Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The promising news is that Boston has yet to approach its ceiling. Hayward, at 27, is coming off his first All-Star season. Two-time All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas is 28. Big man Al Horford is, at 31, the only Celtic to have peaked.
But their days of free-agent spending appear to be done. The anticipated re-signing of Thomas next summer is expected to guarantee $90 million altogether to him, Hayward and Horford in 2018-19. While the Celtics will be capped-out, they will still have many options thanks to their ownership of Brooklyn’s upcoming and unprotected first-round pick, as well as either the Lakers’ pick next year (provided it is 2-5) or the Kings’ pick in 2019.
They’ll be entering next season with two longterm options: (1) Package several young players with those two picks for a franchise star, if one should be placed on the market at the February deadline or approaching the draft; or (2) Hold onto both picks in order to deepen their rotation with high-end lottery talent on cost-efficient rookie contracts. Imagine a second wave of four potential stars (beginning with Tatum and second-year swingman Jaylen Brown) that would enable the roster to keep improving organically long after all of the money has been locked up.
It’s certainly a good time to be a Celtics fan. After an exciting three weeks where the team traded the number one pick, drafted Jayson Tatum, and signed Gordon Hayward, the Celtics newswire should remain quiet for the next few months.
Throughout the 2016-2017 season, the Celtics were linked to trades with Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins. Neither player ended up in Boston. The national media criticized Danny Ainge for failing to beat Oklahoma City’s mediocre trade package of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
They talked smack about Ainge at the trade deadline after not acquiring a veteran player to secure the rebounding issues. And it was easy to attack him for passing on Markelle Fultz, the consensus top pick in the draft.
Those decisions — not trading for veteran help, and moving down from the number one pick — had a purpose. Boston felt confident about their chances at signing Gordon Hayward IF they had an open max salary spot. Acquiring additional salary at the trade deadline would only provide a short-term boost, and drafting at pick #3 saved the team $1.1 million in cap space, but still, they needed to move Avery Bradley’s contract to complete the Gordon Hayward signing.
Before last season, fans were excited about rookie Jaylen Brown and prized free-agent Al Horford. This season, we’re adding a more polished rookie in Tatum, and a more prolific free-agent in Hayward. Additionally, fans last season looked towards a potential top-5 pick, and this year, we have two potential top-5 picks in a draft many experts believe is the best in a decade.
The roster that won 53 games could now win close to 60. Although Bradley is gone, the team didn’t get worse, as his skills are replaceable. Last year’s 1-on-1 scoring problems should be fixed with the additions of Hayward, Marcus Morris, and even Tatum. The combination of bigger perimeter players and the addition of Aron Baynes will immediately help the rebounding issues. Can anyone tell me a legitimate weakness this team has?
Page 2: Where Ownership Shows Willingness to Pay the Luxury Tax
[Celtics Owner] Steve Pagliuca isn’t sure the team will re-enter tax-land next summer, but if exceeding the tax line means once again having an annual chance of reaching the NBA Finals, then the co-owner says so be it.
“I don’t know if it’s inevitable, but if we feel it’s going to help us win a championship, then we will,” he said. “We have a history of doing what we need to do to win.
“But you have to be careful — if you sign people to bad contracts, it’s going to preclude you from signing other players. But I’m very happy with how it’s gone.”
Ownership and management is basically on notice by Thomas, who has been bluntly open about his expectation for a maximum contract, after years of playing at a bargain price, including $6.3 million in 2017-18.
Ainge and his staff have been entrusted with determining Thomas’ market value beyond that, and much will hinge on whether the Celtics point guard is able to duplicate his spectacular 2016-17 season.
If that projection holds, then Ainge knows that ownership will open the bank account, and maybe even the Brinks truck.
“So many things can happen between now and next year that could change things,” Ainge said. “But our ownership has been very willing to pay taxes in the past, and that’s because it’s their objective to win.”
It’s quite refreshing hearing these comments from Steve Pagliuca. Within professional sports, the media talks endlessly about players, coaching, and management, but it’s the ownership that sets the culture for the entire organization.
Not many owners would speak publicly about their willingness to pay the luxury tax. Oklahoma City refused to enter tax-territory, and GM Sam Presti was forced to make the worst trade of the decade, shipping James Harden to the Houston Rockets for 60 cents on the dollar. That trade undoubtedly forced Kevin Durant to consider leaving.
There are countless examples of owners ducking the tax to save their personal bank accounts, even if franchise values increase every year. Former Bucks Owner Herb Kohl wanted his team to keep payrolls low but still compete for the 7th or 8th seeds, as he didn’t care about getting trapped in the treadmill of mediocrity. Even Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban broke up his 2011 championship team in order to avoid the harsh luxury tax penalties, and Heat Owner Mickey Arison did the same after their 2013 championship.
Celtics ownership always shows commitment to win a title. They don’t meddle with Danny Ainge and the Basketball Operations Department. They paid the tax throughout the KG/Pierce/Allen era. They’ve never forced the front office to make win-now moves at the expense of future assets, despite pressure from the media.
Celtics fans should be lucky to have Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca leading the organization. But in due time, they’ll need to put their money where there mouth is. The team has until October 31st to secure an extension with Marcus Smart, as he should command an annual salary between $10-14 million. Combine that with Isaiah’s impending $25-30 million contract, the C’s will be in the tax as soon as next season.
The Rest of the Links:
Hardwood Houdini: Can Boston win the East?
Metro Boston: Celtics Plan on Getting to Warriors-Level Focus
CelticsBlog: Who Will Start for the Celitcs?
Boston Herald: Stepping Back as Sun Sets on Summer League