Ainge, Celtics still have work to do
Once the necessary paperwork is processed, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have completed Phase 1 of building Boston's 2010-11 roster with the signings of free agents Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Jermaine O'Neal.
That will give the Celtics 10 players under contract for next season.
Not only did Ainge ink those three big free-agent names, he started building the end of the Boston bench by signing rookies Avery Bradley and Semih Erden to entry-level contracts.
What's ahead in Phase 2? Let's start with a roster reset:
Players signed for 2009-10 (with salary)Guards: Rajon Rondo ($9.1 million); Ray Allen ($10 million); Avery Bradley ($1.2 million)
Forwards: Paul Pierce ($15 million*); Kevin Garnett ($18.8 million); Glen Davis ($3 million); Rasheed Wallace ($6.3 million)
Centers: Kendrick Perkins ($4.1 million); Jermaine O'Neal ($5.9 million); Semih Erden ($473,604)
*Pierce's salary is a best guess, averaging out the reported $60 million over four years, though the Celtics could distribute the money in escalating amounts over the life of the deal. Utilizing the average annual amount, that leaves the Celtics at a total of $73.9 million for those 10 players.
Boston spent in the neighborhood of $84.8 million last season and is set to pay a hefty luxury tax bill (teams must pay dollar for dollar on anything over the luxury threshold, which remains around $70 million this season). Team-friendly deals that lowered last season's price tags on Pierce and Allen might help save the Celtics some money, but remember that Rondo's extension kicks in this season, with his price tag increasing substantially in the first season of a five-year extension.
Here's one reporter's suggestion on how the Celtics could proceed from here, with an eye on keeping costs low, to round out their roster:
• Re-sign Tony Allen to team-friendly contract: The Celtics hold Larry Bird rights on the sixth-year swingman, so they can overpay if they don't mind the ramifications on the luxury tax. But what's a good number for Allen? Seventh-year shooting guard Kyle Korver just netted $15 million over three years from the Bulls. Allen's strength is clearly on defense while Korver's is offense, but it would seem the market would be somewhat similar (though Korver is pegged as a potential starter in Chicago). After Allen made $2.5 million in 2009-10, could the Celtics lure him back at, say, $4 million per season? It's a healthy raise but, in this market, probably a lowball figure. He might find a few more dollars elsewhere, but the guess here is Allen becomes the latest to take a bit of a hometown discount to return to Boston.
• Sign Luke Harangody to rookie minimum: The Celtics clearly wanted to take a closer look at Harangody during the team's summer league and he made a strong first impression at the pro level. The 52nd pick in 2010 draft, Harangody should come for the rookie minimum of $473,604 and that's worth the price of his potential alone.
• Guarantee the contracts of Oliver Lafayette and Tony Gaffney: For a total of $1.5 million ($762,195 per player) the Celtics can bring back the two youngsters who joined the team on the final day of the regular season. Lafayette, at times, looked like the best player on the court for the Celtics' summer squad and his potential to fill the point guard role makes him an intriguing option that could help push Bradley for the backup role behind Rondo. Gaffney might find himself in a similar situation to last season with the Lakers, where he'll be fighting for a roster spot through training camp. The Celtics' desire to re-sign a more veteran player like Shelden Williams or Brian Scalabrine -- if either would settle for the minimum -- could leave Gaffney on the cusp yet again, but a solid showing in camp could earn him a job.
• Monitor the free agent/trade market for a backup scorer: The Celtics desperately needed an offensive spark off the bench last season and would be well-served to find a 2 or 3 who can come in with the singular goal of putting points on the board. Does that mean another go-round with Nate Robinson? That price tag might be too steep, which has also likely prevented the team from hopping in on unrestricted scorers like Anthony Morrow (three-year, $12 million offer sheet in New Jersey) and J.J. Redick (three-year, $20 million offer sheet in Chicago).
The one big question is how Wallace and the $13 million remaining on his contract is settled. There are three options facing the Celtics:
1) Wallace retires from basketball in Boston. There are two avenues within this option, which would impact how the Celtics operate moving forward. If Wallace files his retirement directly to the league, the remaining $13 million is wiped from the books, which would give the Celtics some financial breathing room, though it's unlikely it would open up much roster freedom since Wallace signed via the mid-level exception before the 2009-10 season. If Wallace doesn't file directly to the league and requests a buyout to walk away, the Celtics could find themselves paying a smaller sum than the $6.3 million he'd command this season to cut ties (but that amount would be charged to this year's payroll).
2) The Celtics trade Wallace's contract. Until Wallace officially navigates the channels to start his retirement process, he's still a valuable trade asset. Boston could flip his contract to a team looking for salary cap relief and net an established player in return with a similar salary, potentially filling one of the needs for a bench scorer or frontcourt depth. Wallace could then retire from that team and, if he requests a buyout, the Celtics could help financially facilitate that process.
3) Wallace returns for the 2010-11 season. While Ainge suggested Thursday that there's been no change in what the team has heard from Wallace, he could reconsider his inclination to walk away and return to the team. The question is whether Wallace could be as effective over the course of another season as he was in the playoffs, when he finally came to life. He'll turn 36 before the start of next season and might be ready to move on to the next phase of his life.
For argument's sake, let's say Wallace stays and/or the Celtics trade for a similar contract. The Celtics also add one other free agent (a big or scorer) at $3 million (there's also the option to bring back someone like Scalabrine at a lower number). With the moves listed above, the roster would sit at 15 players and just under $83 million.
The Celtics can also add one other free agent (a big or bench scorer) at the minimum (there's also the option to bring back someone like Scalabrine at a lower number). With the moves listed above, the roster would sit at 15 players and just under $80 million.
The core would be intact and the Celtics would be well-positioned for another run at a title. Which is the final phase of Ainge's 2010-11 plan.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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