2011/12 Payroll: $72.4 million
2011/12 (Projected) NBA Salary Cap: $54 million
Roughly: $17.2 million over cap
Highlights: The Celtics have Rajon Rondo locked up through the 2014-15 season. That’s fantastic. They’ll only be paying him $46 million over that time. That’s amazingly fantastic. There’s a case to be made that Rondo’s contract is the most team-friendly deal in the entire league.
The Celtics also have impending cap flexibility. After this season only three players will be under contract: Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Avery Bradley (on a rookie deal.) As of right now, the team would head into the next offseason with under $30 million in committed salaries. If they want to bring back Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and add a couple pieces to try a last push with this core nucleus it’ll be easy. If, say, the club determines it’s time to move on or Garnett and his rapidly decaying knees decide to retire, there will be enough cap space available to restock the shelves with fresh talent (even max contract level talent.) This ability to stay the winning course or quickly rebuild with a proven stud is a unique luxury, not only in term of the other teams in the league now, but even when looked at in the context of the NBA’s history.
Lowlights: They’re old. The Boston Celtics are old. Now, that’s not a huge problem in the short term because while they are old, guys like Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are still pretty darn good. The one way this could be viewed as a problem is they don’t have a lot locked up for the future. The Celtics have avoided building through the draft the past few years, and could be left with a very bare cupboard as soon as 2012-13 – a season they currently have only 3 players under contract for (though, in fairness, they’d have loads of cap room to rebuild – but more on that in a bit.)
The one vet who may be a cap issue is Jermaine O’Neal, who more often than not has looked like a reanimated corpse in his post-Pacers days and is still due to earn about $6.2 million this season. He’s not the dependable post depth this team really needs and is taking up the cash they could use to go find a viable option.
Even a bigger burden for this year’s Celtics is that the retirements of other old dudes – namely Shaquille O’Neal and Rasheed Wallace – are still counting against Boston’s cap this year. Combined that’s an $8 million cap hit for guys who will play as many NBA minutes next year as I will. It really puts a damper on Boston’s ability to go out and add pieces to help them make another immediate title run. Thankfully for C’s fans both deals end after this season.
The Future: In the short term future, the Celtics could be set up perfectly. If the lockout results in an extremely shortened season, no team would benefit more than Boston. They’re core veterans don’t really need any tune-up time and the less wear they have on their legs the better position they’d be in for a (one last?) title run. Add in the possibility of dumping Jermaine O’Neal’s contract via the rumored amnesty rule and picking up a better replacement, and the Celtics might just be the Eastern Conference favorites in 2012.
Long term, the team isn’t that bad off either despite their aging roster. In Rondo, the team has a locked up All-Star caliber player in Rondo to bridge the gap between the current and future Celtics. And once the members of the Boston’s Big Three begin to call it a career, the Celtics will have an abundance of cap space. The lack of other young talent on the roster is a bit disconcerting, but not enough to really fret over.
With a favorable cap situation, don’t look for the Celtics to slip back to their late ‘90s irrelevance anytime soon.