The value of Boston's backcourt bargains
Let's play the name game: What do D.J. Augustin, Matthew Dellavedova, E'twaun Moore, and Austin Rivers all have in common?
Most of you can probably recognize that those players are all basically back-up ball handlers. Yet, did you know that they're each slated to make more money than Celtics' All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas this season? Crazy, right? Welcome to today's NBA, where teams have more money than ever to throw at mediocre players- and that's exactly what they do because if they don't, someone else will.
I am a resource economics major, which deals with managing limited resources to maximize production. That is precisely what NBA front offices are faced with- acquiring the best players at the lowest costs. Their success in doing this is becoming even more crucial with the salary cap blasting off and players demanding more money than they're probably worth. This has been continuously increasing the value of rookie contracts and intelligent past deals.
Luckily for Danny Ainge and his Boston Celtics, there are ample rookie contracts still in effect that make for inexpensive second-unit players. Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown are locked up through the end of the 2017-18 season at least, depending on team options. Combined, they are only costing the team a hair over $10 million this season, which is an absolute bargain. Kelly Olynyk's 2017-18 option wasn't picked up, but Ainge also could've brought him back for a cheap $4 million or so if he wanted to.
More significantly, Boston has made many deals with players who, at the time, hadn't even sniffed their highest potential in the league. Ainge locked up Avery Bradley with a four year deal worth $32 million in 2014, and extended Jae Crowder's contract for five seasons the following year with a $35 million agreement. Securing two incredible defenders whose offense was only expanding put Ainge far ahead of the game compared to other, more financially-tight squads, but what followed was even more impressive.
Not only did the Isaiah Thomas trade end up being a steal for the Celtics, but his super-affordable 4 year, $27 million contract only sweetened the deal. As he transformed from a sixth-man into an All-Star, his contract proved to be one of the biggest bargains in the association. In a piece I wrote for Big Three Sports following the end of the 2015-16 season, my value calculator evaluated Isaiah Thomas as a top ten player in terms of out-producing his contract. The Celtics will be enjoying his cheap services through the 2017-18 campaign.
Brian Robb emphasized the affordability of Boston's backcourt on Twitter:
Celtics now have their top four guards (Thomas, Bradley, Smart, Rozier) under contract for 2017-18 season for a combined $21.5 million.— Brian Robb (@CelticsHub) October 31, 2016
Partially to hammer this point home and partially just for fun, here are some players who have a more expensive contract alone than these four players combined: Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, and (nearly) Derrick Rose (who will make about 200 grand less). Sheesh!
These moves have created great financial flexibility for Danny Ainge. They allowed him to pursue multiple top free agents like Kevin Durant and Al Horford this past summer, and will continue to pay dividends through the next two years. It keeps the door to any trade or free-agency signing wide open.
Follow Erik Johnson on Twitter: @erikjohnson32
Photo by Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports