Celtics offseason preview: Al Horford situation, extensions and more

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The Boston Celtics bounced back immensely from a disappointing 2020-21 season and a rough start to this season. They turned things around as soon as we entered 2022 and had one of the best defenses in recent history led by new head coach Ime Udoka. As president of basketball operations, Brad Stevens made an aggressive push to acquire role players that help improve their title odds now. They should remain contenders from here on out now that they’re maximizing their window around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Although they fell short of winning the championship, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the Celtics were strong enough to win it all. They are heading into the summer with nearly a full roster and all their core players under contract. Aside from making a few additions through free agency or trade, continuity will be the main thing pushing them forward.

Al Horford and the luxury tax

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

One of Boston’s first decisions is deciding whether or not to guarantee Al Horford’s $26.5 million salary. He is partially guaranteed for $19.5 million, which is a substantial amount of dead money to have for waiving such a productive player. They could also stretch that amount to reduce his dead cap hit to $6.5 million over the next three seasons.

The main benefit of not guaranteeing him is to save money, though they’d most likely have to trade him to avoid the luxury tax. Given how valuable he was in their playoff run, and how light they are at center when Robert Williams III is out, it seems like a certainty that they will guarantee Horford.

Assuming Boston keeps its eight highest-paid players, all of whom were regular parts of their playoff rotation, they are likely to be a luxury taxpayer next season. They are already heading into the offseason with $8.3 million over the luxury tax with 14 players under contract. That is before factoring in them signing the 53rd overall selection and using the mid-level exception to add a role player. That could push their projected luxury tax payment to the $20-25 million range.

Assuming the Celtics become consistent taxpayers starting next season, they could enter the repeater tax as early as the 2025-26 season. By then, Tatum could be on a supermax contract assuming he made the criteria by then, while Brown could potentially be earning a supermax contract as well. Boston’s ownership will need to have a strong willingness to go deep into the luxury tax every year if they’re going to remain title contenders during Tatum and Brown’s window.

Mid-level and multiple trade exceptions

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Boston will most likely have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE) projected at $6.4 million this offseason. Even if they were to salary dump Aaron Nesmith and waive their four non-guaranteed players on minimum deals, they’d still need to move off some of their core players or trade them for players earning less to open up the non-taxpayer MLE projected at $10.3 million.

It makes more sense for them to stick to the taxpayer MLE, especially since using the non-taxpayer MLE would hard cap them, preventing them from maximizing their trade exceptions. They have many trade exceptions this offseason, including ones worth $17.1 million, $6.9 million, and $5.9 million. The $17.1 million trade exception will be worth monitoring, both to see if ownership is willing to go deep into the tax to utilize it and since they’ll have a limited time to use it before it expires.

The Celtics’ biggest need in free agency is a 3-and-D wing player who can give Tatum and Brown some relief. Bruce Brown and Gary Payton II could be natural targets for the Celtics with the taxpayer MLE given their prioritization of defensive-minded players, even if they don’t quite bring good three-point shooting.

Some players they could pursue with their trade exceptions include Will Barton, Dillon Brooks, and former Celtic Marcus Morris. The Celtics have all their future first-round picks to offer going forward, and they’ve shown a willingness to trade them when they traded one for Horford and another for White since Stevens took over.

Extensions

Jaylen Brown talking with Jayson Tatum
Jaylen Brown talking with Jayson Tatum

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics have several players eligible to sign extensions this offseason, most notably Grant Williams. The third-year forward shot 41 percent from three during the regular season and 43 percent during the playoffs on 4.7 attempts per game. He stepped up when Williams III missed time and did a great job matching up with Antetokounmpo defensively in the games they beat Milwaukee.

Williams’ 3-and-D ability and performance in the playoffs likely raised his value in negotiations. One potential contractual comparison given his similar skillset and role Larry Nance Jr., who is set to earn $9.6 million next season. Boston may have to give Williams an annual salary worth more than the projected non-taxpayer MLE over the next few seasons to secure him this offseason.

Brown is another extension-eligible player but it seems unlikely that he would accept it since it’s way below the maximum salary. He will probably garner maximum contract offers when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2024. Al Horford is also extension-eligible, but the Celtics may require a significant discount or a descending salary structure given their upcoming tax concerns.

2022-23 SALARY SITUATION

Guaranteed salaries: $143,067,419

Non-guaranteed salaries: $14,025,753

Total salary: $157,093,172

Luxury tax space: $8.3 million over ($13.2 million tax payment)

Exceptions:

Taxpayer Mid-level: $6,392,000

Evan Fournier trade exception: $17,142,857 (expires on July 18, 2022)

Juancho Hernangomez trade exception: $6,907,815 (expires on January 18, 2023)

Dennis Schroder trade exception: $5,890,000 (expires on February 10, 2023)

Romeo Langford trade exception: $3,804,360 (expires on February 10, 2023)

Bol Bol trade exception: $2,161,152 (expires on February 10, 2023)

PJ Dozier trade exception: $1,910,860 (expires on February 10, 2023)

Bruno Fernando trade exception: $1,782,621 (expires on February 10, 2023)

Enes Kanter Freedom trade exception: $1,669,178 (expires on February 10, 2023)

Tristan Thompson trade exception: $1,440,549 (expires on July 7, 2022)

Moses Brown trade exception: $500,000 (expires on June 29, 2022)

Jayson Tatum

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $30,351,780

Remaining salary guaranteed: $134,896,800 through 2025-26

Additional notes: Tatum has a player option worth $37.1 million in 2025-26.

He also has a 15 percent trade bonus that would be voided if traded since he is already earning a maximum contract.

Jaylen Brown

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $28,741,071

Remaining salary guaranteed: $55,178,572 through 2023-24

Additional notes: Brown has $2.1 million in likely incentives in 2022-23.

He will also become extension-eligible starting on July 6, 2022 through the first day of the regular season for a base of up to three years, $110.8 million.

Al Horford

Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $26,500,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $14,500,000

Additional notes: Horford’s $26.5 million salary for 2022-23 is partially guaranteed for $19.5 million and becomes fully guaranteed if not waived by the league-wide cutdown date.

He will also become extension-eligible starting on July 6, 2022 through June 30, 2023 for up to two years, $66.1 million.

Marcus Smart

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $17,207,142

Remaining salary guaranteed: $77,087,996

Additional notes: Smart has a $1 million trade bonus that would increase his salary by $250,000 on each of the next four years of his contract.

Derrick White

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $16,892,857

Remaining salary guaranteed: $52,821,429

Additional notes: White has $1.25 million in annual incentives, $500,000 of which are deemed likely.

Robert Williams III

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $10,937,502

Remaining salary guaranteed: $48,000,000

Additional notes: Williams III has $1.3 million in incentives for 2022-23, $223,215 of which are deemed likely.

Daniel Theis

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $8,694,369

Remaining salary guaranteed: $17,802,755

Additional notes: Theis has a $9.5 million team option for 2024-25.

Grant Williams

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $4,306,281

Remaining salary guaranteed: $4,306,281

Additional notes: Williams is eligible to sign a rookie-scale extension through the day before the regular season.

Aaron Nesmith

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $3,804,360

Remaining salary guaranteed: $9,438,617 through 2023-24 (assuming his team option for 2023-24 gets picked up)

Payton Pritchard

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $2,239,200

Remaining salary guaranteed: $6,276,478 through 2023-24 (assuming his team option for 2023-24 gets picked up)

Nik Stauskas

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $2,193,920

Remaining salary guaranteed: $0

Additional notes: Stauskas’ $2.2 million salary is non-guaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed if not waived by July 15, 2022.

Juwan Morgan

Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

2022-23 salary: $1,815,677 (team option)

Remaining salary guaranteed: $0

Malik Fitts

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

2022-23 salary: $1,752,638

Remaining salary guaranteed: $0

Additional notes: Fitts’ $1.8 million salary is non-guaranteed and becomes partially guaranteed for $50,000 if not waived by September 1, 2022. It becomes fully guaranteed if not waived by the league wide cutdown date.

Sam Hauser

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

2022-23 salary: $1,563,518 (team option)

Remaining salary guaranteed: $300,000

Additional notes: Hauser’s $1.6 million salary is partially guaranteed for $300,000 and becomes fully guaranteed if not waived by the league wide cutdown date.

Luke Kornet

Justin Ford/Getty Images

Cap hold: $1,811,516

Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)

Matt Ryan

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Cap hold: $1,616,044

Type of free agent: Non Bird (restricted)

Brodric Thomas

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Cap hold: $1,616,044

Type of free agent: Non Bird (restricted)

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