The Void at Point Guard
Insiders around the NBA don’t expect Kyrie Irving to be playing for the Boston Celtics in 2019-2020. The Celtics could lose one of the best players in the league, but they’ll also lose their point guard. Assuming the Celtics don’t address their point guard issues in the draft, they’ll look to free agency.
It’s hard to imagine Aaron Baynes not exercising his $5.5 million ($5.5M) option, and restructuring Baynes’ contract seems unlikely. Al Horford is due $30.1M via a player option this season. and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020-2021 at age 34. If Horford earns that $301.1M, but another team signs Terry Rozier, the Celtics salary cap will still approach $99.9M. The Celtics would have just over $9M in cap space, and $23M in “soft cap” space, before hitting the luxury tax. It would be difficult for Boston to sign a marquee point guard while retaining roster depth with that kind of money. Horford restructuring his contract would not be difficult.
Restructuring Al Horford
The Boston Celtics could restructure Horford to a 4-year $100M contract that paid $20M in 2019-2020. This hypothetical contract would pay Horford $23.5M, $27.5M and $29M, respectively, until 2022-2023. The salary cap will rise as Horford approaches 38 years of age by contract’s end. That restructured contract would free up an additional $10M in 2019-2020, affording the Celtics the requisite cap space.
This hypothetical contract would also count for $23.5M against the 2020-2021 salary cap. Combined with Gordon Hayward’s $34.1M, Marcus Smart’s $12.9M, Jason Tatum’s non-guaranteed $9.9M club option and Jaylen Brown’s $8.6M qualifying offer, the 2020-2021 salary cap would sit at $89.5M. Considering the NBA salary cap increases to $118M in 2020-2021, the Celtics would have $28.5M in cap space. The luxury tax threshold increases to $143M that season, meaning Boston could theoretically have upwards of $54M in cap space. That money will cover any free agent signed in 2019-2020, draft picks, a veteran minimum contract and extension space for Tatum and Brown.
Free Agent Point Guards
The market happens to be rife with point guards, some of which would fit the Celtics roster and salary cap. There are 18 unrestricted, and one restricted, free agent point guards available this off season. I believe six of them would be perfect fits for the Celtics. Kemba Walker, an All-NBA selection, will command the most money. Ricky Rubio made $13.75M in 2018-2019 and will likely command somewhere ~150% of that salary in 2019-2020. Patrick Beverly and D’Angelo Russell both made ~$5.8M in 2018-2019, but Russell’s salary will be drastically different in 2019-2020. Elfrid Payton and Emmanuel Mudiay provide the most flexibility, but the most uncertainty. Mudiay’s $5.8M qualifying offer would cost the New York Knicks nearly $13M against their cap.
Considering the money likely required to secure Walker and Russell, combined with Russell’s documented immaturity, I would pass on both. One could also make the same financial argument for Rubio, whose production likely won’t match his salary. Mudiay is a nice player, but not much of an upgrade over Boston’s current options. Besides, Mudiay could be retained by the New York Knicks. I argue here for the free agent signings of Beverly and Payton. Patrick Beverly would provide the defensive veteran presence and playoff experience Brad Stevens would appreciate. Elfrid Payton, 25, averaged 10.6 ppg, 5.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.0 steal per game for the New Orleans Pelicans. Those contracts would likely cost the Celtics ~$20M per season going forward, freeing up the requisite cap space for depth. The Boston Celtics need to make moves at point guard and I believe I’ve outlined the perfect plan.