NBA PM: Get Ready For Boston’s Bounce Back In 2017

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Sky is the Limit for Emerging Boston Celtics

For two straight postseasons, the Boston Celtics have suffered first-round eliminations that have put a damper on otherwise promising campaigns. However, NBA history is littered with plenty of examples of franchise’s arriving on the scene earlier than expected and then having to take their lumps come playoff time.

The Celtics are just paying their dues or the price of admission for aspiring to be great.

The past two campaigns have allowed the Celtics’ young core to essentially learn on the job and their overachieving has allowed the team’s front office to be more calculated in their rebuilding approach. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago the franchise was faced with the prospect of a lengthy rebuild after the departures of Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and head coach Doc Rivers.

Allen has essentially retired while Garnett and Pierce are just shells of their former dominant selves. Rondo had a strong bounce-back campaign but for now, until July at least, he’s stuck on a lottery-bound roster.  But the 48-win Celtics are poised to make a run at Eastern Conference supremacy over the next three years.

In the NBA, there are three ways to improve: via the trade market, the annual draft or free agency. The Celtics are poised and strongly positioned to work all three aspects. The franchise has multiple draft picks, a solid assortment of attractive assets and the ability to create plenty of cap space.

According to Basketball Insiders’ cap expert Eric Pincus, the Celtics are projected to have at least $14.5 million in salary cap space this summer to work free agency. In a best-case scenario, the team could clear upwards of $50 million to bring in addition firepower. The contracts of forwards Amir Johnson ($12 million) and Jonas Jerebko ($5 million) are non-guaranteed for the 2016-17 campaign, which leads us to the trade market.

When it comes to making deals, the Celtics have plenty of assets that could spark interest. The aforementioned Johnson and Jerebko could be prime assets for a team looking to acquire more flexibility in a market where the salary cap is expected to rise in the neighborhood of $92 million.

However, when it comes to draft picks, this is where the team can gain separation by securing organic growth from within.

Boston owns the Brooklyn Nets’ lottery pick, which should be in the top five. The Celtics also own two additional first-round picks (No. 16 from the Dallas Mavericks and No. 23 from the Philadelphia 76ers). The team also owns four second-round picks, giving them additional flexibility to draft-and-stash an asset for future utilization.

Internally, the team will have tough free agency decisions to make from this past season’s roster. Forward Evan Turner earned $3.4 million this past season and showed plenty of potential in spot starts throughout the campaign. Turner will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and while he has publicly stated his desire to remain in Celtics green, the color of money also talks if other teams come calling with more lucrative offers.

Big men Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger will be restricted free agents, assuming the Celtics issue qualifying offers. But issuing both guys a qualifying offer allows the team to sit back and let the market dictate value and then decide whether they want to match any offer (of course, this approach can backfire too).

In an era where franchises become mired in fruitless rebuilding projects that last five years or more, the Celtics have missed the playoffs just once in the past three seasons (2013-14).  The future for the franchise, on paper, is bright but will ultimately come down to how management handles their current leverage.