Commentary

Celtics have some angles to play

Updated: July 1, 2014, 12:12 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he expects to join members of the team's front office staff in the annual free agency telethon that begins when the clock strikes midnight to usher in July 1.

"Not sure who [I'll call]," Stevens said before deadpanning, "maybe my wife."

Stevens wouldn't take the bait when asked if he'd phone any old friends (cough, restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, cough) and said he'd wait until the free agency process plays itself out before revealing if his phone calls helped entice a target.

While this is his first go-around at placing free-agency phone calls at the NBA level, Stevens is no stranger to late-night dialing this time of year.

"We had June 15 in the NCAA, you could call at midnight," Stevens said. "It is what it is. You call and you put your best foot forward. You have to be realistic in assessing your options and you go from there."

Stevens said he chose quality over quantity when phoning potential recruits, hoping a more personalized approach resonated with his targets. Boston's front office staff was planning to huddle Monday afternoon to finalize a strategy for midnight contacts.

With that in mind, here's a quick rundown on Boston's cap situation as we prepare to launch into free agency:

The Celtics have some attractive assets that could help them land established talent this offseason, though that's more likely to come via the trade route than free agency given that Boston doesn't have the available cap space to simply sign free-agent bodies.

With cap holds, the Celtics are projected to be over the salary cap, which means they must use exceptions in order to sign players. So how can the team add players this offseason?

ROOKIE EXCEPTION: Boston can ink its two recent draftees utilizing the rookie exception that allows first-round draft picks to be signed to scaled contracts. The Celtics almost always sign their first-round picks to deals at 120 percent of the rookie scale (the max allowed), making the signings of Marcus Smart (sixth pick; $3.3 million first-year salary) and James Young (17th pick, $1.7 million first-year salary) pretty much perfunctory in the coming days.

MIDLEVEL EXCEPTION: Depending on how much the Celtics plan to spend this offseason, they can utilize the various iterations of the midlevel exception to sign free agents. A non-taxpaying team will have around $5.3 million to spend this year, but remember that amount can be broken up. Last season, the Celtics elected to split the midlevel between Vitor Faverani and Phil Pressey, while later using a leftover portion to sign both Chris Johnson and Chris Babb to lengthy non-guaranteed deals. Boston also has a smaller potential exception, the bi-annual (valued around $2.1 million), but has not used that in recent seasons.

[+] EnlargeKris Humphries
Alex Trautwig/Getty ImagesThe Celtics have some interest in bringing back Kris Humphries, but it would have to be for significantly less than the $12 million he made this past season.

BIRD EXCEPTION: The Celtics can utilize what's called the Bird exception to help retain some of their own free agents, namely Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless. Players qualifying for Bird rights must play for three seasons without clearing waivers or changing teams as a free agent, but maintain their rights during trades (as Humphries and Bayless did while being acquired over the past year). The Celtics have indicated they are intrigued about the possibility of bringing Humphries back at a number well south of the team-high $12 million he made last season.

TRADE EXCEPTIONS: The Celtics have three trade exceptions at their disposal, allowing them to absorb salary without needing available cap space. The big prize in that lot is a $10.3 million exception generated from the Brooklyn Nets trade last season. The Celtics have the ability to take back a salary near that amount (though it can also be broken in smaller chunks) but it must be used by July 12 (or one year since its acquisition -- in this case a year after the Brooklyn swap went through). If Boston envisions another rebuilding season, it could attempt to acquire an expiring salary and/or draft picks in order to gain assets before the exception expires. Keep in mind that the Celtics cannot necessarily bundle the exception with another player as part of an outgoing package.

SIGN AND TRADE: Trade exceptions can't be used to sign free agents, though there is always the potential for sign-and-trade possibilities. Let's say the Jazz re-signed Hayward to a long-term deal with a starting salary of $10.3 million. The Celtics could potentially trade for Hayward while absorbing his salary with their largest trade exception. Sign-and-trade deals also could help Boston bring back some value if the likes of Humphries and Bayless are sought by another team.

NON-GUARANTEED DEALS AND TRADE POTENTIAL: The Celtics also can seek to add talent by moving some of the talent on their roster. Keith Bogans, excused from the team this past season, seems destined to be moved. His $5.3 million salary next season is non-guaranteed, meaning Boston can offer immediate cap relief to any team that takes on the final two years of his contract. Boston has three other non-guaranteed salaries currently on its books in Johnson ($915,000), Pressey ($816,000) and Babb ($816,000).

Essentially, the Celtics are at the mercy of finding trade partners in order to add established talent, though their surplus of draft picks might aid that process.

Owner Wyc Grousbeck noted last week that "trade season isn't over" and suggested fireworks were always possible. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge wouldn't tip his hand when asked if the 2014-15 season might be another lean one, with a focus on development.

As we noted last week, the Celtics must balance the speed and efficiency of their rebuilding process. Boston might have to settle for sparklers this offseason to deliver big-bang fireworks next summer.

It's ultimately a game of dominoes, and the moves that the other 29 teams make at the start of free agency could have a trickle-down effect on Boston's maneuvering. Ainge might very well phone LeBron James' agent at midnight (hey, it can't hurt to call, right?) but it seems unlikely that Boston can do anything seismic without getting another team to help out.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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