No one's knocking Daniels. The C's next target is a man that averaged 13.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season for the Pacers. He's an excellent team defender and a good one-on-one guy to stick on opposing small forwards.
As far as bench players go, Daniels will be a great one in Boston. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will get some much-needed rest this winter, and they'll have Daniels to thank.
That said, it's time to critique the Celtics' exact methods of acquiring Daniels.
We've known for days that Daniels is a confirmed Celtic. A league source told the Boston Globe as early as Sunday that Daniels had committed to joining the team. The only question was how the C's would work out the details — in other words, how they would pay him.
The fallback option is to give Daniels the biannual exception, a $1.9 million loophole in the NBA's salary cap that would mean a significant downgrade for the future C's swingman. Daniels had a $7.35 million team option for next season on the table in Indiana, but Pacers exec Larry Bird said no thanks. Now he's looking at $5 million less.
Daniels still wants to work out a different arrangement with the Celtics, a sign-and-trade deal that would involve the Pacers re-signing Daniels for a different amount (something between $1.9 million and $7.35 mil), and then shipping him to the Celtics for a bigger, more experienced bench player, Brian Scalabrine. This would keep the Celtics' biannual exception open, meaning they could keep searching the free-agent market for a new $1.9 million man.
That all sounds good — until you consider the alternative.
It's time to consider exactly how powerful expiring contracts can be in the NBA, given the right economic climate.
In a nutshell, the secret is this: Organizations that are over the salary cap (in other words, 28 of the Association's 30 teams) are only permitted to make trades so long as the salaries they're receiving are roughly equivalent to the salaries they're giving up. There's a "125 percent rule" — if you try a deal that nets you more than 125 percent of the payroll you're giving up in a trade, the commissioner's office will rule it a no-go.
Everyone's over the cap at the moment — but everyone wants to free up space. With that ever-alluring 2010 free-agent class drawing closer by the day, everyone wants to have free cash to spend by next summer. So they're going to wheel and deal like crazy to obtain expiring contracts that will come off the books next summer, giving them empty cap space to spend on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and friends. Expiring deals will become gold mines.
For the sake of this discussion, the Celtics have two expiring contracts on their roster that will become very relevant over the course of this season: those of Scalabrine and shooting guard Tony Allen. (They actually have four, but Ray Allen and Eddie House are key cogs of a championship contender — they're less likely to be dealt.)
Scal is in line to make $3,413,793 next season; T.A. is owed $2,500,000. Between the two of them, that's almost $6 million in dead weight, just begging for a deadline deal this winter.
Now, let's throw out some other names.
Shawn Marion in Dallas, Shane Battier in Houston, Leandro Barbosa in Phoenix, Mike Bibby in Atlanta, J.R. Smith in Denver, James Posey in New Orleans.
What do these six men have in common? Well, four things:
1. They're better players than Daniels. Sorry, Marquis, but it's the truth.
2. They're not expiring-deal guys — these are all players under contract with their current teams for two or three more seasons.
3. They're set to make between $5 million and $7 million next season.
4. They play for teams that are just perfectly mediocre for the sake of this discussion. They're not bad enough that they're jumping ship now and trying to sell off spare pieces a year ahead of summer 2010, and they're also not good enough to rule out being sellers in February. We'll have to wait and see.
Any of these six players could be a potential trade target for the Celtics this winter. (And that's just the tip of the iceberg — there are plenty of other possibilities). If any of the above teams decide midway through the season to give up on a championship in 2010, the Celtics can pounce.
Daryl Morey might wake up one morning in Houston next winter and decide, "You know, I like this team, but just not quite enough to win a title with it right now," especially considering Yao Ming's status. Rather than go for it with his current Rockets, he'll start freeing up cap space to rebuild in the summer. Battier hits the trading block. Anyone want a stellar defensive stopper?
Deals like this are possible because expiring contracts are a currency in the NBA. They're the kind of currency that appreciates in value — if you're patient enough.
It's becoming clear that Scalabrine's future in Boston is dimming. One way or another, he will probably find himself shipped out of town sometime before next summer.
But to pull the trigger now would be an impulsive move by a Celtics team with no need for such haste. The Celtics know they're a playoff team. They're building a team for June, not for December.
With that in mind, there's no reason to act now. A penny saved is a penny earned. A contract saved is worth a lot more.