Underscoring the uniqueness of the Celtics’ 2021 offseason, Boston has stumbled into position to add an intriguing veteran point guard at a budget cost, and yet it’s still not a slam-dunk decision for either side.
The Celtics reportedly have offered their midlevel exception to free agent Dennis Schroder, who started 61 games last season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Schroder turned down a four-year, $84 million contract extension last season in hopes of a bigger payday this summer but money dried up quickly on a free-agent market saturated with point guards and he has few options left, especially among potential playoff teams.
The obvious upside in a Schroder acquisition: The Celtics would add a skilled and highly motivated player looking to reestablish his value at a spot where they could use depth. Schroder is a proven playmaker who has averaged 6.4 assists per 36 minutes for his career and often ranks among the best in the league in assist percentage.
The downside? Even if Schroder thrives, there’s not an obvious pathway toward a long-term relationship. With non-Bird rights, the Celtics wouldn’t be in position to pay Schroder more than 120 percent of his 2022-23 season and he’s clearly seeking a monster payday with his next long-term deal.
There should be some concern that Schroder’s focus would be on his individual performance, something that conspired against him last season. All that said, even without a path to a long-term relationship, Schroder would be a highly valuable trade asset in February which might help the Celtics acquire some much-needed draft assets.
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The bigger question from this vantage point: Does Schroder need a promise of being a starter to come to Boston? And how would that sit with Marcus Smart, who was seemingly in position to take over as first-unit point guard? Would Schroder be open to revisiting the sixth man role he thrived in with Oklahoma City? He finished second in the 2020 voting for that award.
The Celtics have prioritized flexibility this offseason and, if Schroder is only willing to play for the bigger non-taxpayer midlevel exception, then that could create some additional hurdles to a big-splash move during the 2021-22 campaign. By using the bigger midlevel, Boston would be hard-capped for the entirety of the season and could not spend past the tax apron at any point before the calendar year resets.
That tax apron is $143 million. Boston is committed to roughly $134.2 million on its current 15-man roster with only Jabari Parker on a non-guaranteed deal. The team would need some additional juggling beyond even just letting Parker walk to comfortably add Schroder at $9.5 million.
With the hard cap in place, the Celtics then would have limited flexibility to take on money during the year, something that could conspire against them, especially if a disgruntled superstar becomes available. In that instance, Boston needs to ensure it has more outgoing salary than incoming, which just adds another layer of complexity and could cost the team an additional young player in deal construction.
Schroder’s talents are undeniable. If he's willing to put a focus on simply helping Boston be more competitive this season -- especially if he were willing to come off the bench at the $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel -- then it’s a much easier decision to bring him on board. Celtics fans will forget about that little dust-up with Isaiah Thomas in the 2016 playoffs in a hurry.
But if he wants the larger midlevel and an assured starting role, the Celtics need to tread carefully to ensure they are not sacrificing long-term goals for a player that doesn’t assuredly change the ceiling of the upcoming season.