Thanks to the NBA salary cap, the Boston Celtics will be facing a roster crunch sooner rather than later. Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart alone will make roughly $70.8 million combined next season and that’s before you factor in the Gordon Hayward situation. If Hayward decides to pick up his $34.2 million option rather than agreeing to a long-term contract, it’s going to force the Celtics to make some painful moves.
Writing for the Athletic, former Memphis Grizzlies vice president John Hollinger predicted that Hayward would do just that and it would have ramifications. For one thing, he sees the Celtics declining forward Semi Ojeleye’s team-option. “Grant Williams does most of the same things,” Hollinger said, “and has a guaranteed deal for more money. Ojeleye has a place in the league, but I’m sure this team is it any longer.” Williams is guaranteed $2.5 million next season.
Hollinger also predicts that center Enes Kanter will leave because he could find a much better fit elsewhere. It’s quite possible that he’s right on this one. It’s clear now that the Celtics don’t know what to do with the big man thanks to his defensive lapses. Before the season was cut short, Daniel Theis was starting to establish himself as a starting center, while Kanter was relegated to bench duties. The future doesn’t look too much brighter, especially since there’s the chance that Robert Williams might start to delivering on his considerable promise, something which would push him further down the depth chart. The well-traveled Kanter, who played for four other NBA franchises before signing with Boston, could go somewhere that can promise him more minutes. Despite his dimished role with the team, Kanter seems happy enough to be a good soldier for the Celtics, but nobody could blame him if he would rather play for a team that would use his talents for something other than being a mere sparkplug off the bench.
Now, keep in mind that if Kanter leaves, it would save Boston just $5 million. That’s not a lot and letting Ojeleye leave would just net the team $1.75 million. As trivial as it may seem, even such minor cuts could have a big impact. The Celtics are likely facing the league’s repeater tax, especially since, with no end to the coronavirus-related shutdown in sight, the accompanying lost revenue will likely lower the NBA salary cap. The Celtics simply have too much money already locked up on guaranteed contracts, before factoring in the fact the team wll have draft picks to sign. Plus, some of the non-guaranteed players will return. It’s difficult to see them parting ways with Theis, for instance.
This is bad news for some of the younger players that, in an ideal world, the Celtics would like to hold on to. Javonte Green has shown flashes of being a solid bench player, but as one of the last players to make the 15-man roster during the preseason, he could find himself being among the most expendable. Brad Wanamaker will be a restricted free agent, meaning that the Celtics could offer him a $1.9 million qualifying offer. Even if they do, Wanamaker, who has proven himself a solid backup point guard, could find a team willing to offer him more and it’s hard to see them going above and beyond, considering their financial situation.
What is clear in looking over the Celtics’ upcoming offseason is that they will basically have no wiggle room and will have to be creative and more than a little ruthless. Plus, the situation’s not entirely in their hands. Hayward and Kanter will have the final say, not them.