone swingman.

Boston boasts non-Bird Rights to Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, meaning they could also go over the minimums to sign those two. The team appears to be in talks with Robinson, but it would seem unlikely Daniels would return.

As discussed above, the Celtics do have one chip in their pocket with Wallace's contract. They'll have to use it wisely to polish off this roster.

Q: I thought that Danny constructed the Big Three's deals so that every year when one of them leaves their money comes off the books and they can re-sign a top free agent. So how are they still constantly over the salary cap? In addition, if Brian Scalabrine, Shelden Williams, Marquis Daniels, and Rasheed Wallace's money is off the books, can't they sign other pieces? Or are they still over the cap? (Courtney, Boston)

A: Alas, the Celtics remain over the cap, hamstrung by the (somewhat) bloated contracts of the Big Three. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will account for around $43.8 million this season, even if that's a reduced number from a staggering $54.9 million last season. The thing is, Rajon Rondo's cap number hopped up $7 million this season, meaning the C's didn't save all that much money coming into this offseason. In fact, the starting five last year commanded $61.5 million; this year it's still going to be around $57 million (depending on the first-year value of Pierce's extension).

The current collective bargaining agreement really rewards teams that re-sign their own free agents. Boston boasted limited unrestricted free agents last year -- at least ones they hoped to retain -- and, being over the cap, used its available exceptions to add Wallace and Marquis Daniels. The Celtics filled out their roster with a minimum salary addition in Williams.

Even with so many holes to fill this season, Boston's big free-agent signings this offseason amounted to Pierce and Allen.

Get THIS guy!

Mailbaggers make pleas for specific talent.

Q: With Minnesota trading for Michael Beasley, does that make Big Al expendable? Does trading Rasheed Wallace's contract, along with Big Baby Glen Davis, make sense for both teams??? (Danny, Lowell, Mass.)

A: Danny's question landed before the 'Wolves traded Jefferson to the Jazz, but it's worth pointing out this fascination Celtics fans have with bringing back former players. Heck, some people were downright depressed not to land Ryan Gomes.

As for Big Al, he is set to make $13 million next season. Even trading Wallace ($6.3 million) and Davis ($3 million) wouldn't have been enough to make things work (depending on Wallace's trade kicker), nor would it make sense to ship away a primary backup big with Boston already thin up front.

Q: He is not the same class as Tony Allen for sure, but the Celts could grab a lockdown defender for situations by grabbing J.R. Giddens back at very small money. Why not? (Bill, Lexington, Mass.)

A: See, fans absolutely love old players not named Mark Blount. No doubt that Giddens would come cheap, but the Celtics are already going to have a cluster of young bodies in Bradley, Luke Harangody and, potentially, Oliver Lafayette and Tony Gaffney. I'm just not sure there's space to add another young guy, especially one whom the Celtics had before and couldn't crack the rotation. I did love Giddens' attitude, but I think he'll find a better home.

Q: Do you think the Celtics will get Eddie House back, or another free agent? (Nick, Exeter, N.H.)

A: I omitted emails clamoring for Dan Dickau, Jiri Welsch and Orien Greene. Sentimentality doesn't win championships. I do think the C's would consider House at the minimum, but I also think they'll find better options on the open market. If the team is able to bring back Robinson, then that most certainly means the team would be searching for size and defense at the wing, meaning House would be out of the mix.

Best of the rest

Our favorite questions that we could cram into this week's 'bag.

Q: How worried do you think Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers are at what is transpiring in Miami and how that affects their chances this year? I know they aren't saying much publicly, but you have to think that since this is basically this group's last go, that they will need to make some moves to come out a top the (much improved) East. (Eli, Boston)

A: Publicly, both Ainge and Rivers offered not-so subtle reminders that they are the defending Eastern Conference champions and plan to be even better next season. But what team doesn't feel like they're going to be better next season (well, besides the Cavaliers, and even Dan Gilbert is promising to win a title)?

I think both Ainge and Rivers understand the path to the NBA Finals just got a bit more difficult, but it's not like they had a Fast Lane pass for this year's march. If the Celtics are fortunate enough to make another postseason run, they're going to have to go through very good teams like Chicago, Miami or Orlando. If nothing else, they'll hope the increased competition in the East makes it more difficult on teams in opposing divisions. Let Orlando, Atlanta, and Miami beat up on each other in the Southeast, hope that Milwaukee and Cleveland give Chicago a run for its money in the Central and then take your chances in the postseason. Who would have thought Boston would have been in the Finals this year anyway?

Q: Can you update us on what the Celtics plans may be for Phase 2 now? (Anthony, Houston)

A: Earlier this week we penned a story describing our plan for Phase 2. It centered around re-signing Tony Allen, inking second-round draft choice Harangody, guaranteeing the contracts of Lafayette and Gaffney, and monitoring the trade market with Wallace's contract.

I still think this is the plan, simply swap re-signing Robinson for Allen. It's not the ideal move -- the Celtics could have used Tony Allen's defense at the 2 and 3 more than they could use Robinson -- but if he can perform like he did over the final eight games of the playoffs, he's got real value as an offensive spark off the bench.

One interesting thing to keep an eye on: Ray Allen suggested Tuesday that veterans might have to put in a few phone calls to free-agent friends hoping to entice them to take a discount to play for a championship-caliber team.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.