What Celtics Need To Do To Make Space For Gordon Hayward Or Blake Griffin

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston

BOSTON — In the midst of a busy NBA Draft week, the Celtics and the rest of the NBA were dealt a bit of a setback when it comes to free agency planning on July 1. The projected salary cap for the 2017-18 season was dropped by $2 million ($101 million to $99 million) on Wednesday night in a memo that was distributed to all NBA teams.

The reduction was due to a variety of factors, but some of it can be attributed to low number of postseason games, that caused a drop in revenue for the NBA for the season.

The reasons for the drop shouldn’t matter as much to Celtics fans, but the new cap number is a big one. All season long, assistant general manager and cap whiz Mike Zarren has been planning out a number of potential plans to carve out the salary cap space necessary to sign a max free agent. Every single dollar matters in those scenarios, so a shift of $2 million is one that has sent the Celtics scrambling a little bit.

‘That hurt,” Ainge said of the new projection on draft night. “That hurt a little bit. A little sting, but that’s going to make it a little more challenging. We’ll be able to fix it. We’re in foul trouble right now, but we’ll be back. We’ll be back in the second half.”

So how exactly will the Celtics adjust to open up the salary cap space needed to sign a max free agent ($29.7 million) like Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin? Here’s a few potential ways the team could proceed, assuming it can secure a commitment from either player.

To start, here’s a look at the team’s current payroll:

Guaranteed contracts for 2017-18 season

Al Horford: $27.7 million
Avery Bradley: $8.8 million
Jae Crowder: $6.8 million
Isaiah Thomas: $6.2 million
Jayson Tatum: $5.43 million
Jaylen Brown: $4.96 million
Marcus Smart: $4.5 million
Terry Rozier: $1.99 million

Total guaranteed money: $66.43 million

Non-guaranteed/partially guaranteed contracts for 2017-18 season

Tyler Zeller: $8 million (guaranteed if not waived by 7/2/17)
Jordan Mickey: $1.5 million (guaranteed if not waived by 7/15/17)
Demetrius Jackson: $1.4 million ($650,000 guaranteed, fully guaranteed if not waived by 7/15/17)

Draft and stash players:

Guerschon Yabusele
Ante Zizic

Here are the steps the Celtics can take to make room.

1. Renounce the rights on all impending unrestricted free agents (Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green, James Young).
Only Johnson and Jerebko have Bird Rights, but this would take everyone’s cap hold off the salary cap off the Celtics’ books. All of these players could return in theory (outside of Young), but the team could only sign them with salary cap room, a room-level exception, or a veteran’s minimum.

2. Rescind Kelly Olynyk’s qualifying offer.
The seven-footer is expected to be a restricted free agent, assuming the C’s extend him a qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline. The team will probably do this to keep open the possibility of bringing him back if other free-agent options fall through or to potentially package him in a sign-and-trade scenario. If a max free agent is coming aboard, the team will need to clear his cap hold, so his qualifying offer will be renounced.

3. Cut Jordan Mickey and Tyler Zeller.
The Celtics have a couple of non-guaranteed contracts on the roster in the two big men. Mickey is a logical cut. He’s a borderline NBA player at this juncture and earns just $1.47 million. Zeller is overpaid at $8 million and that kind of non-guaranteed money could prove to be useful as a matching salary in a trade, but the team needs to cut him first to get that max salary cap room (unless a higher-profile player with a similar salary like Avery Bradley is getting shipped out for draft picks).

4. Stash Guerschon Yabusele and sign Ante Zizic.
The Celtics are going to need cheap help in the frontcourt after cutting ties with the likes of Johnson, Olynyk, Jerebko and Zeller, but they’ll likely only be able to afford to bring in one of these players. Zizic is the cheaper option since he was the No. 23 overall pick ($1.6 million salary slot) and he’s also a more ready NBA prospect at this juncture. Yabusele was taken at No. 16, but the team will likely allow him to play overseas again for more seasoning and keep his $2.2 million salary off the books.

5. Trade Demetrius Jackson.
The Celtics are high on the No. 45 overall pick who played mostly with the Maine Red Claws during his rookie season, but he’s an expendable piece for a max free agent. Jackson has roughly $650,000 guaranteed in his contract for 2017-18, so he will needed to be traded instead of cut outright to maximize savings. The point guard won’t fetch anything in return beyond a late second-round pick, but he also won’t cost the Celtics anything to get rid of.

6. Trade Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart.
This is where the new cap reduction really hurts the Celtics. At a $101 million salary cap, trading down to the No. 3 overall pick (with a $1.4 million reduction in salary) enabled the Celtics to keep Smart and Rozier even while signing a max free agent. The dropdown to $99 million takes that option off the table (unless trades with more high-profile names are made first).

Smart is clearly the more integral part of the C’s rotation, but Rozier is on his rookie contract for two more years for a combined $5 million. Ainge would be wise to shop both to see what’s the best draft pick compensation he could fetch, but the guess here is Rozier would be moved for a second-round pick and/or a rookie prospect. That would leave the Celtics about $400,000 short of offering a max deal, so if Hayward or Griffin won’t take a slight discount, then Bradley or Smart will likely have to be moved for future draft considerations to create the max slot needed.

—–

The Celtics have a lot of different paths to get to max salary cap room, but this is likeliest one among them at this point. Again, none of these moves happen unless the Celtics are able to secure a commitment from a Hayward or Griffin. Otherwise, a lot of these names will remain, since it’s doubtful Boston would need max free agent money for any other player they are interested in on the open market.

A final look at what this composition of the roster might look like, giving the Celtics’ $29.7 million to sign Player X:

 Al Horford: $27.7 million
Avery Bradley: $8.8 million
Jae Crowder: $6.8 million
Isaiah Thomas: $6.2 million
Jayson Tatum: $5.43 million
Jaylen Brown: $4.96 million
Terry Rozier: $1.99 million
Ante Zizic: $1.645 million

4 min salary slots ($815,615)

The other variation of this roster after carving out max salary cap space would include Bradley being traded for future picks, Zeller being held onto (for a future trade for salary matching purposes such as Paul George) and Smart being held onto in place of Rozier (traded for future picks).

No matter what the final decision is, the bottom line is Ainge and his staff have some tough decisions on their hands the next few weeks as they are forced to move on from some assets before they’d like to.

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

Comments

One Comment

  1. Based on my calculations, if they renounce everyone and trade Jackson, and don’t bring over Zizic, they should have $29,008,214.00, which actually jumps up $815k since one hold is removed each time they acquire/sign a new player. That’s just under that 29.7#…
    Is Zizic appreciably better than one of the guys that would need to be traded?

  2. Dave Schock says:

    ouch–really want to keep Rozier if at all possible–

  3. Peter Foto says:

    Wow!. That’s a lot of juggling to do and some sacrifices to give up. Boston is due to become a runner up for a championship in the near future but not sure if they should just wait another year before going all in and wait til GSW start losing their momentum.

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