Every dollar counts when you’re trying to squeeze free agent and draft pick signees under the NBA’s complicated salary cap. Fortunately for the Celtics, the 2016-17 season cap will increase more than expected.
"The NBA has informed all 30 teams that the salary cap for the 2016-17 season is projected to be $94 million, higher than its previous estimates," reports The Vertical’s Shams Charania. "The NBA's projected salary cap and tax level of $94 million and $113 million, respectively, have increased since the previous estimates done by the league and its players' union."
That $2 million might feel like a negligible difference, but it could actually be significant.
Not only does it change the expected max salary figures for each free agent, but it gives each team more breathing room to fit players under the cap. That’s especially the case for the Celtics, who are in an actionable position this summer. With three non-guaranteed contracts, two restricted free agents, eight draft picks, and a huge lump of cap space, Boston already has plenty of flexibility. But that cap space can fill up quickly if they start making additions.
Now, having the extra chunk of cap room allows the Celtics to swell their grandiose plans while making it easier to accomplish their goal of adding multiple star players.
Let's say for the sake of discussion the Celtics end up trading for Jimmy Butler during next Thursday’s NBA Draft. That move alone would be a tremendous accomplishment, but it'd be more difficult for them to crunch the numbers to fit in Kevin Durant and another star free agent -- like Al Horford -- while retaining their impressive depth.
They can't compromise the talent they already have, or else their situation will be less appealing to those stars. Under the original cap projection of $92 million, current players would have to be sent off in trades, or free agents would have to take significant pay cuts to sign. With the extra $2 million, it’s less likely they’ll have to make those sacrifices.
Even if the Celtics don’t land any stars this summer, and there isn’t any pressure with the cap, the increased cap magnifies just how much of a bargain their current best players are to an even greater extent.
For example, Isaiah Thomas will make $6.6 million next season, which is the equivalent of a $5 million contract this year under the $70 million cap. The same can be said for Avery Bradley ($8.3 million) and Jae Crowder ($6.3 million).
What a bargain.
The chances are Durant won’t leave Oklahoma City. But in the event he’s willing to pack his bags for Boston, Danny Ainge and the Celtics have to be ready to make it work by accommodating his desires. That extra $2 million might seem like pocket change, but they might need it to get what they want.
Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA