Boston, Despite Inactivity at Deadline, Still Sitting Pretty
Of all the teams expected to be active at the 2016 NBA trade deadline, the Boston Celtics came into the madness with the most to offer and the most to potentially gain. With players like Kevin Love, Al Horford and Dwight Howard all finding themselves churning through the rumor mill in connection with the Celtics, it certainly seemed like President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge would have plenty of opportunities to do something splashy and turn a good 32-23 team into a squad on the brink of title contention.
But the Celtics didn’t do anything. Ainge stood pat on his assets, deciding instead to bank his myriad draft picks and look toward next summer when he will have a ton of cap space. At that point, he can sign a number of players since Boston could be an attractive situation for free agents.
In fact, it might be worth arguing that, outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers, no Eastern Conference team’s immediate future looks brighter than that of the Celtics even after having done nothing to speak of at the trade deadline this year.
Consider that the Celtics as currently constructed are third in the Eastern Conference standings, leading a second-tier of teams there without a promising rival.
They employ arguably the brightest young coach in the NBA in Brad Stevens, someone who has that offense humming along and who is getting the most out of a roster filled with cast-offs and previously red-flagged players.
They have draft picks. A lot of draft picks, including as many as three first-rounders this year (their own, the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected first-round pick and the Dallas Mavericks’ top-seven protected first-round pick), another in 2017 that could be swapped with Brooklyn’s (which seems likely), and two more in 2018 (their own and, of course, Brooklyn’s).
They have reasonably young talent on contracts that look good now and will look even better in coming seasons when the cap rises. Avery Bradley ($17 million over the next two seasons), Jae Crowder ($27 million over the next four years), Kelly Olynyk (as much as $7.4 million over the next seasons), Marcus Smart (as much as $14 million over the next three seasons) and, of course, All-Star Isaiah Thomas ($12.8 million over the next two seasons) all represent pretty incredible values.
Those five players aren’t the only reason the team is seeing so much success this year, but they all obviously have played big roles. Tyler Zeller, Jared Sullinger, Evan Turner and David Lee have done their share too, but even with those guys all entering free agency this summer, Boston will have enough of their core left over to remain dangerous no matter who departs. And, perhaps more importantly, they’re also going to be left with quite a bit of money to spend on free agents should they need to replace any of their own.
Depending where the actual salary cap number falls and how Boston deals with some of their non-guaranteed contracts, the Celtics could have somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-43 million in cap space to work with (and possibly more if the cap ends up higher than expected).
That means they will have more than enough space to go after some of the biggest free agents this summer. While Kevin Durant probably isn’t all that likely of an option for them, signing someone like Al Horford outright absolutely seems within the realm of possibility. He’s expected to sign a max contract wherever he goes, which would eat into a big chunk of that space, but he’s the kind of player Boston could seriously look at this offseason.
Ainge also won’t have too different a hand to deal in terms of trades by the summer. There’s nothing saying he can’t still make a hard push for Kevin Love or Blake Griffin in the offseason, particularly if the Cavaliers and/or Clippers are underwhelming in the postseason. And if those opposing front offices know for a fact that the Brooklyn pick will be a top-three selection rather than just hoping it will be, it’s also easy to see how that particular asset could carry more weight in any significant trade talks.
Whatever happens, adding two marquee free agents and a lottery pick to this group would make Boston one of the conference’s top teams. Failing to make a trade didn’t hurt them at all, even if fans got their hopes up that they would do something splashy.
The big things are coming this summer, rest assured, and when the dust settles the Celtics should be one of the better-looking rosters in the NBA – assuming everything else goes according to plan.
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