A detailed look into the Celtics' free agency conundrum

The NBA's salary cap is slated to dramatically increase after the conclusion of the 2015/16 season after the NBA's ginormous new television deal kicks in. Because of that spike, the Boston Celtics, and every other team that will have available cap space this season are placed in an interesting predicament; Spend now before everyone else in the league has money or keep the books clean and be ready to offer a boat load of money to anyone who is available the following summer.

To best make sense of it all I decided to take an extended look at the free agency classes of 2015 and 2016, and debate the pro's and cons of each approach. Before I could do that, I realized I needed to take a better look at what the Boston Celtics financials currently look like.

Current Boston Celtics Salaries

Note: There's a whole mess of details regarding the future picks. If you're interested in how I arrived at some of these numbers I've attached them at the bottom. But you shouldn't be, because that's really nerdy.

At minimum, the Celtics will have about 17.9 million dollars to spend this offseason with only non-integral pieces to resign (and Luigi Datome). That number could actually increase to about 25 million if the Celtics decided to use the stretch provision on Gerald Wallace (and it probably makes sense to - the increased capmeans that stretched money would be easier to swallow). The following season that number jumps to 50.7  below the cap, but with both Tyler Zeller & Jared Sullinger entering restricted free agency.

It should be noted, and Eric Blaisdell previously wrote about this but it's worth mentioning again, those first round picks are worth their weight in gold. Think about it, at roughly a 2 million dollar average, those picks equate to just 2.2% of the cap once salary cap spike occurs. To be able to get a player capable of adding anything, let alone starting, for just a small percentage of the cap is ridiculously valuable for about a million different reasons.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at the two upcoming free agency class. We'll start with NEXT summer's free agent class. Mostly because it's just a whole lot easier to explain why the Celtics would consider hoarding their available cash for a summer.

Summer of 2016 Free Agents
Players listed in red with grey background have a player option the year before
As you can see, that's a lot of good players. In fact, the league's top three (Lebron, Durant and Davis) could all possibly be available. The logic behind 'saving to spend' makes sense, at least on the surface; In the summer of 2015 you could approach 2 max free agents, and offer them the chance to team up with a few decent supporting cast members in Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, James Young, Avery Bradley, whoever was selected in the 2015 draft, potentially Jared Sullinger, and seven more first round selections in the next three seasons to either use or trade (and again, those first round picks could prove to be even more valuable than they are today).

That doesn't have to be just Lebron and Durant (though I don't think anyone would have an issue with it), that could be Noah & Conley, Horford & Howard, Whiteside & Love, etc.

The problem with this approach is that the salary cap increase doesn't just happen for the Celtics (even though in my opinion, it should). It gives each team about 15 million extra dollars to spend. Almost every team should be able to make a play at a max free agent, and it's not as if the ability to offer two free agents the chance to team up will be unique offer. Heck, about a dozen teams could potentially go that route.

What's worse is that pairing 2 stars isn't even the scariest competing offer; the rich could get even richer. The Cavaliers for example, would still have Kyrie Irving, could retain Lebron James and should still have about 45 million dollars available to divy up however they so choose. The Rockets have 30 at the moment, and that number would jump to 53 if Dwight Howard were to opt out. You know, in case the weather and taxes weren't enticing enough. That's not to say that the Celtics don't have a shot at landing marquee names, but it's a reminder that they're far from the only team with an enticing offer.

With that, let's take a look at the free agents for this coming offseason

Summer of 2015 Free Agents

^ I do have spellcheck #humblebrag 

Kind of slim pickings here - Of the 23 players I listed in the 'elite' and 'very good' categories, I've a hard time believing anymore than a hand full will change teams this summer.

One or two of the Dallas guys, Greg Monroe, Tobias Harris will probably change laundry. Past that? Brook Lopez could potentially opt out. There's an outside chance DeAndre Jordan could leave LA, and I suppose Kevin Love could become available - but I've a hard time believing that he hates life in Cleveland SO much that he's willing to ignore the fact that he'd stand to make anywhere between 30 and 50 million dollars more by finishing out his contract, and becoming a free agent after the cap spikes.

However, that doesn't mean that there's no reason to be excited about this free agency period. It actually could turn out to be a very valuable/important offseason - remember, since the cap spikes so significantly next year, if a team is able to sign a player to a multiyear deal they could be landing a Christmas Tree Shoppe style bahgain.

Take a player like Greg Monroe - who is either worth the max or close. If you're able to secure his talents this summer you're ultimately getting him at 2/3rds of the price he'd get if he were a free agent next summer. Or, to put that into perspective - a max contract for a five year player would take up a little south of 24% of the team's cap for a single season, and then just 16.6% going forward. That's a pretty good deal. I mean, that's kinda like getting a perfectly nice looking seasonal wind-chime for $3.99 at the Christmas Tree Shoppe, right?

It's why spending this summer should get a little nutty. At first, players will get a lot more money than you might think they're worth. But you have to remember, if teams are getting players to sign multi-year deals they've got an eye towards the future.


Personally, I think it makes most sense to be aggressive this off-season. If for no other reason to add more chips to the pool. It sounds obvious; but signing good players benefits the team in being able to compete, potentially lure more free agents, and being pieces that could be moved in sign and trades.

While I love the pipe dream idea of being able to sign two stars, I don't think the Celtics have an attractive enough pitch right now to be able to make that happen.

Follow me on twitter: @MattDotRich
Note: The rankings listed above weren't mean to be a 'definitive' list (or, to be more blunt, I didn't spend a ton of time considering what column each player should be in). Just a quick reference tool.

Salary Sheet Notes
  • The 2015 first round pick is using the salary payout for the 10th overall pick, the Clippers is using the 20th. All other picks are using the base payout for the 15th overall pick. More detailed rookie scale info can be found here
  • Second round figures are not included, nor are the first round picks we could technically receive (Philadelphia, Minnesota) but will probably not. 
  • The 'total' includes all types of options
  • The estimate for 16/17 is based off this article by SI.com