For years, the Fourth of July has been a day to join friends and family around barbecue and fireworks. A year ago on that very day, the NBA world waited with bated breath in anticipation of fireworks of their own, then in the form of elite forward Kevin Durant’s impending free agency decision. This Fourth of July, another explosion rocked the National Basketball Association as Durant’s All-Star Game teammate, Gordon Hayward, announced his decision to join Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, and Brad Stevens, his former coach at Butler, in Boston amid premature leaks, star-studded meetings, and media pressure. The Celtics front office, led by savvy GM Danny Ainge, opted to trade Avery Bradley for mercurial big man Marcus Morris, a move which drew the ire of many fans. Ainge could have made any of these other moves, or, knowing his history, there could be more moves on the way.
Boston’s Cap Situation
Hayward will reportedly sign for a 4 year, 128 million dollar contract with a salary of approximately $29.7 million in the first year. With the NBA salary cap this year set at $99 million as opposed to earlier figures of $108 million and $101 million, Boston’s path to being financially able to sign Hayward to this contract isn’t as simple as it would have been otherwise. Take a look at this breakdown of the Celtics’ salaries for this upcoming season:
Gordon Hayward: $29.7 million
Al Horford: $27.7 million
Avery Bradley: $8.8 million
Jae Crowder: $6.8 million
Isaiah Thomas: $6.26 million
Jayson Tatum: $5.6 million
Jaylen Brown: $4.96 million
Marcus Smart: $4.54 million
Guerschon Yabusele: $2.25 million
Terry Rozier: $1.99 million
Ante Zizic: $1.64 million
After Boston renounced Kelly Olynyk’s restricted free agent qualifying offer earlier today, they are expected to waive Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson, hence the absence of the three on the above list. With only 11 players on the roster, Boston also has a minimum salary cap hit of $815,615 (representing a player to be signed at the minimum salary) for a total of $101.05 million on the books.
This means that the Celtics have to cut just over $2 million in order to be under the salary cap. They can’t just stash Yabusele in Europe for another year, as that would create another minimum salary cap hit, keeping them over the cap. Besides, it’s likely that Boston is curious to see how the so-called “Dancing Bear” fits with the rest of their young core. The trade market, then, appears to be the best option for Boston to clear the necessary cap space.
Analyzing Boston’s Roster
The Celtics’ strengths are clear: They’re a defensively scrappy team, with stalwarts such as guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley as well as forward Jae Crowder making life difficult for perimeter players across the NBA. They’re also experts at sharing the basketball efficiently, with 65.3% of their shots coming off of assists, a mark that is second in the NBA.
However, in the post-Big Three era, Boston has had two clear weaknesses: individual players generating their own offense and interior play, especially rebounding and defense. While adding Hayward to a core boasting Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford will likely help with the former, the latter remains an issue. Any move that Celtics GM Danny Ainge pursues, then, would likely seek to address that.
While Celtics coach Brad Stevens has attempted to pioneer a system of “positionless basketball”, minutes in the frontcourt are currently hard to come by, as young forwards Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum seem poised for development this year. Because of this, 27-year old forward Jae Crowder seems to be the odd man out. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart have also been rumored to be involved in trade talks.
Trade #1: A New Start for Jahlil Okafor
Boston receives: Jahlil Okafor, 2018 second round draft pick (more favorable of CLE and BKN)
Philadelphia receives: Jae Crowder, 2018 first round draft pick (BOS)
GMs around the league see the value of center Jahlil Okafor as having tanked since his entry into the league. Even so, Boston was reported to be interested in dealing for the young big around the trade deadline. Just a few days ago, it was reported that there was a possibility that Okafor would be headed to Boston in a sign-and-trade for defensive specialist Amir Johnson. Brad Stevens would likely find some use for Okafor, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds last year and might welcome a chance for a new start, while trotting out the 3-and-D specialist that is Jae Crowder alongside sharpshooter J.J. Redick and the young core of Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons would all but ensure that Philadelphia’s young players would see playoff experience in a historically-weak Eastern Conference.
Trade #2: Moving On Up in the Plumlee World
Boston receives: Mason Plumlee, 2018 first round draft pick (DEN)
Denver receives: Jae Crowder
This is similar in nature to the above trade, but Denver has a much different motivation for doing this than Philly. The Nuggets have retooled themselves for what is certain to be a bloodbath in the Western Conference. A 3-and-D player like Crowder could slide in at the SF position, making sure the team doesn’t miss a beat when Wilson Chandler, now Denver’s top perimeter option after the presumed departure of Danilo Gallinari, sits. Crowder could even find his way in the Nuggets’ starting lineup if they prefer to use Chandler as a spark plug off the bench. Plumlee is a solid center, averaging 10.4 points and 7.5 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game; he would likely start next to Horford, hiding his shortcomings on the boards.
Trade #3: Facilitating A Shakeup
Boston receives: Clint Capela, conditional 2020 first round pick (HOU)
Houston receives: Carmelo Anthony
New York receives: Ryan Anderson, Jae Crowder, Terry Rozier, 2019 first round pick (MEM via BOS)
Carmelo Anthony wants to get out of New York. New York wants to get something out of the disgruntled superstar. The only problem is that they’re not interested in stars like Kevin Love while albatross contracts like that of Ryan Anderson aren’t of interest unless they come with assets, which Houston can’t provide. No matter who New York looks to trade with, it’s clear that they’ll need a third team to facilitate. It should go without saying that Boston doesn’t want Cleveland to get any better, so why not help out another suitor for Anthony’s services? The Knicks get a second defense-first, high-IQ guard to run next to recent draftee Frank Ntilikina and a likely lottery pick, while Boston gets a young center who averaged 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds last year. It’s interesting to note that Boston actually cuts almost $4 million more than it needs to, so the Celtics could ostensibly hunt for more pieces to fill out its bench if it does this trade.
Trade #4: Accepting the Inevitable
Boston Receives: Markieff Morris, 2018 first round pick (WAS)
Washington Receives: Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier
Note: This seems to be the option that Boston went with. They, however, traded for the other Morris twin, Marcus.
Avery Bradley is currently making just under $9 million. The fact that he is just now entering his physical prime after years of consistent improvement makes it all but certain that the elite defensive specialist will fetch a pretty penny on the open market next offseason, when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Simply put, Boston won’t be able to retain both him and All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas next offseason. This trade ensures that they get something in return for losing Bradley. Morris would take some of the frontcourt burdens off of Horford, as he averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season, including three double-doubles in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston. Washington would continue to improve their bench, which was a major weakness of theirs last season.
The Free Agent Market
Regardless of what trades the Boston Celtics make this offseason, there will still be a few holes to fill in the roster. Luckily, they will still have their Room Exception, allowing them to go over the cap to sign a player making up to $4,328,000 this year or to sign multiple contracts valued at a sum under this amount. The course that Boston will take as they wade through the free agent pool should be determined by who and what they trade to clear cap space for the Hayward signing.
Boston’s young roster, rife with frontcourt troubles, could find itself shored up by veteran forwards such as David Lee, whose career recently experienced a resurgence during a stint with San Antonio. The veteran’s minimum could also persuade Boris Diaw to head East with his former Jazz teammate, Gordon Hayward, or it could entice Brandon Bass to make a return.
If Danny Ainge and the Celtics are looking for a scoring punch off the bench, they would do well to consider the sharpshooter Anthony Morrow or the inexplicably-available Arron Afflalo. Summer League standout R.J. Hunter could find his way back onto the roster, but it’s unlikely, given Brad Stevens’s avoidance in employing Hunter during his time in Boston.
Whatever further moves Boston decides to make this offseason in order to round out its roster, one thing is clear: Whether you called it a rebuild or a retooling, the post-Big 3 era in Boston is over. The Celtics’ new-look roster is equal parts youth movement and All-Star-led contender, putting the historic franchise on the brink of glory. Time will tell if it will be Isaiah Thomas and his new frontcourt companions, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, or the newly-christened “Trouble-07” duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that will raise TD Garden’s 18th banner.