How new TV deal could impact Celtics

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics played their first preseason game of the 2014-15 season on Monday night, but the most important piece of their future wasn’t on the floor.

Point guard Rajon Rondo spent the night on the bench interacting with teammates during Boston’s 98-78 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. Earlier in the evening, while wearing a protective wrap over the broken left hand that will sideline him for the start of the new season, Rondo appeared on the parquet and put on a shooting clinic for those diehards who gathered 90 minutes before tipoff.

Rondo’s future became a bit more cloudy on Monday when the NBA announced a lucrative extension to its national TV deal, one that is expected to pay the league a whopping $24 billion over the next nine years. TV revenues are set to jump from $940 million per season under the current agreement to $2.66 billion per season.

The new TV deal isn’t a surprise, though the value was probably higher than most anticipated. It’s going to cause an even greater climb in the salary cap in the coming seasons and that’s where the difficulty comes for the future-minded Celtics. And it all goes back to Rondo.

The 28-year-old point guard is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Despite the uncertainty that comes with reaching the open market, the timing seemed beneficial to Boston. The salary cap was expected to spike when the new TV deal starts in 2016, so it seemed Rondo would have been negotiating before that new money kicked in.

Now you’ll hear a lot about “smoothing” and the prospect of the NBA limiting the rise of the salary cap in the coming seasons. Until that issue is settled, it’s a little more difficult for Boston to forecast exactly how it can proceed. But make no mistake, the cap is going up, slow or fast, and it could be beneficial for Boston to lock up Rondo long-term next summer.

Before the new TV deal, the league expected the salary cap to climb modestly to $66.5 million next season. Rondo, who will have nine years of experience as he reaches the open market, can fetch a five-year, maximum contract that would pay him somewhere north of $105 million (and even more if the cap rises further).

Here’s one interesting wrinkle to consider: If Rondo really wanted to chase big money, he could sign a one-year deal this offseason -- still at a sizable raise over the team-high $12.9 million he’ll earn this year -- and hit the open market again when the TV money is more likely to kick in, particularly if it comes in one lump in 2016 when the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant will reach free agency. What’s more, Rondo would be in his 10th season at that point and able to command 35 percent of the cap as his starting salary (instead of the 30 percent he’s limited to at the moment).

If the Celtics believe Rondo is a long-term piece of their future -- and all indications have been that they do -- it would greatly benefit the team to lock him up after this season. Even if the numbers look gaudy now, they are likely to look like a steal down the road. Deals signed before the influx of new money should appear thrifty, regardless of the smoothing process.

Some still will balk about paying Rondo maximum money, ignoring the fact that the market will ensure he fetches that rate. Others also will ignore that, in a market set to be saturated with money, the Celtics will need a superstar such as Rondo to help attract other talent. Just imagine what teams with multiple superstars will be able to lure with additional funds.

The Celtics are in wait-and-see mode, like the rest of the league, and it’s unlikely this will all be sorted out quickly. Players’ union executive director Michele Roberts released a statement Monday saying, “Our job will be to ensure that the players receive their fair share of the results of their efforts and that we do everything possible to maintain the growth and popularity of the game.”

Cap guru Larry Coon offered some thoughts on how it all might play out. Grantland's Zach Lowe digs even deeper into the potential chaos.

Read on for a few more ways the new TV deal could impact the Celtics:

Rookie contracts: The league’s rookie scale currently is set through the 2020-21 season and those salaries are not scheduled to be impacted by the new TV money. Draft picks seemingly have become even more valuable recently, but they could be true gems as an avenue to lock in fresh talent at bargain-basement rates in the future. So Boston’s treasure trove of draft picks could become even more valuable.

Those Nets picks: Among Boston's key assets moving forward are the future first-round picks of the Nets. The Celtics own Brooklyn’s 2016 and 2018 first-round picks with an ability to swap in 2017. These picks had increased potential to be lottery picks if the overspending Nets crashed in coming years. But a rise in the cap could rescue Brooklyn and help the Nets remain a contender, which could diminish the value of those picks slightly.

Not easy being Green? Jeff Green owns a $9.2 million player option for the 2015-16 season. Even the recent mild increases in the cap were enough to make one wonder if Green might consider opting out in order to seek a more lucrative contract. But that assumes: (1) Green plays well enough this season to attract bidders and (2) he’s willing to sign before that TV money is likely to really kick in. Green could always opt out and do a short-term deal, but there’s also the potential that he could simply take that $9.2 million and examine his long-term future in the potentially lucrative summer of 2016.

Bradley’s deal in new light: Some scoffed when Avery Bradley signed a contract extension for four years and $32 million this past summer. While the numbers might look slightly inflated now, it could be on the cheaper side by 2016. Asked if he should have waited on his deal, Bradley laughed Monday and offered, “No, not at all. I’m happy to be here. I was just telling someone, anything can happen so I’m happy that I have another four years here and I get a chance to play with the Boston Celtics.”

The Celtics have positioned themselves well no matter what happens moving forward. The team will have avenues regardless of how much money is available or how the league smooths the cap.

But Rondo still remains the key to their future, even if the end game is a trade. The more likely scenario has the two sides heading to the bargaining table this summer, and Boston likely will be pushing hard for a long-term extension even if it means paying max money.

[Additional reading: Our cap-crunching friend Dangercart offers analysis over at CelticsBlog as well]