That’s right. A Dynasty from these Boston Celtics is inevitable. What a time to be a Celtics fan. This team has fought adversity and exceeded expectations all season long. They went from being an afterthought once Gordon Hayward went down, to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year. Remember they got this far without Hayward or Kyrie Irving. As I write this, they lead the Cavaliers three games to two in the Eastern Conference Finals. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t expect the C’s to be here. I didn’t even think they’d make it past the 76ers in the second round but they made easy work of them, finishing them off in just five games. This team that was supposed to be nothing without Kyrie Irving, now find themselves two wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals. Regardless of where the Celtics end up finishing this season, they have certainly proven themselves as a top team in the league and likely the team to beat next season and for many seasons to come. However, this team, like any other great team, has some problems that they have to deal with if they want to reach their potential greatness.
The first problem: money. Remember when putting together a team was as simple as having everyone line up on a wall and choosing which players you wanted? Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like that anymore. Every player and every team has to deal with money and contracts. The Celtics aren’t excluded from that. Soon they will have to figure out a way to keep their key players intact while staying under or at least at the salary cap. Now the owner of the Celtics, Wyc Grousbeck, has said he’s willing to go above the salary cap and pay luxury tax, but how much is he willing to pay? This summer, guard, Marcus Smart who is probably their best perimeter defender and a big leader for the team, will be a restricted free agent. Now, he won’t command a huge contract because he’s not an All-Star or even a starter for the team, but he will likely qualify for somewhere between $15 & $20 million per year. The team will also see both of their only true centers, Aron Baynes & Greg Monroe become unrestricted free agents this summer. Baynes & Monroe are replaceable but Smart might not be. However, if Smart does leave Boston, the Celtics still have Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin as back-up guards. All that said, the team shouldn’t lose a significant amount of depth this offseason.
Unfortunately we have more than just this offseason to worry about. In 2019, Kyrie Irving will be able to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, and Terry Rozier will be a restricted free agent. Kyrie will definitely command a max contract and the C’s won’t be the only team that wants to give him that money. It’s not just as simple as giving Irving what he wants though. The Celtics already have two players in Hayward & Al Horford getting paid $30 million a year. Signing Kyrie to a max deal would push Boston way over the salary cap and into luxury taxes. That being said, it’d probably be worth it to keep the All-Star Point Guard.
The trouble doesn’t stop there though. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are only signed through 2020 and 2021 respectively. Granted, they will both be restricted free agents so it will be a little easier for the Celtics to hold onto them, but they surely will demand big contracts in the near future. The two of them will soon be All-Stars and there is no telling how good they will be by the time their contracts expire. That gives the Celtics two current players, and at least three future players that will command huge salaries. Knowing how things work in the NBA, it isn’t realistic that the Celtics will end up keeping this group intact for very long. Al Horford and Gordon Hayward will be eligible to opt out of their contracts in 2020 and 2021 respectively, the same years that Brown and Tatum will become unrestricted free agents. I doubt either of those guys will opt out, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. By that time, it would be better for the Celtics to let Horford go and sign Jalen Brown to a big extension. The next offseason, there would be a debate about who should get paid more, Hayward or Tatum, and that would be a difficult situation for the Celtics. The Celtics might have great players, but there are surely some great problems on the horizon.
One way to solve these problems would be to trade some players away and bring in a guy under contract. Would it be worth it to trade some of the younger guys now and grab a superstar though? Maybe. It would have to be the right superstar. I’ve been hearing a lot about Kawhi Leonard, and while I just don’t see the Celtics staying out of any superstar sweepstakes this offseason, I can’t make much sense of trading for him. He plays the same position as Hayward, Brown, and Tatum, so the deal would have to include one of, if not two of those guys. Brown and Tatum both have the potential to become Kawhi Leonard in a few years so it wouldn’t be the best idea to trade either of them for him. Hayward isn’t as good as Kawhi and if there was potential for a swap of those players, that’d be a steal for the Celtics. That won’t happen though. Hayward’s contract is way too big for a deal like that. We also need to keep in mind that Kawhi can opt out in 2019, so the Celtics would only be guaranteed to have him for one season. The only way a deal for Kawhi makes sense is if they get him to agree to sign an extension before they trade for him. Now Anthony Davis on the other hand does not play a position that the Celtics have a surplus at and he is under contract until 2021. Unfortunately, the Pelicans found their way into the second round of the playoffs this season, so it is unlikely that they will trade their franchise player. Other than those two players, there are no realistic trade options for the Celtics that would leave them better off than just sticking with who they’ve got.
Assuming the Celtics don’t make any big trades this offseason, what will their lineup look like next season? We know Kyrie and Hayward will be back from their injuries, but will they both be starting? Boston’s best players are Kyrie, Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum. Why not start those five guys? Well, they might just do that but that is a small lineup. It might make more sense to have one of them come off the bench as the sixth man. Kyrie is their best player so there’s no way he’s not starting. Out of the remaining four, Horford is the only big man, so he will also definitely be starting. One of Hayward, Brown, or Tatum has to come off the bench. I think that will be Tatum. Starting him over Brown would be wrong because Brown has been with the team longer, and I just don’t see the Celtics putting their $130 million man, Gordon Hayward, on the bench. Sticking a true Power Forward and great defender like Marcus Morris in the starting lineup and having Tatum lead the second unit would give the Celtics incredible depth and a ton of options against good teams. Regardless of how the lineup looks, the Celtics will be a great team next year and for many years to come.