The Boston Celtics were victorious in the Gordon Hayward sweep steaks and the All-Star small forward will be heading to the northeast as the new recipient of a four-year, $128 million contract.
Now that Danny Ainge has his man, he just needs to create the necessary cap space in order to fit him in. Boston has already renounced the rights to restricted free agent Kelly Olynyk – turning him into an unrestricted free agent – and the team will also be forced to renounce cap holds on free agents Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko and James Young before ink is officially put to paper. Jordan Mickey – who doesn’t have any guaranteed money on his contract next season – will likely be released too.
But things still get a little tougher because the salary cap went down after most people expected it to rise this summer. While none of those players – outside of Olynyk – had a defined role within the Celtics rotation, they’ll also have to trade one of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart in a deal that gives Boston little to no salary back in return to fully be able to fit Hayward in.
A common first reaction will be wanting to trade Crowder because he plays the same position as Hayward, but that’s not the smart move for Boston. It’s all about contracts. Crowder has one of the best contracts in basketball and he’s due a grand total of just $22 million over the next three seasons. While Bradley and Smart are also seemingly underpaid based on what similar players are getting in today’s market, both of their contracts expire at the end of next season and Ainge can’t afford to give each of them the pay raises that they deserve.
To put it simply, trading Jae Crowder now pretty much guarantees that the Celtics will lose both Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart next summer. If you trade Bradly or Smart now, having Crowder on the books at just $7.3 million for the 2018-19 season gives you a window to keep whichever guard you kept. It might seem like you’re creating a log jam at one position, but this is a way to keep the most possible talent locked up long term.
The Celtics will be packed with a number of talented small forward types next season like Hayward, Crowder, Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but it seems to be something that Brad Stevens is prepared for as each of those guys will likely spend time playing shooting guard and power forward next year. This isn’t really that big a stretch though as both Ainge and Stevens have hinted at “postionless basketball” being the direction of the Celtics this offseason.
We already have Stevens on the record praising Tatum’s ability to play multiple positions. Crowder was pretty much the team’s starting power forward for a good chunk of the playoffs last year when Gerald Green was inserted into the starting lineup over Amir Johnson and Brown started 20 games as rookie last year, most of them in place of shooting guard Avery Bradley when he was injured.
This is the new NBA. While most teams still seem to start a “traditional” lineup, a lot of them spend most of the 48 minute game playing with a less traditional five man combination. The Celtics were no exception last year as Amir Johnson started 77 games but was seventh on the team in minutes, averaging 11 less minutes per game than a backup guard in Marcus Smart with the Celtics opting to use a smaller lineup for long stretches of action. This got even more extreme in the playoffs as Johnson started just nine of 18 games and dropped to 11th on the team in minutes per game as they played with a small ball lineup for almost entire games.