SALT LAKE CITY -- The Boston Celtics dropped below the salary cap on Thursday for what's believed to be the first time in nearly two decades -- a span of 6,530 total days -- then started utilizing that rare space by formally announcing the signing of Amir Johnson and the re-signing of Jonas Jerebko.
It's merely the start of a process that will eventually deliver the Celtics back above the salary cap after construction of the 2015-16 roster is complete. Boston has agreements in place to re-sign restricted free agent Jae Crowder and complete a trade with the Golden State Warriors that will deliver David Lee, but neither move is quite ready to be processed, allowing Boston time to explore potential options with the roughly $7 million in cap space that could be utilized.
"We’re still working to try to put our team together; keeping our flexibility," said Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Asked if he enjoys the strategic roster building process as governed by the collective bargaining agreement, Ainge said, "No, I wish we had our whole team all put together right now. That’d be nice. I don’t really like doing puzzles."
As documented in this space, the Celtics must carefully piece together their roster with hopes of maximizing this rare trip below the cap. Boston can utilize its remaining space then scale back over the cap by processing the Lee/Crowder moves. What's more, the team is waiting to sign two first-round picks (Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter) to rookie-scale deals and must also attempt to leave room on the roster for second-round pick Jordan Mickey.
Then there's the nonguaranteed contracts of Chris Babb and Phil Pressey (one of which will be used in the Golden State swap). Needless to say, Boston will remain active in roster construction moving forward.
"The rules are what they are; you just play the games by the rules," Ainge said of how the CBA restricts roster construction. "And I have my rule-keeper right here in [assistant general manager Mike Zarren] -- the nerds over here. ... The [rules] are what they are. We just play by the rules and figure it out the best we can."
Ainge couldn't talk about deals that haven't been processed, but offered high praise for both Johnson and Jerebko.
"[Jerebko is] a winning player," said Ainge. "He has great respect from his team and has earned great respect from our coaching staff and the fans of Boston. A very versatile guy that we’re very excited to bring back. We’ve watched Jonas for a while and we liked what he brought to the table. We like how he could spread the court from the 4 and how he competed. He did all those things for us and he fit into our system well. His personality is good; he’s a good veteran guy in our locker room and we’re very excited to have Jonas back."
"And Amir, I followed Amir from high school throughout his NBA career and it took him a while to get going in the NBA but he’s just a class act, he’s a winning player. He’s not one of those guys that just fill up a stat sheet. He just helps you win. He does a little bit of everything. He can defend, he can pass, he can rebound, he can block shots, he can make a shot. He’s just a guy that’s a good complete basketball player. I think he’s a really good fit with our other bigs. Sometimes when [coach] Brad [Stevens] is trying to coach the bigs, it might not be the perfect fit and complement each other, but Amir is one of those guys that can complement each one of our guys. We’re really excited about him."
Stevens likewise expressed excitement in getting to work with Johnson and bringing Jerebko back as part of Boston's core.
"Amir is a guy that I’ve admired from afar for a while, obviously, both my years in the league, the way that he impacts winning," said Stevens. "He can defend multiple positions. He can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball. He shot 40 percent from 3 even though he shot low-volume this year, and he can really pass the ball. I think it’s clear when you watch him play that he’s an unselfish player on both ends of the floor, and he’s a hard-playing guy. So he’s a guy that we’re looking forward to having.
"And Jonas, I think Jonas’ impact on our team last year was huge. He gave us another versatile defender that can guard 4s and 3s. Has the ability to stretch the floor and make shots, can put the ball on the floor, will play any role you ask him to play. He loved being in Boston and wanted to be back in Boston. I think that we’re excited that he’s back. We’re excited that he and Amir will be joining us."
Stevens stopped there and apologized about being unable to comment further on Boston's roster additions.
"I think I can’t talk further than that yet until Mike Zarren tells me I’m allowed to," Stevens said with a smile.
The Celtics are turning over every stone on the trade market trying to see if they can give Ainge and Stevens some additional transactions to talk about. Hey, when you've been above the salary cap for nearly 20 years, you might as well take your time and try to maximize every last cent.