When Danny Ainge traded Courtney Lee earlier this week, a clear signal was sent: the Celtics are full speed ahead in their rebuild. Whether Ainge was waiting for the team to struggle after a surprising start, or waiting for the trade market to develop, all was quiet on the trade front for the first ten weeks of the season. But the Lee deal, which makes the Celtics worse this season while shedding salary over the next two seasons, shows that Ainge is willing to move any "non-essential" personnel in exchange for salary cap relief and/or assets.
That means the expiring contracts of Jordan Crawford and Kris Humphries will certainly be dangled for draft picks or young players, to see if any team bites on a couple of guys who are rotation quality players on playoffs teams.
That also means that Brandon Bass and the $10.3 million owed to him between now and the end of next season will likely be shopped, with the goal of getting a similar deal to what the Celtics got for Lee (an expiring contract). While Bass (and Lee) are quality role players, they are not long term Celtics, and freeing up money will allow the team to possibly re-sign Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, or make a move for a free agent like Gordon Hayward.
While Crawford, Humphries and Bass will all surely draw some level of interest from opposing GM's, the one guy that Boston will struggle to move is Gerald Wallace. Wallace has basically ceased operations as an offensive player this season, shooting the ball only 5 times per-36 minutes (for his career he has averaged 11 shots per 36), hitting only 34% of his free throws, and turning the ball over at a higher rate than anyone else in the NBA (31.4% of his possessions result in turnovers). His 8.3 PER is the 3rd worst in basketball (minimum 700 minutes played), and while he's still adequate defensively, his numbers have dropped off quite a bit on that side of the ball (he's allowing 0.90 points per play via Synergy Sports, while league average is 0.86).
Wallace is a league minimum quality player who happens to have three seasons and $30.3 million left on his contract (including this season). When you take into account this season is almost halfway over, Wallace is owed $25.9 million between now and the end of the 2015-16, a debilitating amount for a rebuilding team like the Celtics.
With that in mind, I thought I'd look into some possible ways the Celtics can deal with the Wallace albatross.
Scenario #1: The Waiting Game
- Well this scenario kind of sucks, but there is always the possibility the Celtics just play out the string on Wallace. Hold on to him through the very end, possibly buying him out before or during the 2015-16 season, and saving a million bucks or so. That means 200 more games in Celtics green for Wallace, and three seasons left of him taking up 16-17% of the Celts cap space. Ouch.
Scenario #2: The Warriors-Jazz option
- In this scenario, the Celtics hold on to Wallace through the end of next season when Wallace will become an expiring $10 million contract, making him more movable. This past summer, the Warriors traded Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson ($20 million in salary) along with two 1st round picks to Utah. So basically the Jazz paid $20 million for two first round picks. Come 2015, Wallace could probably be dealt with one first round pick (hopefully a late first, as both of the Warriors picks project to be), to a team below the cap.
The good part about this would be opening up $10 million in cap space in time to re-sign Rondo. The bad part is you're giving up an asset, and not receiving anything tangible back. This also means another 120+ games of Wallace in green, which is a bit depressing to think about.
Scenario #3: Stretchhhhhhhhhh
- Under the terms of the CBA, NBA teams are allowed to use what they refer to as the "stretch provision" to release players. This provision means you take the amount of money owed to the player (in Wallace's case, $20 million after this season), and pay it out over "twice the time remaining on the contract plus one year" (in Wallace's case 5 years: twice the two years he will have remaining + 1 more year). So instead of paying Wallace $20 million over two years, a $10M/year hit, you pay him $20M over five years, a $4M/year hit over a longer period of time. Boston could also wait until the summer of 2015, and then stretch Wallace, paying him $3.3 million over three seasons instead of $10 million in 2015-16.
This would obviously create more cap space for the Celtics, and depending on how big of a pain in the ass Wallace is going to be playing for a losing team, I could see the Celts considering it. Obviously the downside is that you'd be paying Wallace longer. Does Boston really want to be paying Wallace $4 million every year from 2014-15 to 2018-19? That would be a tough pill to swallow. But I do think it would make a bit more sense come 2015 if the Celtics are on the verge of contention, where saving $6.7 million in 2015-16 might be worth the $3.3 million in dead money in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Scenario #4: Ship him off with Rondo
- I hate this one, but it's a possibility. The Celtics could shop Rondo, and make it a requirement for any team that wants #9 to take Wallace as well. The reasons I don't like it are two-fold.
First of all, it lessens your return for Rondo. Anyone taking on $20 million of Gerald Wallace isn't going to give you back as much. And if I'm dealing Rondo, and completely blowing this thing up, I want big time assets. What would cap space be worth to a Rondo-less Celtics already projected to be WAY below the cap going forward? Give me a lottery pick and a young building block over cap space any day of the week. Of course, if you find a team desperate enough to give those things up AND take Wallace, by all means, I won't stop you. But chances are, it's going to hurt the quality of the package you get.
And secondly, it lowers the number of teams you can do business with. Rondo and Wallace make a combined $22 million, and that means any team you're dealing with needs to come up with $18+ million in expiring contracts, or valuable players making a combined $18 million. If you're just dealing Rondo's $12 million, more teams can match up with the financial aspects of the deal. And considering the list of teams who will likely be interested in Rondo is small (because of his impending free agency, the high cost to acquire him from Boston, and the lack of contending teams in need of a point guard), the last thing you want to do is make that list even smaller by tacking on ol' dead weight.
Scenario #5: Trading him for a similarly terrible contract
Would the Knicks deal Amar'e for Wallace and Humphries, making themselves better this season, and freeing up $10 million in cap space for 2014-15? If I'm the Celtics, I consider it, as it likely makes you worse this season, and frees up $10 million for 2015-16. But I doubt the Knicks would consider Hump enough of a return to clog their 2015-16 books up (when they have a ton of cap space coming).
And after Amar'e, how many other contracts are even in the same league as Wallace's? Maybe you could find a guy signed through 2017 that a team was unhappy with (Ersan Ilyasova is one guy that comes to mind), and hope that the thought of getting cap space one summer earlier is worth paying an even worse player similar money in the interim. But that seems really unlikely. In fact, I think of all the possibilities, trading Wallace in a deal that doesn't involve Rondo is the most difficult.
You need to find the perfect storm of bad contract + bad player + desperate other team. And even if you do, the question then becomes, does the deal even make the future of the Celtics any brighter? Does Ainge really want to pay Ilyasova, who has declined a bunch this season, $8 million a year for the next four seasons? Is the future of the Celtics really made better by that move? I say not really.
I wish I could give better news on Wallace, but in all honesty he's probably the worst contract in basketball when you consider it lasts two more seasons after this one, and that Wallace is already bordering on useless on the basketball court. In fact, I'd be absolutely floored if Ainge has found a taker by the trade deadline six weeks from now. Gun to my head, I'd say Wallace is the Celtic most likely to be in Boston after the deadline passes, just because of how difficult he'll be to move.
With that said, I do think Ainge will make a move by the summer of 2015 on Wallace, especially if the Celts are on the verge of becoming a pretty good team by then. Whether it be by the stretch provision or packaged with a pick, if Boston's rebuild is coming to fruition, it's hard for me to imagine Ainge letting a then 33-year-old Wallace take up $10 million in cap space.
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For more of my articles, click here Michael Dyer 1/10/2014 04:45:00 PM Tweet