Keith Bogans and Rajon Rondo put on their happy faces (Getty Images)
Boston Celtics swingman Keith Bogans says it’s “not [his] personality” to complain, and we agree with him. He technically didn’t complain in the slightest in talking with HoopsWorld’s Jessica Camerato recently, only revealing how miserable it must be to suit up for the Boston Celtics night after night prior to the games, and still not receiving even token minutes for a 13-19 team that would at times seem to need his combination of stout defense and sometimes-there three-point shooting.
Bogans has played just 28 minutes this year, in four games total, racking up “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision” marks again and again as rookie Celtics coach Brad Stevens rightfully works to develop young talent. The 33-year old Bogans is technically lucky to just be on the Celtics, only joining the team last summer to make a massive deal with the Brooklyn Nets work under the NBA’s salary cap rules, but that doesn’t take away from the frustration. From Camerato’s piece:
“It’s tough,” Bogans said. “Game days are my toughest days. At least I’ll get in at practice. I can run up and down the court, play a little bit at practice. But, come on, you’ve been playing basketball for 10 years and just this year they just tell you you’re not playing? I’ve never not played in this league before. This is the first time ever. And it’s not like I’ve wandered into not playing. I’ve just not had the opportunity from day one. … I don’t mind cheering for my teammates. I love those guys, a great group of young guys. I love supporting them and cheering for them, but the fact that I’m not going to get in the game is tough.”
The distinction between game days and the rest of the NBA season is significant. Travel days tend to blend away, and during practice days Bogans can “get in” and work up a sweat. There are very few practice days in an NBA season, though, as squads bounce from city to city. Bogans hasn’t played since the last day of November, and with the Celtics committing to the youth movement, he’s not likely to get in any time soon. And for a pro, no matter the compensation, that can’t be easy.
Bogans should be used to this, though.
Keith started all 82 games for the Chicago Bulls in 2010-11, but not since Adam Keefe started 75 out of 82 games for the 1997-98 Utah Jazz can I recall such an obvious weak link in the lineup of the team with the NBA’s best record. Bogans was widely respected by both the coaching staff and players alike, but here’s how little the team thought of him the next season: Keith was pulled from the court just before the team’s first practice of 2011-12, and after signing the brittle Richard Hamilton, Chicago waived Bogans so as not to guarantee his $1.73 million contract option.
The Bulls can be cheap and luxury tax averse, but … $1.73 million!
And in a way, with Hamilton on board and the team hoping to avoid the tax, it makes sense. Bogans is a below league average three-point shooter that contributes little offensively (his season high with Chicago that year was 17 points), and he expertly defends the league’s least-important position – shooting guard. He remained unemployed for two months following that cut before going on to play just five games for the Nets the following year, leaving the season midway after shoulder surgery.
Things changed the next season in Brooklyn, where Bogans started 23 games, but only because swingmen Joe Johnson and current teammate Gerald Wallace sat a combined 23 contests with injuries. Bogans turned 33 just after Brooklyn’s season ended, and it was doubtful that Keith (after four straight seasons of single-digit Player Efficiency Ratings) would be able to find anything more than a gig on the end of the bench, much less a shot at a spot in a team’s rotation.
Then the Nets got desperate, attempting to pull Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry away from the Celtics on the night of the NBA draft. Brooklyn didn’t have the salaries to match in a legal trade, so both teams waited until the NBA’s free agent period to re-sign Bogans to the biggest contract of his career, a deal worth nearly $16 million over three years. Only the first year is guaranteed, but his single season salary of over $5 million is close to the league average and more than twice what he’d made in any year before.
Though the contract wouldn’t break Boston’s bank, it was pretty ridiculous that the player that was 20 months removed from not being worth $1.73 million to the Chicago Bulls would be able to secure that much, just because the Celtics wanted draft picks, and because Brooklyn wanted that veteran triptych. ShamSports’ Mark Deeks commented on as much at the time:
Into the breach steps Bogans, who will now earn $5,058,198 in 2013-14. The salary is fully guaranteed, as the first year of a sign-and-trade always has to be, and even though the 2014-15 ($5,285,817) and 2015-16 ($5,285,838) salaries are fully unguaranteed with no guarantee date, the huge price hike for a man who would have done well to earn the veteran's minimum of $1,399,507 this year is noteworthily enormous.
The latter two years are largely token, and are only include because sign-and-trades require a contract of either three or four years in length, yet in a further bonus, they provide Boston with a similarly huge trade chip. As Brooklyn found out, you need contracts in the $3-$6 million range that are either expiring or unguaranteed in order to maximise your trade machination possibilities. And Boston now has one. It'll cost them a few wasted million on a player not deserving of it, but this is a small price to pay. (Sort of.)
There’s another killer hook. Keith Bogans had to be signed to a technical three-year deal in order to make the Brooklyn/Boston trade work, because you can’t use a player’s Bird Rights for a single sign-and-trade year. This means the Celtics could ship him out between now and late February to take on an asset with a long term contract from another rebuilding team, or a squad looking to lop off payroll, and that team could ride out Bogans’ deal until July, when they would officially waive him.
Or, after they look to move him on again for another team’s asset for Bogans’ expiring contract following 2015-16. This is a guy that could be traded again and again, not playing for team after team and only working as salary cap filler along the way to either help teams work up trades (Boston and subsequent teams can get involved in any number of three-way deals that need added salary to turn legal) or cut costs.
This means this charade could continue unabated until 2016. With Bogans likely not playing wherever he goes. Though he will be getting compensated quite well for it – whether it’s just this year, or for two to follow.
Stuck in the middle of a frustrating season, that’s cold comfort to Keith. From Camerato’s feature:
“Money is good, but if you’re not happy doing what you love to do… I want to play basketball,” Bogans said.
In response to whether or not he is happy, Bogans continued, “The fact that I’m not playing, no. But put people in my position and see what would happen. It’s easier said than done. So anybody can say yeah I’m happy, I’m getting money, but come on now.
He might feel different in February, when he could be traded to a team that would give him token minutes. Or over the summer, potentially dealt again while having his 2014-15 option picked up.
Right now, though? Suiting up in uniform every night, only to return to the showers a few hours later with no need to enter them? That can’t be easy.
Such is life as a salary cap figure first, and player second. In the Boston Celtics’ eyes, at least.
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