Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Celtics Roster Reset

With free agency waning, we now have The New Look Celtics. Or, perhaps more appropriately, The Same Old Celtics with a few new tricks. Let's take a look at the roster and see what we've got.

On the Payroll Entering Offseason:

Paul Pierce, $16.8M
Rajon Rondo, $11M
Avery Bradley, $1.6M
JaJuan Johnson, $1.1M
E'Twaun Moore, $0.8M
Sean Williams, $0.9M

Draft Picks Already Signed to Deals:

Jared Sullinger, $1.3M
Fab Melo, $1.3M
Kris Joseph, $0.5M

Contracts Signed During Free Agency:

Kevin Garnett, 3-year, $34M
Jason Terry, 3-year, $15M
Brandon Bass, 3-year, $20M
Jeff Green, 4-year, $36M

Negotiations Pending:

Keyon Dooling
Marquis Daniels
Mickael Pietrus
Greg Stiemsma
Courtney Lee
Chris Wilcox

This leaves the C's spending a lot more money this year than I figured. Here's the approximate current payroll after factoring in the newest signings:

Paul Pierce, $16.8M
Kevin Garnett, $11.5M
Rajon Rondo, $11M
Jeff Green, $9M
Brandon Bass, $7M
Jason Terry, $5M
Avery Bradley, $1.6M
Jared Sullinger, $1.3M
Fab Melo, $1.3M
JaJuan Johnson, $1.1M
Sean Williams, $0.9M
E'Twaun Moore, $0.8M
Kris Joseph, $0.5M

According to the jargon-filled and convoluted rules of the new CBA, because the Celtics used the full mid-level exception to sign Jason Terry, they now face a hard salary cap of $74M. The payroll as it currently stands amounts to about $68M, give or take. (Sean Williams and E'Twaun Moore do not have guaranteed contracts -- and my guess is that Williams will not make the 15-man roster at the end of training camp -- so that number may ultimately be less.) In any case, with Stiemsma likely leaving for the Timberwolves, this payroll leaves the Celts with about $6M to sign Courtney Lee and/or re-sign the likes of Wilcox, Pietrus, Daniels, and Dooling. 

Of all the names listed above that are currently under contract, I think 12 out of the 13 will make the 15-man roster -- all but Williams. Moore and Johnson were on the team last year, and all three of this year's draft picks have impressed thus far in summer league. This leaves the depth chart looking as follows:

PG: Rondo, Terry
SG: Bradley, Moore
SF: Pierce, Green, Joseph
PF: Bass, Sullinger, Johnson
C: Garnett, Melo

Let's say we add Dooling, Courtney Lee, and Wilcox, which, in a perfect world, might just be an affordable scenario. That leaves the Celtics with the following 15-man roster:

PG: Rondo, Terry, Dooling
SG: Bradley, Lee, Moore
SF: Pierce, Green, Joseph
PF: Bass, Sullinger, Johnson
C: Garnett, Wilcox, Melo

That depth chart has several elements that make me feel great about our chances next year: 

(1) The same exact starting five featured in this year's playoffs. Hopefully (knock on wood) improved by the health of Paul Pierce's legs and Avery Bradley's shoulders, as well as by bearing a smaller burden down the line due to a higher quality bench. 

(2) Three rotation players (Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green) who can play significant minutes every night over the course of a playoff series. Four if you count Chris Wilcox. 

(3) Two veteran-savvy players who can come off the bench and fill minutes in Keyon Dooling (31) and Wilcox (29). They're not going to give you All-Star production, and at best they play 5-10 minutes a night in a series against the Heat. But they're great locker room guys, total team players, and the type of guys who will be ready to contribute at the drop of a hat. 

(4) Five players drafted in the last two years in Moore, Joseph, Sullinger, Johnson, and Melo. Melo and Joseph will be projects with upside, but Moore, Johnson, and Sullinger all have the potential to post Avery-Bradley-style breakout seasons and find themselves thrust into the nightly rotation come playoff time (Sullinger perhaps less so, due to Doc's puritanical reluctance to playing rookies). Moore would be the best candidate for such a breakthrough under normal circumstances, but in such a guard-heavy (read:small) roster, it may be Johnson and Sullinger who get the fairer chance.  

(5) A great locker room. Rondo, for all his faults, will get better and better as his ownership over the team grows. Pierce is the team's beating heart. Garnett brings the grit and balls -- one of the best big men in the league as well as one of the best veterans you could possibly have in your locker room, renowned for spending time teaching the young guys how it's done. Bradley is a scrapper and immediate proof that hard work and commitment to the team pays off. Bass loves the team and spoke strongly of his desire to return this offseason (same for Mickael Pietrus). Green spent the entire season around the team and must be dying to get back on the court (Wilcox too). Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have long-standing reputations as excellent character guys and great teammates. Dooling and Daniels we know are great off the bench. And the rest are young guys, eager for playing time and desperate to prove that they belong in the league. 

(6) A ridiculous amount of potential down the line. Rondo, Bradley, Moore, Green, Joseph, Sullinger, Johnson, and Melo are all 26 or younger. While it's extremely unlikely that all of these players are with the Celtics four years from now, and even less likely that all (or even the majority) of these players reaching their respective ceilings, here's what those ceilings look like:

Player              Ceiling
Rajon Rondo     ... Chris Paul
Avery Bradley   ... Scottie Pippen
E'Twaun Moore   ... Jason Terry
Kris Joseph     ... Marvin Williams
Jeff Green      ... Danny Granger
Jared Sullinger ... Kevin Love
JaJuan Johnson  ... Marcus Camby
Fab Melo        ... Marcus Camby

Rondo and Bradley are already well on their respective ways. Sullinger has already compared himself to Kevin Love, and, if he slims down significantly, stays healthy, and the back issues never surface, he just might get there. Green and Melo will need a few breaks, Moore and Johnson will need a few more. But the bottom line is this: despite being derided as a geriatric clinic with Garnett and Pierce still at the helm, this Celtics organization has been downright stockpiling young talent. Four years down the line, a starting lineup of Rondo-Bradley-Green-Sullinger-Melo could end up being quite the juggernaut. 


All in all, I think what we've got looks pretty good. It would be great to sign Courtney Lee, and then we should go hard after Wilcox, Pietrus, Daniels, and Dooling, in that order (although Pietrus and Daniels might outprice us and I think Dooling at the veteran's minimum would be the better value).

The only negative aspects of this roster are the lack of size, which is looking like less and less of a problem in today's NBA, and the injury risk of a team built around Pierce and Garnett. In the best case, this is a team that could easily reach the Eastern Conference Finals again and, if healthy, maybe even surprise the Heat. I guess only time will tell. 

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