Chris Forsberg

Celtics face tough roster decisions in quest to defend title

Questions abound outside Boston's "top six."

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The Boston Celtics have just begun their 2024 NBA title celebration -- one that’s likely to stretch deep into the summer -- but the NBA offseason will not wait for them. 

Free agency essentially opened as the same moment Jayson Tatum was screaming, “We did it!” The 2024 NBA Draft is this week. On Sunday, Celtics reserve forward Oshae Brissett reportedly opted out of the final year of his deal, and while it was a formality that doesn’t necessarily ensure his departure, it’s a quick and firm reminder that things are unlikely to look exactly the same when the Celtics huddle again in October.

Even as the team was navigating a dominant playoff run, the front office was prepping for what’s ahead. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens is prepared to potentially make the first Round 1 draft selection of his tenure as executive. His to-do list is otherwise fairly straightforward, in part because of the constraints the new collective bargaining agreement will put on how the Celtics can tweak an expensive roster.

Still, it’s on Stevens and his staff to target the complementary pieces that can take stress off a returning top six and give Boston every opportunity to ride duck boats through the city next summer. So let's put down the Larry O’Brien, briefly, and take a big-picture look at Boston’s offseason.

Top six locked in

The Celtics’ entire top six is under contract for the 2024-25 campaign. Jaylen Brown’s supermax deal hits the books this year and a first-year salary of $49.4 million will keep the Celtics soaring deep into the luxury tax.

Ownership has committed to spending in order to maximize this championship window. And that salary commitment is only going up, in part because of the two biggest items on Stevens’ offseason to-do list this summer: 

Tatum's new deal

One year after Brown inked the richest contract in league history, Tatum is expected to take that baton whenever he signs a five-year, $315 million supermax contract. That deal won’t kick in until the 2025-26 season but will ensure that, if the Celtics desire, the Jays will stay in green together through at least the 2028-29 season.

A White extension?

Derrick White is entering the final year of a deal that will pay him $20.1 million in 2024-25. He is eligible to ink a four-year, $126 million extension before the 2024-25 season tips. 

White turns 30 on July 2, and while he could wait until free agency in hopes of a more grand payday, he might embrace the security of a pact that will pay him an average of $31.5 million per season. Locking up White would ensure the Celtics could keep last year's preferred starting five together for at least two more seasons.

Brad Stevens joins Celtics Pregame Live to discuss the possibility of Derrick White signing an extension this summer

Key reserves in place

Even beyond the top six, the Celtics are well positioned with a couple top reserves. Al Horford continues to swat Father Time and has expressed interest in potentially playing into his 40s. The 38-year-old big man is under contract for one more year at $9.5 million. Payton Pritchard’s extension kicks in this year, but it already feels like a bargain with a first-year salary of $6.7 million.

Tougher decisions loom on how to maintain the rest of Boston’s bench pieces. That includes:

Brissett opts out

On the surface, this was a no-brainer. Brissett hits the open market with a chance to gauge rival offers while knowing Boston can bring him back at virtually the same number it would have paid otherwise. 

Brissett didn’t have a particularly robust on-court role but was ready for his opportunities, including infusing some energy during two appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. He further endeared himself here with his positive energy and his video blogs.

If Brissett relocates this summer, the Celtics will hope that sophomore-to-be Jordan Walsh takes a step forward in his development.

The Hauser conundrum

The Celtics hold a team option on Sam Hauser, which would allow them to bring the sharpshooting wing back at an affordable $2.1 million salary. While that’s ideal for the books, the danger is it sets him up to hit unrestricted free agency next summer when the Celtics, with their absurd commitment to the top six, would be hard-pressed to match the offers he will receive.

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Hauser is extension-eligible and the team could offer him a deal that tops out around $78 million over four years. The Celtics also could decline his team option this month, making Hauser a restricted free agent, which might pave the way to match any reasonable offer he receives on the open market.

The danger there is that a rival could make the sort of big-money offer that Boston simply cannot match given its long-term salary commitment. 

Hauser’s future is the most prickly of any player in Boston’s top eight. He might simply be too expensive for them after this season. The question is whether the team takes one more low-money year, or attempts to roll the dice a bit in hopes of extending that stay.

Abby Chin talks with Sam Hauser in the Celtics locker room after Boston wins the NBA Finals.

Centers of attention

Given the need to manage minutes with both Horford and Porzingis, the Celtics would prefer to bring back depth bigs Xavier Tillman and Luke Kornet in free agency. The market will dictate whether that happens.

Kornet seems likely to draw interest from teams in need of size and the Celtics could be stressed to match a quality offer. Tillman, acquired midseason, might have a cooler market, but the Celtics will still have to spend to bring him back. Getting a full camp with Boston could help Tillman further spread his wings here.

The Celtics also have a $2.2 million team option on Neemias Queta, who elevated from a two-way deal late in the 2023-24 season.

Rounding out the roster

The Celtics are otherwise limited to minimum contracts to fill out their roster. Svi Mykhailiuk could come back on a minimum deal. The Celtics can ponder the future of two-way players JD Davison and Drew Petersen.

Championship-chasing veterans should be intrigued by Boston’s situation. On the other end of the spectrum, youngsters like Walsh and Jaden Springer (on the books at $4 million next season) could get an increased opportunity in depth roles. 

The ballooning cap does put increased stress on Stevens to hit in the draft. Developing players on title teams isn’t easy, but Boston will hope that players can get needed reps in Maine. 

The Celtics have the 30th pick in Wednesday’s draft. The natural inclination is to suggest that the team should lean "best available big man" but Boston has routinely prioritized the best available player.

Decisions are coming faster than you might think. The champagne has barely dried and there’s work to be done to ensure the Celtics can bring back much of the roster from this championship season.

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