The consternation that exists locally about why Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics have not yet come to terms on a supermax extension did not travel to Las Vegas when the NBA universes descended on the desert last week for Summer League.
While the summer sports doldrums have thrust the negotiations into a bigger spotlight at home, it was far from a front-burner question out west. NBA folks operated like an extension was an obvious conclusion and most were more curious about what the Celtics have planned beyond Brown.
The Celtics are in a unique spot. The team launched into the offseason by shaking up its core while dealing Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a deal to acquire Kristaps Porzingis. Boston also restocked its supply of draft assets, positioning the team to potentially take another huge swing when a desirable player becomes available.
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The question is whether it is better to take that swing now -- while second apron penalties are not quite as daunting as they will eventually be and before the supermax contracts of Brown and Jayson Tatum hit the books in future seasons -- or simply be patient in pursuit of the best possible talent.
Boston currently has 14 players under contract for the 2023-24 campaign with a total salary commitment around $178.5 million. That leaves the team about $4 million below the second apron, something the team appears to want to avoid, at least until a splurge-worthy player becomes available.
Boston’s roster is not as deep as it was a year ago, particularly with the offseason departures of players like Smart, Grant Williams, Mike Muscala, and even a healthy Danilo Gallinari. Porzingis undeniably adds to Boston’s top-end talent but there are question marks deeper down the roster. Maybe that won’t matter in a league where talent is king, but there are intangibles that have not been replaced and questions that linger with Smart and Williams now playing in the Western Conference.
Let’s start with a reset of Boston's current depth chart:
Some lingering questions:
Is Brogdon healthy … and happy?
Boston’s initial attempt to land Porzingis had Brogdon headed to Los Angeles in a three-team trade but the Clippers balked at the last minute about his health, killing the deal. Brad Stevens said Brogdon is navigating four to eight weeks of rest and rehab while hoping the injury won’t require offseason surgery, but it’s fair to wonder how it might impact Brogdon into next season.
The Celtics have the luxury of being able to lean heavier on Derrick White, who had a stellar 2022-23 season, and Payton Pritchard could finally see the sort of time that he yearned for last year. If Brogdon’s health remains a question mark, the team might have to consider its guard depth a bit more before completing roster construction.
Do the Celtics trust the new guys for wing depth?
The departure of Williams should free a lane for Sam Hauser to spread his wings a bit more next season. Hauser’s shooting made things easier for Boston’s best players last season and he was a plus/minus darling for much of the start of the year before hitting some slumps.
Oshae Brissett’s energy is intriguing but he’ll need to show more offensive consistency than he did in Indiana to earn consistent time. Jordan Walsh has been a summer league darling who has all the tools to thrive at the NBA level, but the 19-year-old is going to need some time to acclimate to the pro game and carve out a consistent role.
Can the Celtics trust the health of their bigs?
The talent between Porzingis, Robert Williams III, and Al Horford is undeniable. The ability of that trio to stay on the court for the duration of the season is anything but a slam dunk.
Luke Kornet is on a nonguaranteed deal but is experienced depth if health woes do crop up. Would the Celtics consider bringing Horford off the bench and limiting his total minutes? Can Williams III stay healthy enough to be an every-night starter? The Celtics don’t want to be mixing and matching bigs every night.
Beyond one open roster spot (and two more two-way deals), Boston has some flexibility with Justin Champagnie also on a nonguaranteed pact. But there are limited paths to further upgrading the roster. Boston does not have any obvious resources to chase free agents above minimum salaries (at least not without handcuffing itself a bit this season).
How can Boston further infuse talent? The Celtics are set to generate a traded player exception worth around $6.3 million when the Williams deal is completed. That could be utilized to chase a player at a salary above a minimum contract without having to use the midlevel exception (which would hard cap the team at the second apron). Boston could also try expanding the Dallas deal to simply take back a player in a single transaction.
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But is there something larger the Celtics could do?
That’s where things get intriguing and, again, the conversation shifts to when Boston should push its draft chips to the middle of the table. We suspect that, given the changes at the top of the roster, the Celtics might yearn to get into the season and determine their greatest need. Maybe something glaring emerges that requires in-season patching. The trade deadline might provide an opportunity for a more impactful player than what is available on the market now.
We think back to last season when, in need of big-man depth, the Celtics could have splurged to add Jakob Poeltl, but were hesitant to pay the cost, which turned out to be a first-round pick and two second-round selections. Poeltl was also an impending free agent, which added a layer to the discussion.
But with a restocked trove of picks, and maybe a bigger desire for short-term salary, the Celtics could more aggressively pursue a player like that at next year’s trade deadline. Taking on salary and pushing into the second apron might feel more agreeable at that point when the team has a better idea of its championship potential.
The Brown deal will be a major moment when it arrives, and the salary crunch as the Jays’ supermax deals start to kick in will leave plenty to ponder about exactly who Boston views as the core of the team deeper into the future.
But Boston’s more pressing concern appears to be shaping the 2023-24 roster. The roster simply feels unfinished, even as spots fill up, and folks in Vegas were intrigued by what Stevens does next.
Maybe he’ll give us all something more than Brown’s future to talk about this summer.