Monday, June 12, 2023

How the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will impact Celtics' spending

It's been two weeks since the Celtics season ended with a blowout loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat.

In that span, team president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has kept his word of adding experienced assistant coaches to Joe Mazzulla's staff by reportedly hiring Sam Cassell and followed it up with bringing in Charles Lee.

While Stevens continues to shape the coaching staff, there are questions that remain when it comes to the roster and if the Celtics should "run it back" with the same core and surrounding pieces.

It was a year ago when the acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon and signing of Danilo Gallinari seemed like the final pieces of the puzzle that were needed to push the C's over the hump -- to not only return to the NBA Finals but possibly win it all.

That wasn't the case, as Gallinari didn't see the floor due to a torn ACL and despite Brogdon winning Sixth Man of the Year, Boston fell well short of the overall goal of winning a championship.

With the off-season well underway for Stevens, the Celtics find themselves with some tough decisions on the horizon to make. The first and obvious one is Jaylen Brown and offering him a five-year, $295 million supermax contract. If they do, that would mean that they'll all in on Brown and soon-to-be-extension-eligible All-NBA teammate Jayson Tatum, respectively, for the long haul -- as each will command roughly 35% of the salary cap. 

Another pending decision that ties in with Brown and Tatum's extensions is if the Celtics can afford to keep Brogdon, whose $22.6 million salary was a major factor in Boston paying $60-plus million in luxury taxes this past season.

If Stevens has been told once again to not worry about spending like he was given the green light last summer, then any penalties surrounding luxury taxes to potentially keep a championship-contending roster shouldn't matter -- right? Except this time around, not all details of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) have come to light just yet.
"I just think we have to we have to know all the information. We have to think it through, thoroughly. But I'm not worried about -- obviously, we've shown a willingness to spend," Stevens said during his end-of-season presser. "This was a huge tax year for us. And I know that, certainly, when you get to those different levels that will be in the [new] CBA, then you have some restrictions and using tools to build your team.

"Those will be things that every team has to think about and really sort through. But I also know that our ownership and our group is willing to spend to put our best foot forward."
According to Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston, it's won't be that simple of eating the luxury tax bill or just taking the hit for a team like the Celtics essentially did this past season when the second apron takes effect with the new CBA.
"The biggest change in the new CBA is the addition of a second apron that will sit $17.5 million above the luxury tax line. Any team bold enough (perhaps crazy enough is the better adjective) to linger above the second apron starting in the 2024-25 season -- when Brown's supermax deal would kick in for Boston -- would trigger all sorts of new constraints on roster construction," Forsberg writes.

"That includes not being able to use a midlevel exception, not being able to aggregate salaries of outgoing players in trades, not being able to send cash in any swaps, and constraints on trading picks deep into the future, with the possibility that a team's pick could fall to the end of the first round."
The second apron in the new CBA will consist of stiffer penalties other than monetary ones, which include not having a mid-level exception, no trading of first-round picks seven years out, no trading of cash consideration and no signing of players who are waived or bought out. Plus, if teams become multiple-year offenders of going over the luxury tax line of $17.5 million, they'll be penalized even more so, per the new rules.

For a team like Boston, they'll have to ask themselves if the steep price that will be put in place is still worth keeping a contending roster -- especially with Brown and Tatum set to possibly cash in on their respective supermax extensions.
"For Brown, that's a $295 million extension with an average annual value of nearly $60 million. Tatum's extension comes a summer later and is expected to be worth $318 million, or an average annual value of nearly $64 million. Forget the sticker shock of contract values, that's just where the league is headed. The bigger issue for Boston is just how much of the pie the Jays will eat up with their new deals," Forsberg explained.

"With the Jays combining for up to 70% of the salary cap starting in the 2025-26 season, that doesn't leave a whole lot of pie left to fill out the rest of a 15-man roster. It's reasonable to ponder how the Celtics can put a championship core around that duo and stay below the second apron."
As for the rest of the core for the Celtics, if they plan to bring back the same group for the 2023-24 campaign -- Brogdon's salary is about 17% of the cap next season, with Derrick White and Marcus Smart roughly at 14% each. Robert Williams and Al Horford, even on more team-friendly deals, still combine for another 16% of the salary-cap pie.
"At the end of the day, we love our foundation, we love our core, and that's really our focus and priority," Stevens said last month.
In the meantime, Stevens doesn't have to necessarily be concerned with next season's salary cap numbers if he was to stay the course with the same core -- which is where it looks like the C's are heading. But the biggest financial question that remains is: are two supermax players like Brown and Tatum the right one-two punch the Celtics want to invest in for the foreseeable future?

We'll find out soon enough.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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