While the Celtics’ season came to a disappointing end by losing the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, they sit in a really good spot entering the offseason.
Not only is the Celtics’ star duo still young and under contract for the foreseeable future, they can also return every key player around them if they’d like to. All of Boston’s key rotational players from its Finals run are under contract for the 2022-23 season, so the Celtics won’t have to worry about losing anyone without getting a return.
Still, the Celtics will probably seek multiple avenues to improve their roster after falling two wins short of winning their 18th title. Here are eight things to know about the Celtics’ offseason.
A decision to be made on Al Horford.
When the Celtics re-acquired Horford in June 2021 in a trade with the Thunder, most analysts viewed the trade as a way for Boston to save money by ridding itself of point guard Kemba Walker’s max contract.
Not only did the Celtics save money with the deal, but they also ended up getting a player who played a pivotal role in their run to the Finals. After two forgettable years in Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, Horford had a resurgent season in his first year back in Boston. The power forward started all 69 games he played, scoring 10.2 points and averaging 7.7 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game during the regular season.
Horford continued his strong play into the postseason, scoring 30 points in a Game 4 win over the Bucks to even the second-round series at the time and adding 26 in his first-ever Finals game.
Even though Horford turned 36 earlier in June, his play in the regular season and the postseason makes it likely that the Celtics will fully guarantee his $26.5 million for next season, which is the final year of his contract. MassLive’s Brian Robb reported in May that the Celtics plan to bring Horford back next season.
Originally, just $14.5 million of Horford’s 2022-23 salary was guaranteed. But with the Celtics reaching the Finals, $5 million more of Horford’s contract became guaranteed. Horford’s 2022-23 salary would’ve been fully guaranteed if the Celtics won the title.
Who are the Celtics’ pending free agents?
Center Luke Kornet is the only player on the Celtics’ roster from this past season who’s an unrestricted free agent. Boston signed him for the remainder of the 2021-22 season following the trade deadline, in which he needed to sign multiple players to fill out the back end of the roster.
Other Celtics could end up becoming free agents, though. Forward Sam Hauser has a $1.6 million team option for next season and forward Juwan Morgan has a $1.8 million team option for next year, too.
Guard Nik Stauskas holds a $2.2 million salary for next season that becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster by July 15. If the Celtics want or need an extra roster spot, they could release him prior to then to save money. Forward Malik Fitts’s $1.8 million salary for next season is also non-guaranteed.
Guard Brodic Thomas and forward Matt Ryan are both restricted free agents after they ended the season as two-way players.
When do the Celtics pick in the NBA Draft?
For the second straight draft, Boston won’t have its first-round pick. The Celtics moved their 2022 first-round pick (No. 25 overall), along with guards Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford, to the Spurs to acquire Derrick White in February. Boston also gave San Antonio the right to swap first-round picks in the 2028 draft as part of that deal.
So, the Celtics are only slated to pick once in Thursday’s draft, holding the No. 53 overall pick. Of course, they could always trade back into the first round but that would likely require them giving up a player on the roster and/or a future pick. The Celtics currently hold their first-round pick in every draft following 2022 and while they don’t have their own second-round pick in 2023, they hold three other second-round picks in that draft through other trades.
Do the Celtics have other young players coming their way?
In each of the last two drafts, the Celtics selected a draft-and-stash player with their second-round pick. In 2020, they selected guard Israel point guard Yam Madar with the 47th overall pick and in 2021, then France shooting guard Juhann Begarin with the 45th overall pick.
Both players played for the Celtics in the 2021 Summer League before heading back to their respective leagues in Europe for the following season. Madar scored 7.4 points per game with Partizan NIS of the ABA League while Begarin scored 11.1 points per game with Paris Basketball in LNB Pro A, which is the top professional basketball league in France.
Considering both players played in Summer League last season, Madar and Begarin could play for the Celtics’ Summer League squad again in July. But with Boston already having so many players under contract for next season, it might be tough for either player to earn a roster spot next season.
What’s the Celtics’ salary situation?
While every key player from their Finals run is under contract for next season, that means the Celtics don’t have any cap space for next season.
Including Horford’s fully guaranteed salary, the Celtics’ total salaries for next season is around $157 million, via Spotrac, which is well above the projected $122 million salary cap for next season.
The NBA has a soft salary cap that allows teams to go above it, but the league does institute a luxury tax threshold, in which teams have to pay a penalty for going over. The Celtics are roughly $8 million above the projected $149 million luxury tax threshold with their current salaries for next season. Following their trades at the deadline in February this season, the Celtics narrowly avoided being a tax team for 2021-22, which means they won’t be hit with a repeat tax offender penalty next season.
How can the Celtics add outside talent then?
Despite not having cap space, Boston has several avenues to acquire veteran players this offseason.
The Celtics can sign a free agent using the taxpayer mid-level exception, which is worth $6.3 million next season. Boston used the taxpayer mid-level exception to sign guard Dennis Schröder last offseason. It can also sign players to the minimum veteran. Obviously players will have to want to sign for a low salary, but after their playoff run, the Celtics could possibly lure in older veteran players looking to play for a title contender.
Boston also has several trade exceptions at its disposal. Most of them are pretty small, but the Celtics have one worth $5.8 million, another worth $6.9 million, a third worth $9.7 million, and their biggest is worth $17.1 million.
Those exceptions could be the Celtics’ best way to add veteran players this offseason. In recent years, they’ve used their relatively large trade exceptions to acquire guards Evan Fournier and Josh Richardson. Both players were in the final year of their current deals at the time the Celtics acquired them, so keep that in mind when thinking of potential targets for the trade exceptions. Another thing to keep in mind is that trade exceptions can’t be packaged together and a player can’t be added to match a larger salary in a trade.
The Celtics also have several contracts viewed in the “middle-class” salary range. Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and White appear to be key pieces for Boston moving into next year, though. Daniel Theis’s $8.7 million salary could be helpful when matching salaries in a trade and Horford’s larger salary becomes a bit easier to move as he’s on the final year of his deal.
Younger players on rookie deals, such as Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, and Aaron Nesmith, along with future picks, could also sweeten any trade package the Celtics put out.
Boston can also execute a sign-and-trade if it desires this offseason. However, teams that add a player via sign-and-trade would be hard-capped for the following season. The hard salary cap for teams in that situation is set at the luxury tax apron, which is typically a few million north of the luxury tax threshold.
Which players can sign extensions?
Celtics star Jaylen Brown still has two years remaining on his four-year, $106.3 million deal, but he is actually extension eligible on Oct. 1. Brown can sign a three-year extension worth up to $111 million that could also feature an extra $12 million in bonuses, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
Despite that, ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently stated on his podcast, “The Lowe Post,” that he’d put slim odds of Brown signing an extension this offseason – not because he thinks Brown doesn’t want to be in Boston, but because of money. The extension Brown signed in 2019 wasn’t the max contract available to him at the time, which means he can’t sign a full max deal until he becomes a free agent in 2024.
Brown’s potential max deal for his next contract could become even larger if he just makes one of the All-NBA teams in the next two seasons. If he does do that, Brown could sign a five-year, $273 million max deal with the Celtics in 2024, according to Marks. As Brown’s continued to ascend as a player, turning down potentially $160 million would appear to make little sense.
Grant Williams is also eligible for an extension as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. An Eastern Conference general manager recently told Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney should give Williams an extension worth somewhere between $45-50 million over four years. For reference, the Celtics signed center Robert Williams to a four-year, $48 million deal when he was up for his rookie extension last season.
In the likely event that the Celtics keep Al Horford, they could also extend him, too. Horford will be 37 when he begins his next contract, which makes his projected value a bit tougher to judge.
Will the Celtics be willing to spend this offseason?
Ultimately, what the Celtics do this offseason will come down to whether or not ownership wants to spend extra money by being in the luxury tax and how much they’re willing to spend.
In the event that the Celtics keep their rotational players on the roster, they could still add another $45.8 worth of salary if they use their mid-level exception and their trade exceptions. If they did that, their salary cap number for next season would push $200 million.
Now, not all of those exceptions have to be used this offseason as a couple of them don’t expire until January or February 2023. And they might not necessarily find the right trades in order to add talent via the exceptions. But still, they have ways to add players as long as they’re willing to spend.
While the Celtics maneuvered their way under the luxury tax line for this season in February, owner Wyc Grousbeck has shared in the past he’s been open to paying the tax for a title-contending team. In 2018, Grousbeck said “we are prepared to do whatever it takes to win again” when asked in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub if he was willing to pay the luxury tax. Grousbeck gave a similar answer when asked that question again by Celtics Blog in 2019.
“Our goal is to win championships, and we’ve consistently spent over the line in order to have the opportunity to contend,” told Celtics Blog’s Jeff Clark. “Whenever in doubt, I try to think about what Red, Bill Russell, and all the greats who built the Celtics, would want me/us to do. Celtic Pride comes first around here.”
As Grousbeck mentioned, he and the Celtics paid the luxury tax in the past, including when the team won their last championship in 2008. It appears they might have to do that again in order to win their next one.
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