NBA Offseason Guide 2022 — How the Boston Celtics should approach the offseason

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There is a sense of bitterness to how the Boston Celtics‘ 2021-22 season ended.

Some will call the loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals a missed opportunity, especially after losing Game 4 at home with a chance to go up 3-1. Others will label it a learning experience that will benefit Boston in future playoff runs.

In the end this Boston season is a resounding success considering that this team was .500 in January and a long playoff run was considered unlikely.


Roster status: Championship roster

State of the team

Boston’s success since Jan. 21 and now the trip to the NBA Finals has solidified the Celtics as a championship team moving forward.

After dropping one game below .500 in late January, the Celtics had a league best 28-7 record, and more importantly they found a defensive identity.

The Celtics led the league in defensive efficiency, opponent field goal percentage, pick-and-roll defense, defense on drives, opponent paint points per game and field goal percentage at the rim, per ESPN Stats & Information.

The starting five of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III allowed 95.5 points per 100 possessions — the best defensive efficiency of a lineup to play more than 100 minutes together.

We have previously seen contending teams (Atlanta and Utah) get burned by relying on roster continuity. But the Celtics have two franchise players in Tatum and Brown, who have not reached their 26th birthdays, elite defenders in Smart and Williams and a group of complementary players who fit the identity of what coach Ime Udoka seeks in a team.

If there is a weakness, it is an offense that becomes stagnant in close games — and turnovers.

During the regular season, the Celtics finished 29th in clutch-time win percentage (.371, 13-22). They also went 3-9 in games decided by 3 points or fewer (same record as the Rockets, who finished with the worst overall record).

In the Game 5 loss to Milwaukee, the Celtics finished with an average touch length of 4.6 seconds in the fourth quarter, according to Second Spectrum. That is their longest average touch length in any quarter of any game this season. They also had 59 passes in the fourth quarter — a reduction compared to the first three quarters.

Prior to Game 6 of the Finals, Tatum had committed 95 turnovers for the postseason, the most in a single postseason since individual turnovers were first tracked in 1977-78. While not as high, Jaylen Brown turned the ball over 69 times, including 5 in a Game 5 loss.

Their opponents in the Finals, the Warriors have scored 103 points off turnovers in the Finals, the most by any team through the first 5 games of Finals since the 1992 Bulls.

The question for the Celtics going into the offseason does not center around which free agent to keep (the only players who could become a free agent are Luke Kornet, Sam Hauser and Juwan Morgan) but whether ownership has an appetite to spend deep into the luxury tax.

Including the $26.5 million partially guaranteed contract of Horford, the Celtics have $156.4 million in salary, $7.5 million over the tax threshold before free agency begins.


Jaylen Brown

Brown enters the offseason with a similar decision he faced back in 2019 when he was eligible to sign a rookie extension.

That decision came down to securing guaranteed money or playing out the 2019-20 season with an eye toward a richer payday in the future.

Brown chose the guaranteed option, signing a four-year, $107 million extension that included an additional $12 million in potential incentives.

The extension was $30 million less than a four-year max contract, but considering that the guard was coming off a season in which he started 25 out of a possible 74 games and averaged 13 points, it was a smart decision.

The compromise on the rookie extension from both Boston and Brown three years ago now has a negative consequence.

Brown, starting on Oct. 1, is eligible to sign a three-year, $111 million extension that increases to $123 million when factoring bonuses into his contract. The extension is not a max salary because Boston is restricted to offering just a 120% increase in salary in the last year in the contract. That means the maximum starting point in any extension is $34.1 million, $6 million less than the projected max he is eligible to earn in 2024 as a free agent.

A Brown extension now is $120 million less than what he could earn with the Celtics when he becomes a free agent and $60 million less than if he signed with another team.

The extension route also eliminates Brown from becoming super-max eligible in the next few seasons.

If Brown was named All-NBA in 2023 or 2024, he would become eligible to sign a five-year $273 million contract with the Celtics.

When his role on the roster was undefined in 2019, choosing guaranteed money was the smart play, but that is no longer the case.

Brown has put together three straight 20-plus point seasons, is an All-Star and franchise cornerstone.

He has redefined his game offensively, relying less on scoring from the perimeter but more in the restricted area.

Brown shot 72% in the restricted area this season, the best in his career. He is the only guard during the 2021-22 season who attempted at least 200 shots in the restricted area and shot over 70%, per ESPN Stats & Info.

His 72% from the restricted area is also the best by any guard in a season over the past 10 years.


The luxury tax

The Al Horford for Kemba Walker swap last June not only improved the roster, but also gave Boston a get-out-of-jail free card when it came to paying the luxury tax in 2021-22 and in the future.

By taking back $10 million less in salary this season, Boston avoided paying the tax and eliminated the potential of becoming a repeater tax team (four out of five seasons) in the future.

The Horford contract also gave the Celtics flexibility to duck out of paying a financial penalty in 2022-23 if they didn’t feel that they could compete for a top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Horford has a $26.5 million contract in 2022-23 with $19.5 million guaranteed. By waiving him this offseason, the Celtics would be right at the tax threshold but at a significant cost..

The last 35 games of the regular season and playoffs confirmed Boston can compete with the top teams in the East, and Horford should not become a salary-cap casualty even if that means paying a financial penalty for the second time in nine seasons (the last was in 2018-19 with Kyrie Irving on the roster).

The Celtics currently project to pay a $12 million penalty.

That leads us into: Does the front office have the authority to use the $6.4 million tax midlevel exception to sign a player or use one of their three large trade exceptions ($17.1, $9.7 and $6.9 million) to acquire a player via a trade?

The answer to that will determine how active the Celtics are this offseason.


Offseason cap breakdown

Boston Celtics 2022-23 Salary Breakdown


Depth chart

Team needs

Resources to build the roster

  • The draft: second round pick

  • Future first round picks starting in 2023

  • Tax midlevel: $6.4 million

  • Trade exceptions: $17.2, $9.7, $6.9 and $3.8 million

  • Cash: $6.3 million to send or receive in a trade


Dates to watch

  • JUNE 29: Sam Hauser and Juwan Morgan both have a team option in their contract. If the Hauser $1.6 million option is exercised, his contract becomes $300K guaranteed. The Morgan $1.8 million contract is non-guaranteed if exercised.

  • JUNE 29: Two-way players Brodric Thomas and Matt Ryan are both eligible to receive a $50K qualifying offer.

  • JULY 15: The $2.2 million contract of Nik Stauskas becomes guaranteed. The former lottery pick appeared in two playoff games this year.

  • SEPTEMBER 1: The $1.8 million contract of Malik Fitts has $50K in protection if he is on the roster.


Restrictions

  • Jayson Tatum has a 15% trade bonus in his contract that is voided if he was moved.

  • Marcus Smart has a trade bonus of less than $1 million or 15% of his total owed salary. If Smart is traded, he would receive $1 million from the Celtics and the bonus would then be added to his cap hit in the next four seasons.

  • Hauser and Morgan cannot be traded until their team option is exercised.

  • For trade purposes, only the guaranteed amount ($19.5 million) of the Al Horford $26.5 million contract counts as incoming salary in a trade. The same rules apply also for the non-guaranteed contracts of Nik Stauskas and Juwan Morgan.

  • The Celtics can trade their 2023 first starting on the night of the draft.


Extension eligible

  • Grant Williams, a 2019 first-round selection, picked a good time to become extension eligible. Williams is coming off his most productive season, averaging 24.4 minutes and 7.8 points. In the playoffs the forward averaged 30.2 minutes and shot 42.9% from three. Per ESPN Stats and Information, the forward ranked 12th in catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and 4th in corner 3-pointers during the regular season. He is extension eligible up until the day prior to the start of the regular season.

  • Al Horford is eligible to sign an extension for two additional seasons.


The draft assets

The Celtics traded their 2022 first to San Antonio to acquire Derrick White but do have their own second.

The Spurs also have the right to swap firsts with Boston in 2028. The swap is top 1 protected.

Here’s how ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has Boston selecting in June:

No. 53 (own): Dereon Seabron, SG, NC State

MORE: Complete 2022 NBA draft coverage



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