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Celtics

Sources: Celtics’ Ownership Willing To Pay Luxury Tax This Season — If Appealing Trade Arises

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
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Danny Ainge (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Danny Ainge (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics have been thought of largely as potential sellers at this trade deadline. Make no mistake, though, there is a possibility that Danny Ainge flips the script and makes a splash, with potential aid from additional salary flexibility provided by Wyc Grousbeck and Co.

League sources told CBSBostonSports.com that Boston’s ownership group would be willing to pay the luxury tax this season if the right deal came along for the Celtics rebuild.

Currently, Boston is paying $70.49 million to its roster, about $1.25 million below the luxury tax threshold. By acquiring Keith Bogans in a sign-and-trade last summer, the Celtics have a hard cap of $75.75 million for the 2014-15 season due to CBA rules. This hard cap is otherwise known as the “apron.”

Boston has been over the luxury tax threshold for the past two seasons, and staying under the luxury tax has been considered a goal for the franchise during this 19-35 rebuilding season. The team would be subject to the higher “repeater” luxury tax penalty and other limiting salary and trade restrictions for future seasons if it went over the tax threshold for the third consecutive year during the current 2013-14 season.

Despite this reality, Ainge has several aggressive routes he can use to improve the team right now for the future and speed up the team’s rebuild. Boston still has three trade exceptions, including a sizable $10.275 million dollar one created during the blockbuster Nets deal last July. That trade exception expires on July 12, 2014, one year after it was created.

Ainge also has a roster full of highly movable veteran assets and a treasure chest of first-round picks (nine over the next five seasons) to work with. A combination of those picks, an expiring contract, and a big trade exception could be enough for the Celtics to add a major piece for the future this deadline.

For instance, a package of first-round draft picks and Kris Humphries’ expiring $12 million dollar contract could be very appealing for a team looking to unload long-term salary, with that team giving up a good player for that salary relief.

The Celtics also may not even need to go into the luxury tax territory to make a big move before the deadline this week. The team has several other movable contracts on the roster (Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Bogans). Ainge could help reduce the team’s payroll by trading away a number of these players in separate deals to avoid the luxury tax this year. Doing so would dodge the restrictions that could inhibit the team in future seasons if they were to go over the tax threshold this year.

Moving Bass and/or Green would also help ensure that the Celtics’ spot in the standings would not improve too much if Boston elected to add a strong player in a separate transaction.  Boston would then remain in position to take advantage of a strong 2014 draft class, despite adding talent to the roster.

If Ainge can’t find a worthy deal to use some or all of the team’s trade exception by Thursday, he could very well kick the can on it and instead use it during the offseason before the July 12 deadline. If so, the team’s focus in the meantime would turn into acquiring more assets (picks or young inexpensive talent) by selling off veteran pieces at the deadline. The team also has the option of absorbing bad short-term deals that would make them worse in the interim while also granting an extra draft pick or two (see: Joel Anthony trade).

At this stage, the odds are still in favor of Ainge going the minor deal route, so the team doesn’t have to deal with the additional CBA restrictions in place for teams paying the tax in three consecutive years.

Still, the ability for the Celtics’ to potentially dip into the luxury tax adds another element of flexibility for Ainge. If the right deal for the right player comes into focus, he could pounce, even if it takes the team into tax territory.

What’s important to remember for now is that during this week, for this team, nearly any kind of move is on the table for the Celtics.

Stay tuned.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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