While we wait for the fireworks
The draft picks
The Celtics are currently tied with the Orlando Magic for the third-worst record in the NBA. If that were maintained over the final four games of the regular season, Boston would have (roughly) a 42.6 percent chance at a top-three pick and a 13.8 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick. The pingpong balls have not been kind to Boston in the past, but it's fair to say that there's an excellent chance at a top-five pick this season if the Celtics finish where they are at the moment (though the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers remain nearby). Boston is also set to receive the first of three picks from the Brooklyn Nets after last summer's blockbuster swap. That pick is just about set in stone at No. 18 this season.
Counting those two picks, the Celtics have potential for as many as 10 first-round selections over the next five drafts. Unless they plan on drafting a full roster for the Maine Red Claws (remember Boston is in line to have as many as eight second-round picks over that same span, though none currently in this year's draft), Boston will almost certainly use some picks as assets to acquire established talent. Given the heightened value that teams are now putting on draft picks under the new collective bargaining agreement, that surplus of picks might be Boston's greatest asset.
Hop here for a full rundown on Boston's future draft picks.
The non-guaranteed contracts
The Celtics have four players who will enter the summer with non-guaranteed deals, giving Boston the ability to offer roughly $7.8 million in immediate salary relief to intrigued trading partners. Now, three of those contracts are for less than $1 million: Chris Babb ($816,482), Chris Johnson ($915,243) and Phil Pressey ($816,482), the latter two of whom seem likely to stick around as low-cost reserves. The real chip here is the out-of-sight-but-not-out-of-mind Keith Bogans and his $5.3 million contract next season. The Celtics paid Bogans handsomely this season to help facilitate the sign-and-trade deal with Brooklyn, but part of their reward was an ability to either waive Bogans for cap relief this summer, or use him as trade bait to acquire talent. Even Babb's contract could help facilitate a larger deal if the Celtics need a little extra salary to make numbers work.
Hop here for more on non-guaranteed deals.
The trade exceptions
The Celtics have three available trade exceptions from recent swaps (with expiration date):
• $10.3 million via Brooklyn trade (July 12, 2014)
• $2.1 million via Courtney Lee trade (Jan. 6, 2015)
• $283,000 via Fab Melo trade (Aug. 15, 2014)
These exceptions allow the Celtics to absorb salary without needing available cap space (or using another exception to account for the salary). An example? Let's say the Celtics want to revisit talks with Houston on big man Omer Asik this summer (rim protection!). Boston could offer Houston some draft picks and salary relief while absorbing Asik's $8.4 million cap hit and using part of the $10.3 million trade exception from the Brooklyn trade.
Hop here for more on Boston's $10.3 million trade exception.
The other exceptions
If the Celtics desire to return to contender status, there's a good chance they'll return to taxpayer status next season. That would mean the Celtics would have the taxpayer midlevel exception ($3.278 million first-year salary) at their disposal (but, with the right moves, could also have the more meaty $5.305 million non-taxpayer midlevel available if they can stay on or below the tax apron). Boston split the non-taxpayer midlevel between four players this season (Vitor Faverani, Pressey, Johnson, and Babb), but has used it to attract veteran talent (Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, Jason Terry) in past seasons. In less-likely scenarios, the Celtics could also have the biannual exception ($2.077 million) available.
Kris Humphries' team-high $12 million contract comes off the books this summer and he'll be an unrestricted free agent. Depending on frontcourt needs, the Celtics could attempt to bring Humphries back at a more reasonable salary (something he has expressed interest in while praising the direction of the franchise). Even if the Celtics don't see a future here for Humphries (or won't pay the market rate), they could work a sign-and-trade deal that could bring back talent at a salary comparable to Humphries' next deal.
Brandon Bass is set to enter the final year of his contract, one that will pay him $6.9 million for the 2014-15 season. Expiring deals, particularly for someone such as Bass', which can help a contending team, are still valuable. There's also Joel Anthony and his $3.8 million player option. Anthony seems likely to trigger that option given the salary, but he could always shun it in favor of seeking a situation with more playing time that might help his next contract. If he sticks around in Boston, his salary makes him a possibility to be included in a multi-player deal to make salaries line up.
The Roman candles
While it seems likely that Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green will be back next season, Boston's offseason fireworks display could always include a big bang like moving one of Boston's bigger contracts. With Rondo seemingly set to test unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2015 (and potentially commanding big money on the open market), the Celtics could explore trade opportunities this summer if they don't think they can retain him down the road. Likewise, if Boston doesn't see a future with Green and there is a team willing to absorb his $9.2 million salary next season, the Celtics could ponder that option (though, again, it seems more likely that both would be back with a new-look supporting cast).
The Al Jeffersons
Al Jefferson returns to Boston on Friday night with the playoff-bound Charlotte Bobcats. Jefferson showed great potential here early in his career, but was the key cog in Boston's pulling off the deal that brought Kevin Garnett from Minnesota. Boston's best young assets now? Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk seemingly comprise part of Boston's frontcourt of the future, but both (more Sullinger than Olynyk at this stage) could be potential centerpieces of a bigger swap (though don't hold your breath on a KG-like franchise-changer.)
Jerryd Bayless will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. He earned $3.1 million this season and would be a candidate to return at the right salary. ... Avery Bradley is set to become a restricted free agent, but Ainge has noted he sees Bradley in Boston's future.
The bottom line is the Celtics have options and assets. It's on Ainge to find the right deals and light the fuse if there is to be fireworks.
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