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On it's surface, the Courtney Lee for Jerryd Bayless trade is not a huge deal. It's a nice move for Boston, one that saves them $13 million between now and 2016, and one that helps position themselves a little bit better for the 2014 draft. But let's be honest - swapping back-up guards is not a deal that is going to leave a long term impact on the franchise.

But this deal signifies that Danny Ainge is serious about positioning this team for the future. Whether that be by trimming salary, or collecting assets, the players on this team that are not part of the franchise's long term plan are all on the trading block.

That means Kris Humphries, Jordan Crawford, Brandon Bass, and possibly Jeff Green (obviously Gerald Wallace is extremely available as well - but unless Boston gives up an asset with him, he's unmovable) will be shopped by Ainge over the next six and a half weeks.

It could also mean that Boston and Houston once again start talks on a deal centered around Omer Asik and Bass. Last month, the Celtics reportedly offered up Bass, Lee and a 1st rounder for Asik, but the teams could not agree upon which 1st rounder (or how much protection would be on the pick) would be heading to Houston.

But with Lee out of the picture, the Celtics now have more financial flexibility to get a deal done. Before, the Cs were only $400,000 below the luxury tax, and Ainge has made it quite clear that Boston is not going over the tax this season.

But dealing Lee for Bayless opens up $2,090,000 in additional space, leaving Boston just about $2.5 million below the tax. Prior to the trade, the Celtics basically needed to acquire less money than they were dealing out. Now, they can acquire a little more money than they are trading.

This would open the door for:

Bass + MarShon Brooks for Asik

Bass + Phil Pressey for Asik

Now you might be saying: "Why would Houston rather have Brooks or Pressey than Lee when Lee is the better player?". And that's true, Lee certainly is a better player. But the Rockets are flush with guards (James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia are all in the regular rotation), and may rather have the financial flexibility that Pressey or Brooks provide rather than Lee's ~$5.5 million cap hit in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. Houston is currently at $56.8 million in salary for 2014-15, but adding both Lee and Bass (and subtracting Asik) would have moved them up to $60.8 million for next season. That $4 million bump would have moved them right up to the salary cap number, and to within $12 million of the luxury tax. If you were to sub in Brooks for Lee, Houston would actually cut salary, down to $55.3 million for next year. It's definitely possible that the Rockets would prefer the Bass/Brooks combo, which still gives them the player that fits their roster (Bass), while also creating more flexibility for them.

It's possible that this new option may be attractive enough for Houston that they back off whatever additional requests they were making that made the deal fall apart the first time. If Boston was offering the Clippers pick (or maybe a protected pick that Houston wanted unprotected or with lesser protection) - it's possible that saving $5.5 million in each of the next two seasons could convince the Rockets to take that offer. Especially now that it's clear that teams are not lining up to pay Asik $15 million next season (his cap hit is only $8.3 million, but his salary is $15 million).

Even if the Asik deal is not revisited, the extra money opened up by the Lee deal could come in handy as Ainge continues what should be a dismantling of the roster. It was a handicap to the Celtics to be so close to the luxury tax, and while $2 million doesn't seem like a lot of money, it makes a huge difference in opening up new trade possibilities.

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Michael Dyer 1/06/2014 12:55:00 PM Edit
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