Based on expectations bestowed by coaches, fans, players, the national media and the general public, only six or seven teams can truly be disappointed with anything less than a championship at the end of the 2012-13 season.
The Boston Celtics are one of those teams, and a major reason why is their salary.
Depending on which site you're referencing, Boston's payroll falls somewhere between $71-76 million, not including cap holds. Of course, the amount of money spent is less significant than who it's spent on, and how, but any ownership group that ventures into the luxury tax must have a good enough reason for doing so.
The Celtics spent the 2011-12 season in typical Garnett-era fashion—as a wounded animal waiting to strike at the right time. Aided by an unfortunate injury to Derrick Rose—a young star in the same conference who, along with LeBron James, was on the cusp of ending Boston's continued dominance—the Celtics found themselves one quarter away from their third NBA Finals appearance in five seasons.
Despite losing in true heartbreaking fashion to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics headed into the summer with a decent amount of cap space to spend, but very few players were available on the open market who could help take them over the top.
Instead of going down the same road Mark Cuban's Mavericks chose to travel after the 2010-11 season, punting all hopes of contention by investing in spare parts instead of re-signing their own proven talent, the Celtics chose to dig deep and swing for the fence one more time.
Here's what it's all worth.
New Contracts, Familiar Faces
If Kevin Garnett was not re-signed, the 2012-13 basketball season in Boston would be far less consequential, and a stab at an 18th banner would be nonsensical conversation. Grabbing him for $11.5 million this season was a relative steal because it kept this team's direction stable, and their title hopes alive.
Due to his endless off-court contributions toward the Celtics organization, Garnett's value remains unquantifiable on a monetary level. Boston would've paid almost anything.
Once they locked him up, swift moves were made to re-sign consistent frontcourt rotation players, Brandon Bass ($6 million this year) and Chris Wilcox ($854,389 this year).
Bass' deal is for three years, and considering how well he played in spurts throughout the playoffs, one would think another team may have been willing to guarantee more than $19.6 million. This contract has great value, both now and in the next couple years.
The other mystery piece was Jeff Green, coming off heart surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2011-12 season. The Celtics are paying him just under $9 million this season, which is a tad high. Green's ability to contribute toward a winning effort night-in and night-out has yet to be proven, and any assumptions either way should be taken with a grain of salt.
Looking For A Spark
Heading into the offseason, the second most significant question Boston faced (behind whether or not Kevin Garnett would retire) had to do with their backcourt. Everything there, except franchise anchor Rajon Rondo, deserved a query.
Was Ray Allen staying? How are Avery Bradley's shoulders going to hold up? Is Keyon Dooling planning on retirement, and does 2011 second-round draft pick E'Twaun Moore still deserve a roster spot?
When free agency officially began, Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers waited about two seconds before deciding Jason Terry would be a member of their team. Even though he's 35 years old, Terry is a serious bargain at $5 million for this season.
Knowing they were in a "win now" situation, the Celtics then dealt Moore and three other seldom used players in a three-team trade that allowed them to guarantee Courtney Lee $21 million over the next four years ($5 million in 2012-13).
Spending $10 million to shore up a backcourt with two players who've each had playoff success throughout their careers is money well spent. To make a good situation even better, the Celtics poached Leandro Barbosa off the scrap heap for less than a million dollars.
Five years removed from being named the most effective bench player in the league, the 29-year-old guard is averaging 15.8 points and 4.5 assists per 36 minutes. Judged in a vacuum, Barbosa is playing like one of the best values in the entire league.
Still Here, Still Vital
The highest paid player on Boston's roster is also their longest tenured.
Paul Pierce stands to make $16.8 million this season, and even though he made his 10th All-Star game last season, the price is high for a player incapable of taking over on offense quite like he used to. Pierce's step is slower, and his decision making has suffered ever so slightly, but he remains an absolutely crucial cog in the championship plan.
Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo, arguably the Eastern Conference's second best player at times, stands to make $11 million—good for one of the league's most team-friendly contracts. Rondo is Boston's not-so-secret weapon, and he's worth every last penny.
Are all the players on Boston's current roster labeled with an appropriate price tag? Like most teams, probably not.
Green is a versatile weapon, but he's inconsistent, and for him to take up nearly 15 percent of Boston's salary cap over the next four years is a bit of a reach. But for the most part everything is evenly spaced and manageable. (Every contract, even Green's, could be traded in an amicable deal).
How many wins does $71-76 million get you?
The question is less difficult to answer than it is pointless. The Celtics could go on a historic 35-game winning streak and receive home-court advantage in every round of the playoffs, but if they don't win the championship it's all for naught.
That's what every dollar is pointed toward, and, frankly, nothing else is acceptable.
All salary related information in this article was found on ShamSports.com.