Free agency is difficult. Every year management has the task of making the team better, while trying to avoid signing contracts that will ultimately become debilitating down the road. New Celtics President Brad Stevens knows what the team needs, but he also knows how much money he has to spend. In his new role he continues to answer to ownership, as well as the fans. The latter of which being the tougher to appease.
Boston fans are notoriously judgemental when things aren’t perfect. They either criticize the team for being too quiet in free agency talks, or for overspending. For instance, when they didn’t manage to re-sign Evan Fournier. He was asking for a little more than Stevens thought he was worth. Fournier managed to find a deal he wanted from the Knicks and many fans criticized that he missed out.
On the surface, the criticism is warranted: Fournier was available and brings talent to the court. But in reality, it was most likely the right decision to let Fournier walk.
The Celtics obviously want to have more cap space for next year rather than rush into signing anyone this year. It is fair to critique, as winning today should take precedence. This is where finesse as an executive comes into play. It’s exceedingly difficult to keep free agents interested when the team is only offering short term deals. Players want stability, they want to know they’ll be paid for years. Therefore it’s very hard to plan for today while also making sure a team has money for talent it really wants going forward. There are more levels to this than most fans think or know.
If Boston were to sign someone like Fournier to a multi-year deal, then they’d be stuck with him for better or worse. He puts up decent numbers right now, but is he a player the team wants long-term?
Most say the solution is to trade them. Sure, that sounds simple enough, but then these players have very poor value as everyone knows the team is trying to move them. Additionally, why would anyone want that player if their contract isn’t worth their production?
Another solution fans say is to just pay the tax. Get the players now and worry about it later. Fans say that all the time, just pay the luxury tax. The luxury tax gets exponentially more expensive very quickly. Ownership may have the money, but they are increasingly less willing to spend when payroll is near doubling for only a few more players. Billionaires are billionaires because they don’t like spending money. Getting an owner to sign off on a payroll bill that is suddenly nearly three times the cap if a very difficult conversation to have, especially when a championship isn’t guaranteed.
So What is the Solution?
There are two options. Either save the cap room and take the bad press in the meantime, or simply maintain and never have the capacity for big signings.
Fans have to remember that although the team had a relatively bad year, it has maintained relevance and competitiveness over the last five. That competitiveness comes from talent. Talent acquired from taking big chances. Just because a championship hasn’t been the result, does not mean it’s been a failure. The Celtics have two young All-Stars already and are planning for a third. The East is more competitive than ever and management knows that small moves won’t get them a trophy. It may be frustrating, but fans need to be patient. It’s better to settle for being relevant now with the chance of being great later than to overspend on the wrong players. That’s a slippery slope, the results of which can easily be seen in Charlotte, Cleveland, and Orlando.
Photo: (Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports)
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