The Boston Celtics could be back playing games that matter in as little as 46 days after the players voted in favor Thursday of starting a 72-game season on Dec. 22.
With only 25 days until training camps could open, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his staff have an entire summer’s worth of work to cram into the next three weeks.
The Celtics could have an advantage over some rivals at the start of the year if they bring back their core from last season and focus on improving on the margins. But there’s still a lot of tough decisions ahead and limited resources to improve this team.
Here are some of the tasks that should be at the top of Ainge’s to-do list and some of our favorite potential options.
CREATING ROSTER SPACE
For the purpose of this exercise, we’re operating with the assumption that both Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter pick up their player options which — while no slam dunk for either player — would leave the Celtics with 12 players under contract for the 2020-21 season. Ainge needs to create space to house incoming rookies and other offseason additions.
The Celtics can start by declining their $1.8 million team option on Semi Ojeleye, who was a luxury as a defensive presence but simply has not shown enough offensive progress to justify a roster spot. The Celtics could also pick up Ojeleye’s option if they needed him for salary filler as part of any minor deals.
Boston could extend a $1.8 million qualifying offer to Brad Wanamaker, but with the idea that any addition of a point guard via the draft, free agency, or trade would lead to them rescinding that offer. The team could also back off if Wanamaker draws outside interest on the free-agent market.
Javonte Green’s $1.5 million salary for 2020-21 is non-guaranteed and the team could simply waive him before whatever new guaranteed date is determined. Boston could also include Green in a minor trade that would make his salary guaranteed for next season regardless if he stuck on that team’s roster.
Each season, teams have a certain amount of money that they can send and receive as part of trades. If the Celtics don’t feel they can commit to the development of Vincent Poirier and don’t want to pay $2.6 million for a fifth center, they could essentially pay a team below the tax line to absorb his deal.
If the Celtics are prepared to lean heavier on Robert Williams and Grant Williams at the center spot, Boston could also consider trading Kanter. One spot that might make sense: The Trail Blazers have a $7.1 million trade exception that is set to expire in January 2021. Kanter was part of the Blazers' run to the Western Conference finals in 2019.
IMPROVING THE BENCH
Armed with three first-round picks, Ainge has the ability to maneuver around the draft board in search of young, cost-efficient talent to complement his team’s core. The Celtics need shooting, they need point guard depth, and they probably need another depth big if Kanter isn’t back.
You’ll hear the Celtics rumored to be pondering moving in every direction. They can trade up, they can trade back, they can trade out. That decision likely hinges on who Ainge likes best and how the draft board plays out. Given that being competitive sometimes conspires against player development, the Celtics have obvious motivations to shimmy up, especially if they target a player that could be an immediate contributor.
Our favorite realistic trade-up options: Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton and Stanford’s Tyrell Terry. Haliburton has great size and elite playmaking skills, while Terry is a fantastic shooter. Both could provide immediate depth behind Kemba Walker if his knee limits him at all during the 2020-21 season.
If the Celtics sit tight at No. 14, they might still be able to find a Day 1 contributor. Our favorites at this spot: Villanova’s Saddiq Bey, Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith, or Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr. Bey and Nesmith provide immediate shooting with 3-and-D potential on the wing. Lewis has the sort of speed that Ainge typically covets and has potential to be a playmaker with all the shooting the Celtics can put around him.
The Celtics could also explore moving their picks for more established talent. Our favorite hypothetical deal: Kanter, picks, and cash to Detroit in exchange for Derrick Rose.
The Celtics get an established backup point guard who can ease Walker’s load and a player with ample postseason experience. The Pistons get much-needed first-round picks and a chance to start developing a young core before they figure out how to best use their cap space.
THE TAXPAYER MIDLEVEL
Unless Hayward opts out and re-signs a long-term extension at a more reasonable number, the Celtics are likely going to have just the taxpayer midlevel ($5.7 million) to seek impact free agents this offseason.
With the draft seemingly thin on big men that make sense at the spots Boston will be picking, the team could earmark at least a portion of the midlevel for adding a depth option.
Two of our favorite names: Aron Baynes and Harry Giles.
Baynes was a cap casualty in the summer of 2019, as the Celtics dealt him to Phoenix in order to clear the necessary space to sign Walker. Baynes had a hot-as-an-Arizona-sidewalk start to the season but tapered, in part, due to ailments. He did not play during Phoenix’s blistering bubble run.
At 33, there’d be concerns about Baynes' ability to maintain his defensive play. But he’s proven in the past he can be a solid backline anchor and the Celtics could deploy him in those matchups where they need more heft than Theis and Co. can provide.
The slightly more intriguing option is Giles, a 22-year-old whose progress has been hindered by injuries. Giles has low-risk, high-reward potential and his passing skills alone could make him a Brad Stevens favorite.
Then there's this: Giles is one of Jayson Tatum’s best friends. There’s something to be said for keeping the face of your franchise happy before he inks his long-term extension.
LOCKING UP THE FUTURE
Speaking of Tatum, once the smoke clears from the offseason maneuvering, the Celtics can ink Tatum to his maximum salary rookie extension. The stagnant cap number conspires a bit against Tatum’s total salary potential but it will still be the richest total-value contract ever signed by a Celtics player. (If we’re doing our math right, it’s roughly five years, $173 million if he gets the full 30 percent max).
Depending on roster space and draft additions, the Celtics could elevate Tremont Waters to the parent roster after a year on a two-way contract. Tacko Fall could be back on a two-way deal if another team doesn’t offer him a spot on an NBA roster.
Here’s how Boston’s depth chart could look — but feel free to swap in your favorite trade/free-agent/draft targets in place of Rose/Bey/Giles/Tillie/Quickley below (new additions are in italics):
Ball-Handlers: Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Derrick Rose, Tremont Waters
Wings: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Romeo Langford, Saddiq Bey, Carsen Edwards
Bigs: Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Harry Giles, Killian Tillie
2-Ways: Tacko Fall, Immanuel Quickley
Boston would again be banking on health — no small matter in a condensed 72-game season— but the team has shown it can compete for a title with this core. The bench improvements could help mitigate some health concerns, but the Celtics would need development from recent draftees like the Williams duo while also getting early returns from whoever is plucked from this year’s class.
It’s not a particularly glamorous offseason but the Celtics don’t need a major overhaul, especially given the quick turnaround. There’s a chance to improve this team and start developing some of the young talent that could be integral to the team’s success moving forward.