Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What's next for the Celtics?

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The Celtics finished their regular season 40-42, winning their final six-outings and grabbing the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Unfortunately their season only lasted seven more days as they were swept out of the playoffs in four-games by Cleveland. Now Danny Ainge has some decisions to make this offseason, as the future could go one of two ways. Continue with the youth-movement, or go out and get an all-star (via free agency and or trade).

If a superstar is deciding on his future this summer, they might want to consider Boston for a few reasons: 

1. Brad Stevens - A good young coach who will be here for the long haul (signed for the next four seasons) who got a team to buy into making the postseason even after several trades made (11 trades, 41-roster players), where the face of the franchise and leading scorer were moved. A team that clearly on paper had no business being in playoff contention to begin with, made headlines throughout the league. Meanwhile his final main rotation only played together for 30-games (since the trade-deadline) and went 20-10 in that span. Imagine a whole season with more aspirations than just making the playoffs? To win 15-more games after a 25-57 season and without an all-star is more than impressive. In just his second season in Beantown, Stevens finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting. 

2. Eastern Conference - In the weak east where only two-teams won more than 50 games this past season (Hawks and the Cavaliers), you only potentially have to worry about Cleveland (or whatever team LeBron is on, cause he'd be dumb to go out west) or maybe Chicago and that's pretty much it. Boston is only an all-star and a rim protector away from becoming a contender to challenge top Eastern Conference teams. The road to the finals is an easier route than the west, where there are at least 4-5 teams that are true championship contenders, with 10-12 teams fighting for a postseason berth. Boston is the place to be if you want to feel like you have a chance to become a champion for years to come. 

Besides a few first (16th, 28th) and second (33rd, 45th) round picks in this year's NBA draft, the Celtics have some free-agents on this current roster that could possibly be a part of the future as well. Here is a look at what Ainge has to choose from:

Unrestricted Free Agents

Brandon Bass - 6'8 Power Forward
2014-15 stats: 10.6 PPG, 5 RPG, 23.5 MPG, 82 Games
2014-15 salary: $6.9 million

A consistent professional who did whatever you asked of him, and did it well. A side from a not so great playoff series against the Cavs, Bass is a proven scorer in this league. A far better option as a starter than Kelly Olynyk in Brad Stevens' system, he has developed a great mid-range game for a guy his size. However at age 29, if he is looking for a similar contract that he signed three-years ago, the C's could let the veteran walk. The second longest tenured Celtic (behind Avery Bradley) has said many times he would like remain in Boston, despite selling his house at the beginning of the season. 

Jonas Jerebko - 6'10 Power Forward
2014-15 stats: 7.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 18.2 MPG, 29 Games with the Celtics (75 overall)
2014-15 salary: $4.5 million

A versatile defender who can also shoot 3's and be a good energy guy off the bench. Jerebko, who barely saw minutes in Detroit, made the best of his opportunities the moment he stepped on the court for Boston. An instant Stevens' favorite because he saw that the forward was an underrated two-way player that the Celtics needed. He saw big minutes down the stretch in the playoffs, often guarding LeBron. For the right price, Ainge should consider bringing the Swedish player back for next season.

Restricted Free Agents

Jae Crowder - 6'6 Small Forward
2014-15 stats: 9.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 24.2 MPG, 57 Games with the Celtics (82 overall)
2014-15 salary: $915,243

A hustle scorer and defender that can start or come off the bench and his production remains the same. After a great playoff series against the Cavs, where he had to guard LeBron for most of the time, Crowder made plays that did not show up in the box score. He's a difference maker and he deserves a payday and hopefully it's in Boston. It's been reported that Ainge could make a qualifying offer of just over $1.1 million to retain his services and then sign the forward long-term. But rumor has it that the Celtics might have to compete with Dallas, who could have buyers remorse from trading Crowder in the first place.

Gigi Datome - 6'8 Small Forward
2014-15 stats: 5.2 PPG, 2 RPG, 10.7 MPG, 18 Games with the Celtics (21 overall)
2014-15 salary: $1.7 million

An instant fan favorite at the TD Garden, who would have became a hero had he drained the late 3-ball to cut Cleveland's lead to 3 with under 30 seconds left in Game 4. Datome played some what consistent minutes for Stevens (called him the team's best shooter) purely for his offense. Not a great defender and once Sullinger returned from injury, his time on the floor got cut short. So in an already crowded depth chart for forwards, Ainge might either bring Datome back and move others, or simply let the Italian walk. Either way Gigi has been fun to watch.

As of today, the Celtics have $45.67 million on the books in salaries for next season. In terms of cap space, Ainge has roughly $21 million to play with, give or take depending on who he decides to bring back from his own team's free-agent list. Word is the C's will seek to be aggressive this offseason once July comes around and Kevin Love seems to be their main focus.

Plus according to Basketball Insiders.com, Boston is willing to part with a first-round pick in order to get rid of the team's highest paid player in Gerald Wallace, who's set to make just over $10.1 million in the final year of his deal next season. 

More trades to get even more cap space is definitely on the horizon for the Celtics this summer, so be on the look out for 'trader Danny' and his sack of assets that include draft picks (first and second round), trade exceptions, expiring and non-guaranteed contracts. Who says the future isn't bright in Boston?

Joel Pavón
Follow us on Twitter:@CausewayStreet

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