AUTHOR’S NOTE (Wednesday, June 28): So, I am a moron. This column was originally headlined: “Forget cap concerns: Fred VanVleet would be a great fit for Celtics.” My heart was in the right place — I want the Celtics to load up for another run and I’ve always loved VanVleet, even if your mileage may vary — but wanting something and operating within the confines of reality are two different things, and the Celtics can’t sign a $30 million free agent without cap space. Did I mention I’m a moron?
So, as much as I hate the CBA and how its stupid complexities are punishing teams like the C’s that built the right way, there’s no point in pining for someone they can’t afford. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to set up a meeting with Time Lord to see if he can help me out of this one.
— Original story below —
I love basketball for what happens on the court, not the math the new CBA is forcing me to do off of it. So forgive my complete and utter ignorance, and indulge in this fantasy: Why isn’t Fred VanVleet the missing piece for the Celtics?
Swapping Marcus Smart for Kristaps Porzingis represents a momentary upgrade, but with a giant 7-foot-3 asterisk. How will we feel about that deal if the Celtics jettison Malcolm Brogdon in a salary dump and watch Grant Williams leave in restricted free agency?
If the trade effectively becomes Smart, Brogdon, and Williams for Porzingis, maybe that helps balance the books, but it’s hard to argue it makes this Celtics team better than the one that tripped on its own face and still reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It leaves an obvious hole at point guard, where Payton Pritchard would suddenly go from buried to playing primary minutes behind starter Derrick White. And it leaves a toughness gap, since that was Smart’s primary attribute, and something the rugged Williams brought to the floor, too, at least when he wasn’t complaining to officials.
Enter VanVleet. Unlike the more ballyhooed Damian Lillard, whom the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently pitched as a Celtics trade candidate, VanVleet has actually won something. He played meaningful minutes behind Kyle Lowry during Toronto’s 2019 title-winning season, not only delivering 22 points in the Game 6 clincher vs. the Warriors, but making the go-ahead 3-pointer late in the fourth.
He’s exactly what the Celtics need and he won’t find a better situation, at least if he’s prioritizing another title. He’s tough as nails, he can shoot the 3, and he’s an actual pass-the-ball point guard who just averaged a career-high 7.2 assists a game. That number would certainly rise alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and after four years of watching Boston’s offense disintegrate in the playoffs, I’m ready for an actual floor general, and not a human Swiffer masquerading as one.
The Celtics can’t sign VanVleet in free agency, I’ve been told repeatedly, because it will murder their salary cap like Sonny at the tollbooth and leave the C’s playing with only four men from 2025 until Lucky retires. Even worse, tucked within the new CBA is provision that forces teams that breach the second apron to drop their 2030 first-round pick in the Siberian tundra with only a Coleman stove and compass and two weeks to report to rookie camp. If he doesn’t make it, they lose their mid-level exception.
Salary cap, schmalary cap. If an NBA expert like KOC believes the Celtics can add Lillard’s $45 million salary to the roster alongside Tatum, Brown, and Porzingis in a trade, then why can’t they sign VanVleet for $30 million or less in free agency? Why do we act like it’s offensive to even ask the question?
At least VanVleet shows up when it matters. Lillard’s teams lose in the first round every other year, rarely last more than five games, and went 1-12 vs. Steph Curry‘s Warriors in three playoff matchups. As far as I’m concerned, the Heat can have him.
VanVleet, by contrast, has fought for everything he has ever gotten. He threw himself a draft party in his Illinois hometown in 2016 and then didn’t get picked. “My story don’t end here,” he told the crowd that night. “It’s just the beginning.”
He proved himself right, transforming from benchwarmer to part-time starter to NBA champ and All-Star. There’s talk he might cash in with the Rockets as he seeks a deal worth $30 million annually at age 29. Maybe he gets paid in Houston and that’s the end of the discussion. Or maybe, with so many teams operating in abject terror of the various aprons, his market doesn’t quite materialize, at which point he becomes available to the Celtics.
Can the C’s survive for two years with four players making something like $180 million before Porzingis’s theoretical two-year extension comes off the books? I’d break down the math of why that’s impossible, but I’m not a BUZZKILL. If the roster becomes untenable, then Trader Brad Stevens can do his thing; he found takers for Smart and (temporarily) Brogdon in the same day last week, after all.
That’s a tomorrow problem. For today, I love the idea of everyone else stripping their rosters while the Celtics go big. May the capologists pick apart my argument like the greedy little vultures they are. I’m just looking to put a killer team on the floor, so until proven otherwise, I’ll keep daydreaming about VanVleet.
Source: Yahoo Sports