It’s not unusual for NBA teams to go into the draft with multiple picks at their disposal.
But few teams have become as synonymous with this form of team-building as the Boston Celtics, who will come into this year’s Oct. 16 draft with a total of four picks, three of which are currently slated to be in the first round.
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While the Celtics have at times been criticized for having too many draft picks and not enough roster spots for the newbies to get on the floor, the importance of them landing more hits than misses in the draft takes on even greater importance going forward.
The global coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted the NBA and its various revenue streams. And because of that, teams won’t have the kind of fiscal flexibility they were anticipating in the coming seasons.
The salary cap for next season was reduced to $115 million prior to the global pandemic.
And the salary cap for the 2021-2022 season — projected to be $125 million — will likely take a sizable drop which would directly impact the expected maximum salary contract Jayson Tatum is expected to sign with the Celtics during the offseason.
A five-year max deal for Tatum with a salary cap of $125 million would pay him $181.25 million. If the salary cap came in at $120 million, a five-year deal for Tatum would be worth $174 million.
With a new deal kicking in no sooner than the 2021-2022 season, Tatum’s salary combined with Jaylen Brown ($24.8 million) and Kemba Walker’s ($36.1 million) projected salaries for the ‘21-22 season would represent about 75 percent of the team’s salary cap. That leaves very little in terms of resources to fill out the remaining 10-plus roster spots.
In the coming years, what we’re going to see from the Celtics is an effort to better utilize their draft picks, which are likely going to be selected near the bottom of the first round.
Boston has three first-round picks this year with at least one or two likely to be draft-and-stash candidates. And for those who remain with the franchise after being drafted, plenty of time with Boston’s G League affiliate in Maine is likely.
We saw signs of that this past season.
Rookie Tremont Waters was selected with the 51st overall pick last year, and he was impressive during his time with Boston’s summer league team, playing well enough to earn a two-way contract.
Waters was the G League’s Rookie of the Year, showing the kind of promise where there’s a very strong possibility he will be on the Celtics’ 15-man roster next season.
Tacko Fall went undrafted but ultimately wound up in Boston with a two-way contract as well. He was named to the G League’s All-Defensive Team, and like Waters, there’s optimism from within the organization that he too may carve out a spot on the team’s roster next season.
Of the 15 players on Boston’s active roster this season, eight were drafted by Boston or acquired via trade on draft night.
And with big-money contracts for Tatum, Walker and Brown, the importance of Boston getting maximum bang for their buck with their picks becomes critical to them remaining among the better teams in the NBA.
The No. 17 pick in last year’s draft made about $6 million guaranteed for the first two years in the NBA. The first two years for the No. 26 and No. 30 pick in last year’s draft, hauled in $4.1 million and $3 million respectively.
“Draft picks, especially first-round ones, always are good to have,” an Eastern Conference executive told NBC Sports Boston. “But now … they become a bigger chip to have because teams know that filling out their roster now more than ever, means relying on rookies to come in and compete for playing time and contribute.”
Boston has used the draft to select and develop players, many of whom are among their more prominent players (Brown, Tatum, Marcus Smart to name a few) in the rotation.
Their growth has allowed Boston to be one of the better teams in the NBA. But it has also created roster holes that Danny Ainge and company have worked diligently to fix.
They have done it by adding free agents like Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis, who have come in and contributed sooner rather than later. But this team’s success going forward will hinge on how well Ainge can fortify the back end of the rotation with talent that, more likely than not, will come from the draft.