WHICH WAY DO I GO NOW?

Its time

Like the Hindenburg, the Boston Celtics season went down in a ball of flames. While all the focus has been on Kyrie Irving, and yes aside from Game 1, Kyrie certainly didn’t produce as anyone thought he would in the second round of the playoffs, including Kyrie. All the blame can’t be placed upon him.

Tatum didn’t provide the scoring punch that one would hope he would to take pressure off Kyrie. Hayward, who had played very well the last few months of the season reverted back to his early season form, at least results wise. Smart couldn’t provide the spark hoped for upon his return, though the fact that he even returned at all is a testament to his resolve. And Brad Stevens simply put, was out coached by Mike Budenholzer. Its not often Stevens is shown up, but it certainly happened in the Milwaukee series.

With the franchise seemingly in disarray, where do they go from here? Terry Rozier did the rounds on ESPN’s morning shows and essentially showed himself the door. Whether Kyrie stays or leaves, there is no walking back the attitude and contempt Rozier showed for the organization.

Some reports have shown that Kyrie is all but a done deal to the Knicks. Others have mentioned the Nets are in play, or that a reunion with Lebron in Los Angeles could happen. At the end of the day though, the only public words directly addressing the issue Kyrie has spoken about his intentions for 2019 and beyond stated that if Boston will have him back, he’d be re-signing.

Would is shock anyone with the way Kyrie has interacted with the media this year if he re-signed for the max, and pointed to his comments in the pre-season stating that all the angst Celtics fans have felt over the matter the last 5 months is entirely the result of media fabrication and that he never wavered? (To be clear, I’m not saying that the media did fabricate everything, or that Kyrie never wavered, I’m saying would it shock anyone if that is how HE played it?)

Now certainly there have been ambiguous comments, moments of obvious frustration, and a general feeling of impending doom leading to a fueling of speculation that Uncle Drew is planning on taking his talents elsewhere, there is absolutely no denying that.

Ultimately though, the Celtics can offer the most money. For all his quirky thoughts, and mercurial attitude, Kyrie is not a dumb man. He has a history of knee injuries, and has struggled to play a full 82 game slate for a few years. And while yes, when we get into the scope of NBA contracts it can be asked, how much is enough. But at the end of the day, the best the other 29 teams can offer is a 4 year $140 million dollar deal. Meanwhile, Lucky the Leprechaun can show Kyrie his pot o’gold in the form of a 5 year $189 million dollar deal. That is not chump change, and for someone with varied interests, including philanthropic, I’m sure he could envision ways to spend that extra loot. The optics of Celtic money going to Kyrie’s beloved St. Patrick High School has these irish eyes smiling.

Now certainly this is not Kyrie’s last NBA contract, assuming he stays healthy and has plans to continue playing beyond this deal (he’s made comments alluding to the fact that there may not be), he could certainly sign additional deals to make up that extra $49 million. There are opt out options, future extensions, etc. But this is a bird in the hand.

Kyrie Irving

With regards to how the season played out, it seems that the construction of the Celtics roster was the issue, along with how that roster was dispatched. On paper there is no denying the abundance of talent up and down the bench. And it feels odd saying it, but maybe too much talent. An odd combination of ascending players like Tatum, Brown, and Rozier tossed in with some veterans not looking to give up footing, and the unique situation of an all star level player like Gordon Hayward trying to re-assert himself in a line up where he was never the alpha dog. If Hayward had the same injury with Utah, and went through the same trials and tribulations with rehab and doing his best Stella gets her groove back impersonation, there would not have been the disruption, because he had established himself in that locker room as a leading man, or at least, not such a dramatic disruption.

While the players in Boston were certainly aware of the capability, and resume of Hayward, they had never had to accommodate him, or his talents. I can’t think of a similar situation in team sports occurring before. We’ve certainly seem players suffer catastrophic injuries and make their way back, but its always been with their own teams. Maybe Peyton Manning coming back with the Broncos after a year off instead of the Colts. But that’s a different animal because there is only one quarterback on the field. There isn’t any integration amongst a peer playing group. Its not like Manning was a wide receiver fighting his way for targets amongst 4 other wide outs.

To steal from Chris Rock, Hayward was used to being daddy and getting the BIG PIECE OF CHICKEN, but now was stuck eating day old rolls when all the chicken was gone. For sure it was a very interesting dynamic, and again while many will point to how Stevens handled it, there wasn’t much history on the matter for him to draw from.

Ultimately though the best thing the Celtics can do is put this season behind them. While the media is writing them off as having missed their window, with the potential emergence of Philly (I say potential because Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are both impending free agents, and they still haven’t learned to properly have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid co-exist), and the for sure emergence of the Greek Freak as the new King of the East. All isn’t lost for the Celtics. They just need them to find the mojo that every Brad Stevens led Celtics team prior to this year had.

So with that being said, lets review what the roster looks like heading into the off season:

They have 6 players with guaranteed salaries, and no opt out options:

  • Gordon Hayward
  • Marcus Smart
  • Jayson Tatum
  • Jaylen Brown
  • Guerschon Yabusele
  • Robert Williams III

There are 3 players with player options:

  • Kyrie Irving
  • Al Horford
  • Aron Baynes

1 player with a non-guaranteed deal becomes guaranteed on July 1:

  • Semi Ojeleye

4 restricted free agents:

  • Terry Rozier
  • Daniel Theis
  • Brad Wannamaker
  • Jonathan Gibson

and 3 un-restricted free agents:

  • Marcus Morris
  • PJ Dozier
  • RJ Hunter

When accounting for cap space, there are also holds for their 3 first round draft picks.

  • #14 pick = $3.5 million hold
  • #20 pick = $2.6 million hold
  • #22 pick = $2.4 million hold

As constituted the Celtics are not a team operating with cap space. And while I’ve seen numerous sources say there is no path to cap space for C’s, that simply isn’t true, there just isn’t any GOOD path to cap space for the Celtics. They COULD certainly see Irving, Horford, and Baynes all opt out and renounce them. Renounce all their restricted and un-restricted free agents, not guarantee Ojeleye’s deal, and choose 3 draft n’ stash prospects June 20th. That would leave them with about $44 million in cap space, and zero hope of being competitive. But it COULD be done.

It feels at this point that the Celtics will go one of two ways. I should say it feels like they SHOULD go one of two ways. I’ve no doubt Danny Ainge has sat down and done his best Dr. Strange impersonation in trying to figure out the way they can defeat Thanos. But from our vantage point it comes down to this. If Ainge BELIEVES Kyrie will re-sign, he needs to go in for Anthony Davis. Even if it turns out to be gambling on one year of Davis (and for my money, I think IF they were able to get Kyrie and the Brow in the fold together, that next summer would see Davis re-signing for a super max, which then brings the MAJOR luxury tax ramifications into the equation, but that’s another article for when and IF they get there).

If Ainge doesn’t believe Kyrie will return, even with a Davis return, then he has to hold onto his chips. That being said, the worst kept secret in the NBA is that Ainge has long had his heart set on Anthony Davis. Even before the possibility of Kyrie was brought into the world. He has been hoarding assets to make this move for years. Ultimately the trade for Kyrie did little to deplete the war chest of assets Ainge has guarded. Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder, and 1 first rounder? In a world where Kyrie never asked out of Cleveland, Ainge may have Collin Sexton and Ante Zizic to play with. But would that be enough to make or break a deal with New Orleans? Doubtful. Which is all to say, that while from this vantage point it feels like trying to decipher how Kyrie will handle the situation is the key to how to proceed, for Ainge it likely isn’t. Anthony Davis was the end game all along.

For our purposes though, we’re looking at how the Celtics should move forward in June and July, not how they will. If I knew exactly what Ainge would do, I’d have a job in the NBA right now.

Danny Ainge

PLAN A:

  1. Al Horford opts out of his deal
  2. Kyrie Irving opts out of his deal
  3. Aron Baynes opts into his deal
  4. Guarantee Semi Ojeleye’s contract for 2019-2020
  5. Renounce: Jonathan Gibson, Brad Wannamaker, PJ Dozier, RJ Hunter
  6. Let Marcus Morris sign elsewhere. No need to renounce he’ll be a first few days of free agency signing.
  7. Re-sign Al Horford: 4 years, $70 million, $25 million in year 1, $15 million in years 2, 3, 4. The 4th year is a non-guaranteed team option year.
  8. Re-sign Kyrie Irving: 5 years, $189 million, max level deal
  9. Sign Terry Rozier to a 4 year, $40 million dollar deal for sign and trade purposes.
  10. Package Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams, #14 pick, #22 pick, Memphis pick, Celtics 2020 first round pick
  11. Re-sign Daniel Theis: 3 years, $10 million
  12. Extend Jaylen Brown: 4 years, $80 million

That give the team a roster of 11 players, and will be about $22 million OVER the tax line, which is to say the ownership would have to sign off on this, but it has to have been expected for a while now. Its one of the primary reasons they looked to stay below the line this season, to not start the clock on the repeater tax level.

With this plan they’d maintain their status as an above the cap team, thus enabling them to use the Mid-Level Exception, which this season should be worth about $9.2 million, and also have the bi-annual exception, worth about $3.6 million. The question with those exceptions isn’t whether they could find talent, with that money and this opportunity to join a contender, they could find takers, its how high into the tax will they go?

That roster would look like:

  1. Anthony Davis
  2. Al Horford
  3. Gordon Hawyard
  4. Jaylen Brown
  5. Kyrie Irving
  6. Marcus Smart
  7. Aron Baynes
  8. Semi Ojeleye
  9. Daniel Theis
  10. Guerschon Yabusele
  11. #20 pick

At 20, with that roster it certainly feels like wings, and ball handling would be a priority. And of course, the draft occurs before the free agency period “begins”, but again, the ENTIRE exercise is based upon how Ainge feels this will play out.

Players you may see targeted in that 20th pick range that would make sense:

  • Nickiel Alexander Walker – Wing- Virginia Tech
  • Brandon Clarke – Forward – Gonzaga
  • Tyler Herro – Wing – Kentucky
  • Quentin Grimes – Wing – Kansas
  • Tremont Waters – Ball Handler – LSU

Some veterans who would be fill in guys, ring chasers who would fit with the win now culture. And I am aware this is not the best of the best, but with this money we’re looking for fits on the floor, AND in the locker room, which after this season has to be a consideration.

  • Vince Carter
  • Jared Dudley
  • Wayne Ellington
  • Gerald Green
  • Omri Casspi
  • Jamal Crawford
  • Al Farouq-Aminu

Realistically, of that group, only Farouq-Aminu would be worthy of the MLE, the others would be in the category of the Bi-Annual. But when the payroll is already in the $150 millions, that is a consideration. While its not my money to spend, you can’t be blind to reality.

That is an excellent starting 5, a fantastic spark plug defensive minded 6th man in Smart, and some solid veterans to give short minutes. Essentially the formula that Golden State has made their living with the last half decade.

Now if Ainge DOESN’T THINK KYRIE WILL SIGN, then he SHOULD (not will, but SHOULD) not make the move for Davis. The thought of gutting the core for a one year gamble is more than my cholesterol clogged arteries heart can handle.

Plan B

PLAN B:

  1. Al Horford opts out
  2. Kyrie Irving opts out
  3. Aron Baynes opts in
  4. Guarantee Semi Ojeleye’s deal for 2019-2020
  5. Renounce: Jonathan Gibson, Brad Wannamaker, PJ Dozier, RJ Hunter
  6. Re-sign Al Horford, 4 years $70 million, $25 1st year, $15 each of final 3 years, 4th year is non-guaranteed team option year.
  7. Lose Kyrie Irving, he’ll either be back or gone in the first day or two
  8. Re-sign Daniel Theis, 3 years, $10 million
  9. Re-sign Marcus Morris, 3 years $52 million

That gives the Celtics a 14 man roster when you include their 3 first round picks. I do not forsee them having 3 first round rookies on the roster, so a trade, or draft n stash selection or two is possible, if not likely.

But that gives them a roster of:

  1. Aron Baynes
  2. Al Horford
  3. Jayson Tatum
  4. Gordon Hayward
  5. Marcus Smart
  6. Jaylen Brown
  7. Marcus Morris
  8. Daniel Theis
  9. Semi Ojeleye
  10. Guerschon Yabusele
  11. Robert Williams III
  12. #14 pick
  13. #20 pick
  14. #22 pick

That is certainly not the talent amassed on this past season’s roster, or the superstar laden line-up of plan A, but it would provide for a very defined Top 7, with the only glaring piece missing is a back up ball handler. That does assume that Robert Williams fills a role as a rim protecting big off the bench, which at the very least is his floor. A decent sized jump from year 1-2 for him wouldn’t be shocking. Aside from Tatum being thrown into the flames early, Stevens has shown a tendency to bring rookies along methodically. It would also be a below the tax level roster. With the cap expected to be $109 million, the tax threshold would be $132 million. This roster, with the salary figures for free agents noted above, would come in around $123 million.

Al Horford

With the Celtics keeping all 3 selections in this scenario, here are some names they could be looking at with the 14th pick in the draft:

  • Bol Bol – Post – Oregon
  • Goga Bitadze – Post – Rep. of Georgia
  • Keldon Johnson – Wing – Kentucky
  • Sekou Doumbouya – Wing – France
  • Romeo Langford – Wing – Indiana

And with the 20 and 22nd selections, some guys that you would think to be in play

  • Nickiel Alexander Walker – Wing – Virginia Tech
  • Brandon Clarke – Forward – Gonzaga
  • Tyler Herro – Wing – Kentucky
  • Quentin Grimes – Wing – Kansas
  • Tremont Waters – Ball Handler – LSU

Now in this scenario, losing Kyrie, and not getting Davis, it is certainly possible that Ainge would look to another trade target with his assets. Bradley Beal will be a hot name this summer. Him going to the Lakers makes an AWFUL lot of sense, but I could also envision a scenario with him as a shooter in the backcourt with Smart as the primary ball handler. If Portland continues down this path of getting swept by a Durant-less Warriors squad, would they consider moving on from the Lilliard-McCollum tandem (McCollum would be the target, they are NOT moving Lilliard)? Kevin Love? Could broken down Blake Griffin be had on the cheap (cheap as in trade return, his contract certainly isn’t cheap)? Return to the well that is Minnesota and try to pry away Karl Anthony Towns?

If not, if the above is what has been done, what are some names that would make sense on the free agent market that would fall into the MLE and Bi-Annual range, possibly?

  • Ricky Rubio
  • Patrick Beverly (I think he will get PAID this summer, but he will be 31. I really just wanna see a Beverly/Smart back court defensively, talk about a pain in the ass)
  • Darren Collison
  • Thaddeus Young
  • Al Farouq Aminu
  • Markeiff Morris
  • Ed Davis
  • Dewayne Dedmon
  • Shelvin Mack
  • Isaiah Thomas
  • Jamal Crawford

One thing is for sure, SOMETHING is going to happen this summer. Years of tinkering, additions, and hoarding. The Celtics were never going to be able to sign Anthony Davis on the market, this summer has been Danny Ainge’s plan for years. The question now is, will it be Plan A, Plan B, or Plan SEE You Really Know Nothing.

  • Written by Jason Sullivan
  • Find us on Twitter at @TopDucker or on Facebook at You’re Ducking Right

 

 

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