Predicting NBA Salaries Part 4 – What Do the Celtics Do?

I know you all have been impatiently waiting for me to finally finish this series and move on and I apologize for the lengthy delay.  Sometimes life and learning new things just gets in the way.  There are some juicy topics circulating around sports right now.  The NHL expansion draft results will be announced Wednesday night.  The strategy and game theory involved in an expansion draft is fascinating to watch.  We’ve already seen the Lightning trade away one of their young stars for a top tier prospect as a result.

With regards to the NBA, the NBA draft creates a lot of excitement, especially after the Sixers acquired the #1 overall pick by trading their wealth of assets to the other team with a stockpile of assets.  I don’t really understand this trade from the Celtics’ perspective, unless Danny Ainge:

  1. Thinks Markelle Fultz is overrated so it’s rational to cash out on an overvalued asset;
  2. LOVES Josh Jackson and is fairly confident that the Lakers will take Lonzo;
  3. Wants more picks to trade for Paul George (who’s reportedly being moved very soon), Jimmy Butler, or other more far-fetched options like Carmelo Anthony; or
  4. Likes to brag to his GM friends about all of the draft picks he accumulated.

Why do the Celtics keep maneuvering to acquire more assets?  Danny Ainge is playing a dangerous game.  This summer (or the next few days) could tell us a lot about his intentions, especially if they swing a trade for an established player.  Trading for a guy like Jimmy Butler would signal that Ainge thinks the Celtics can beat the GM-less Cavs and the Warriors now AND dominate the NBA after LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry exit their prime.

Would it be worth it?  The Warriors and the Cavaliers have a lot of talent that’s not going anywhere any time soon.  Assuming neither team made any changes to their rosters (which is a horribly inaccurate assumption), it’s fairly reasonable to think we’ll see Cavs-Warriors Part 4 next spring.  In fact, my model (as shown below), the Cavaliers and Warriors have $173 million and $201 million in value if we project their 2016-17 stats to their 2017-18 salaries.

I assumed that the Cavaliers and Warriors would keep their teams intact (though I removed Dahntay Jones given he only played in one game), which is extremely unlikely to occur.  Whoever replaces David Griffin will have to improve the Cavs roster to beat the Warriors despite a lack of cap flexibility. The Cavs will try to get younger and more experienced at the same time while trying to appease Dan Gilbert.

Things are a little easier for the Warriors, assuming Joe Lacob is willing to pay a lot of luxury tax in future years, including the repeat offender tax.  If Durant picks up his player option or takes a few million under the max and Curry resigns for the max (5 years, $210 million), the Warriors may be able to resign Andre Iguodala, assuming he doesn’t succumb to greed and join the Timberpups.

What other options are out there for a team like the Celtics to power past the Cavs and Warriors?  Rumors are swirling that the Celtics will add two wingmen by signing Gordon Hayward and trading for either Jimmy Butler (assuming he’s not traded to the Wolves, Suns or Cavs) or Paul George.  If you’re a Celtics fan, which would you want, if you could have one or two of the three?  To help answer this, below is a table showing the value of the top 25 players if we project their 2016-17 stats to their 2017-18 salaries.

Jimmy Butler is #8, well ahead of Gordon Hayward at #16 and Paul George at #21.  Isaiah Thomas, resident superstar in Boston, is #20.  The model likes Hayward more than George, but Butler a lot more than both of them.  Though my model relies on only one season of data which could be unreliable in predicting future trends, this suggests that Butler is the better trade target, especially since the Celtics would have him under contract for one more year than George.  It’s also more likely that the Celtics can make Butler fit long term, especially if George’s heart belongs to Los Angeles.

Butler and Hayward to the Celtics?  Adding these guys in addition to Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas may not be enough to win a championship but it will give the Cavaliers reason to squirm.

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