Understanding rookie contracts: How the Celtics are reloading their roster with young depth

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

One of the most complicated parts of the NBA for fans is the ins and outs of team building during the offseason. There are complex rules about what a team can and can’t do with certain players, how much a team can offer a free agent, what happens when a team goes into the luxury tax and much more.

I write a lot about the particulars of these rules, but one of the common requests I’ve received at BSJ is to simplify an explanation of these tricky CBA rules and terms and how they apply to the Celtics. Over the upcoming month, we will take a weekly look at some of the common phrases and rules I used that are involved in the collective bargaining agreement and try to make them easier to understand so it’s easier to break down the options the Celtics or another team has with their players in any offseason. Here's what we've examined thus far:

Understanding trade rules and restrictions: What Celtics can and can't do this season

Understanding Cap Holds: What they mean and how they impact the Celtics' future

Understanding Bird Rights: What they mean and how they impact the Celtics' future

Understanding restricted free agency: Exploring the Celtics' options with Jaylen Brown

Today, we will take a look at rookie contracts in the NBA. The Celtics will have at least four rookies on their 15-man roster next season and potentially more depending on whether Tremont Waters, Tacko Fall or another youngster earns a spot on the 15-man roster.

With the Celtics electing to use so many of their draft picks (four) in the 2019 NBA Draft, their contracts are now a pivotal part of the team’s building plan moving forward, both as contributors and potential future trade assets. With that in mind, let’s break down the particulars on rookie contracts and how they will end up impacting the Celtics over both the short and long haul.

Do first-round picks get to negotiate contracts?

Unlike the NFL or MLB, there is a set structure for every player picked in the first round due to the CBA. For each draft slot, there is a particular percentage of the salary cap attached that represents a player’s salary for each season.

A team can and almost always do offer 120 percent (the max) of the salary slot for each pick 1-30. The basic structure of the first-round rookie scale contract is this.

First two years: Guaranteed

Third year: Team option

Fourth year: Team option

When does a team have until to pick up the team option on a rookie contract?

It must happen a full year in advance on rookie-scale deals. For instance, Robert Williams is entering his second season this fall but the Celtics but make a decision by October 31st whether or not they want to pick up his third-year option (worth $2.0 million) for the 2020-21 season.

This type of team option gives a player some extra security or foresight while playing on their rookie deal about their future. Sometimes, the decision is very easy for a team (i.e. picking up Jayson Tatum’s fourth-year option). Other times, it’s a tough choice as a team elects to balance out projecting a player’s value and development versus future salary cap flexibility and roster spots. That’s why team options on fringe players in recent years (Guerschon Yabusele, James Young, RJ Hunter) have been tough for Boston’s front office. The team picked up a third-year option on Yabusele last fall but that ended up being a mistake as they cut him this summer.

What about the second-round picks? Are they paid on a set scale?