With the NBA season hours away, I still haven’t finished part 3 of 6 in my offseason grades. Oh well. I have a life…or not. Let’s just say I’ll be staying up until 6 AM London time to watch Warriors/Pelicans in its entirety. But, until next time, hammer the over on the Celtics win total while you still can.
2014-15 Record: 40-42
After a great trade deadline acquisition to get Isaiah Thomas and his bargain of a contract for a protected first round pick, Boston won 20 out of it’s final 29 games and surged to grab 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. With a plethora a solid rotation pieces already in place, the Celtics were surely looking to add the superstar type impact talent that would take them to the next level. While they failed to do so, general manager Danny Ainge and the rest of the front office did everything right to put them in the position to land a superstar in the near future.
They came to the draft armed with a powerful arsenal of future draft picks after unloading veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Jeff Green. When Duke forward Justise Winslow fell all the way to number 9 and Charlotte sat on the clock, the Celtics tried to pounce with a godfather offer of 4 first round picks, including Brooklyn’s juicy unprotected 2016 first rounder. The Hornets rejected the offer, which in hindsight was probably to Boston’s benefit since it would have been an overpay to move up just 7 spots.
When their 16th overall selection finally rolled around, Boston reached to pick Louisville guard Terry Rozier. Projected to go in the late first round, Rozier possess plus athleticism but lacks an NBA-level skillset. Taking him in the mid first round wasn’t great value. With their second first round pick at number 28, the Celtics stole R.J. Hunter. A great shooter out of Georgia State, Hunter has good size and athleticism to succeed as an NBA wing, and demonstrated a good all-around offensive game in college. Late in the first round, Hunter was a fantastic value. Further, Boston drafted LSU big Jordan Mickey early in the second round and did well to sign him to a 4-year contract. He had a good summer league, and has a chance to develop into a solid rotation guy.
In free agency, Boston opted against pursuing the big names and quickly came to smart agreements with solid players. The Celtics inked Jae Crowder to a 5-year $35 million contract. As the NBA salary cap rises, Crowder’s $7 million annual salary will be the equivalent of a solid backup in today’s salary cap climate. So, if he continues to play like he did after coming over from Dallas in the Rajon Rondo trade, he will prove to be a fantastic value on a deal that keeps him in Boston through his prime. Elsewhere, Boston signed Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson to 2-year contracts worth $10 and $24 million respectively. While both players are solid, their contracts are valuable to the Celtics because their second years are fully non-guaranteed until July 3rd 2016. This contract structure gives Boston the pieces to swing a major trade or the flexibility to make a splash in the first 2 days of free agency. Jerebko and Johnson’s salaries can be aggregated to trade for a player making $21 million without the opposing team taking on any guaranteed money. It’s a useful tool. If they can’t make a deal, the Celtics can simply waive either of them with zero money owed or run it back with 2 solid players. Maintaining this type of flexibility is how teams eventually get superstars.
Just as with the smart contracts to Jerebko and Johnson, the Celtics continue to nail all of the little moves. Because Crowder’s cap hold was much lower than the amount of money he signed for, the Celtics waited to finalize his contract to preserve the last remnants of their cap space. With it, they acquired 2nd round picks and cash from the Heat and Thunder for taking on Zoran Dragic and Perry Jones III respectively. Dragic has already been waived and Jones is most likely the odd man out, but Boston manifested 2 second rounders out of thin air by waiting to sign Crowder and effectively using the leftover space.
Synopsis: Ainge continues a pristine execution of the Celtics rebuild. The team made smart signings with useful contract structures, generated 2 additional second round picks with prudent salary cap maneuvering, and picked up 2 solid values in the draft. They’re still waiting to land the ephemeral superstar to take them to the next level. However, Ainge and company are making sure they will have all the tools when the time comes.