Most of the fun of free agency is complete, which means Celtics fans no longer can fantasize over Roy Hibbert, Josh Smith or Jeremy Lin. Well, they can fantasize if they want to, but those dreams are even less likely to become a reality now.
The Celtics are virtually at payroll capacity, since signing Jason Terry to the $5 million midlevel exception essentially instituted a hard cap of $74.3 million. With roughly $70 million reportedly dedicated to the 15 players already under contract, the Celtics do not have much wiggle room on their payroll. In addition, they are at the NBA's maximum roster size, so they would need to cut one of their three players with nonguaranteed or partially guaranteed deals before the season if they were to add anybody new.
Let us delve into this week's mailbag question for a little bit of a summer refresher on where the C's stand.
@benjeeballgame Hey, do you know whos going to start for the celtics next season, and also whos gonna be playin a lot of minutes. Thanks!
— Cameron Beatty (@ManWithPlan308) July 27, 2012
This is actually a better question than you probably realize, Cameron. Who will play a lot of minutes is pretty much set, but who will start and whether that starting five will stay intact the entire season is not as definitive.
As for who will play the bulk of the minutes, a reliable way to determine that in any professional sport is to start with the highest-paid players and work down the list. Unfortunately, that is the reality of pro sports, where the investment a team has made in a player often outweighs the matter of who is the better player. Fortunately for the Celtics, they are not saddled with a dragging contract like Carlos Boozer or Joe Johnson. Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett all deserve the minutes they will receive, both because of their salary cap numbers and their skills.
Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee follow, with Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins rounding out the possible rotation. This does not include Avery Bradley, of course, who is not expected to be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from double shoulder surgery. The opening night starters figure to be Garnett, Bass, Pierce, Rondo and Lee or Terry. Terry is traditionally a sixth man, but he is also a slightly better player than Lee, although that judgment is entirely subjective. Part of Lee agreeing to the sign-and-trade with Boston is the belief that he will get some exposure as a starting two-guard while the Celtics await Bradley's return.
Whether that lineup and rotation remains in place will be determined during the season. Remember, at the beginning of last year it looked unlikely that Bradley would become a vital member of the squad, Greg Stiemsma was completely unknown in Boston and Ryan Hollins had not even joined the team yet. (Stiemsma is now a member of the Timberwolves, and Hollins signed with the Clippers.)
It currently seems unlikely that Fab Melo, Jamar Smith, Dionte Christmas or Kris Joseph will contribute significantly this season, but it is only July. Jared Sullinger had a strong summer league and his rebounding ability may force coach Doc Rivers to amend his traditional reluctance to play rookies. An unforeseen player could have a great training camp and play himself into the rotation, or an injury may force Rivers to make an adjustment.
Expect the Celtics to add at least one more big body, but not necessarily before the season opens. The Celtics have kept the $1.9 million biannual exception open to use at any time. If the starting lineup or the rotation changes, the most likely reason is that the existing personnel has evolved, and not that the Celtics picked up a key player with that relatively small sum of money.