Gordon Hayward threw a wrench into the Celtics’ free agency plans on Thursday by giving the team no clear indication yet of what his intentions are for the 2020-21 regular season following an opt out of his $34.1 million option.
In the unlikely event Hayward decides to come back to Boston and the two sides agree to terms on an extension, Hayward opting out of his pricy player option is actually a net positive for the Celtics from a financial planning standpoint. A signed Hayward on a lower annual salary in 2020-21 would allow the Celtics to make a couple more free agency additions while also staying out of the luxury tax for this season. Staying out of the tax now would delay potential looming repeater tax penalties for at least three more seasons, given the Celtics front office the flexibility to potentially spend more during Tatum’s prime when the pricy extensions of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both kick in.
For now, that situation is far from a reality, so let’s take a look at where things stand for the team in the present.
Ballhandling Gs: Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters (two-way)
Wings: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford (injured), Javonte Green (non-guaranteed), Semi Ojeleye (non-guaranteed)
Bigs: Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Enes Kanter, Tacko Fall (two-way)
Celtics cap sheet for 2020-21
Kemba Walker ($34.3 million)
Jaylen Brown ($23 million)
Marcus Smart ($13.4 million)
Jayson Tatum ($9.8 million)
Daniel Theis ($5 million)
Enes Kanter ($5 million)
Romeo Langford ($3.6 million)
Aaron Nesmith ($3.5 million)
Grant Williams ($2.5 million)
Payton Pritchard ($2 million)
Robert Williams ($2.0 million)
Carsen Edwards ($1.5 million)
Javonte Green ($1.5 million non-guaranteed)
Total: $107.1 million to 13 players
- (I’ve excluded Semi Ojeleye from this calculation since I would expect the team to waive or trade him before his contract is guaranteed on Saturday. The team could ultimately bring him back but they probably prefer having the roster spot open for now
- If Kanter is traded away with no salary return could reduce that to $102.1 million to 12 players
What will the team have to spend on players in free agency?
It largely depends on Hayward’s decision. If he ultimately re-signs with Boston or if the Celtics take back significant salary for him in a sign-and-trade scenario, the team will probably only use the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.7 million) to add free agents, assuming they get closer to the tax line ($132 million). If Hayward walks for nothing in free agency or the Celtics sign-and-trade him for a big trade exception, the Celtics will have the full mid-level exception ($9.2 million) and potentially the bi-annual exception ($3.6 million, for up to two-year contract) to use on potential free agents. Beyond those options, the only other route to bring aboard new talent will be veteran’s minimum free agents and trades.
What are the Celtics’ biggest needs as free agency begins?
With Romeo Langford (wrist surgery) likely sidelined for at least the first few weeks of the season, the Celtics wing depth chart is looking mighty thin if Hayward isn’t coming back. That will make signing a wing or shooting power forward a top priority for Boston in free agency if they aren’t able to get one back from Hayward in a sign-and-trade scenario. While top-tier free agents like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Joe Harris will likely be out of the Celtics’ price range with just their mid-level exception, they could try to make a strong run at whatever names are left over after cap space gets eaten up in Charlotte, New York and Atlanta. Who exactly falls through the cracks there remains to be seen but I’d expect C’s to keep an eye on these names. Some may be priced out