The Boston Celtics have had an amazing year, finding ways to succeed despite countless injuries and bouts of adversity. But like any franchise, they cannot wait to lose a few upcoming free agents in order to build for the future.
Paul Pierce highlights Boston's list of free agents this offseason, with his $15.33 million non-guaranteed option for 2013-14. But the captain and future Hall of Famer will certainly be offered the last year of his deal. His contributions to the team throughout the years have been immeasurable, and his impact in the wake of Rajon Rondo's injury has propelled the Celtics to the playoffs.
However, Boston will not extend the same treatment to a handful of other players once their contracts expire at season's end. The organization must analyze expected price tags based on long-term projections, rather than past service and unmet potential. This is business—and keeping the following players on the payroll would be bad business.
Chris Wilcox (PF; 2012-13 Salary: $854,389)
Chris Wilcox has been a good role player in his time with the Celtics, especially this season. But the journeyman has been nothing more than a stopgap, with a single-season contract worth close to a million bucks.
The 10-year big man has been worth his weight, having signed a veteran's minimum deal of $1.35 million (with the league paying for a hefty sum, allowing Boston to pay just about 63 percent of the total value). But he will not serve as a game-changer down the line, therefore he seems like an early candidate to depart Boston after the postseason.
His knowledge has been integral during the Celtics' 2012-13 transitional phase, helping new additions like Jordan Crawford, Terrence Williams and Shavlik Randolph adapt to the offense.
And Wilcox's occasional alley-oop dunks and defensive rebounding have paid dividends since the loss of rookie forward Jared Sullinger (back surgery) and the temporary loss of Kevin Garnett (ankle inflammation).
His numbers per 36 minutes have been impressive to the naked eye, with averages of 11.4 points and 8.3 rebounds over the past two years. But it must be noted that he also averages 1.85 turnovers and a whopping 5.15 fouls over that same span. Those numbers alone indicate he isn't worthy of staying another year.
The Celtics will be moving forward with their 2013-14 roster. They will look to grab a strong prospect in the middle of the first round, while also coveting their young talent at the forward and center positions.
Once healthy, the 6'9", 260-pound Sullinger looks to be a real double-double threat for years to come. He has displayed the kind of talent on the offensive end—as well as on the boards—that GM Danny Ainge foresaw in last year's draft.
Then there's Fab Melo. Sullinger's fellow Celtics draftee from 2012 may seem like a disappointment to some Boston fans, but most understand that he was nothing more than a work in progress at the professional level the moment he came up.
Melo's size and potential should not be overlooked just because he failed to make a significant impact in his debut year. Ainge and coach Doc Rivers understand that 7'0”, 255-pound guys do not grow on trees. He still has the ability to contribute on the interior for Boston, and the 22-year-old is only owed $1.31 million next season (Boston has a team option after that).
With a little help from the 2013 draft, and a potential free-agency splash, the Celtics franchise will make Boston fans completely forget about Wilcox. Simply put, he does not provide the plus-minus impact this team needs in a big man, even as a role player.
D.J. White (PF; 2012-13 Salary: $156,234; Non-guaranteed 2013-14 Salary: $1,027,424)
D.J. White was one of Boston's midseason pickups from the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), along with guard Terrence Williams and forward/center Shavlik Randolph. But despite his $156,234 contract, White has struggled to provide value for the Celtics, particularly on defensive and rebounding fronts.
The Celtics will savor the opportunity to dismiss the second year of their team option on White's contract. Simply put, they don't have the time or money to maintain a washed-up power forward—especially when better options exist both on the team and the free-agent horizon.
Shavlik Randolph has proved himself as the most valuable CBA pickup of the season, giving Boston incredible rebounding rates and an interior presence offensively. The aforementioned Sullinger and Melo should also continue to progress, paving the way for a more dynamic front court for 2013-14 and beyond.
More importantly, power forward Paul Millsap will be coming off the Utah Jazz's books at season's end. Despite the fact that struggling big man Brandon Bass has a contract locked until the 2014-15 season, Ainge will probably take a look at Millsap's dynamic playmaking and defensive presence.
At 28 years old, Millsap currently averages close to 18 points a game, along with 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks. And the combination of his hustle and intelligence just make him look like a Celtic.
Of course, Ainge could be wary of such an expensive offseason deal, considering the bitter taste Bass has probably left him with this year.
But regardless, there's no way D.J. White gets offered the back end of his two-year deal—the Celtics would be better off putting that million bucks in Best Buy stocks.
Keyon Dooling (SG; 2012-13 Salary: $400,000)
Keyon Dooling became somewhat of a crowd favorite during his 2011-12 stint in Boston, despite the fact he did virtually nothing for the organization. The veteran guard agreed to a one-year contract extension last summer, right before he retired. His $400,000 will be paid up by the end of the season, and hopefully everyone will be able to detach themselves from all things Keyon.
Many believed Dooling would make a comeback at some point this year, but he haphazardly shot down such speculation via Twitter. He told ESPN Boston in late January that he would be willing to consider returning to the team if Ainge showed interest, but the GM quickly dismissed that sentiment. Reports indicate that he has just signed with the Memphis Grizzlies for their playoff run.
While a small cost, Dooling's contract extension was still a mistake on Ainge's part. The 32-year-old served more as director of player development for the Celtics than he did as an actual player. Boston will thankfully never have to pay him a dollar after this season.
The Rest of the Riffraff (Combined 2012-13 Salaries: $684,948)
Remember Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph, Darko Milicic, Jarvis Varnado and Jamar Smith? Neither do most people. But Ainge and Celtics ownership know these players quite well—they cost the organization a combined $657,933 just this year. They will be sent off without good-luck cards this offseason.
Among the bunch, Christmas probably leaves the foulest taste in Boston fans' mouths. The former Temple Owl standout moved between the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets (juxtaposing international stints) before Ainge picked him up for the Orlando and Las Vegas NBA Summer Leagues in the summer of 2012.
Ainge then signed Christmas to a partially-guaranteed two-year deal on July 31, 2012. He played with the team during the training camp period, then got waived after less than three months. Luckily, the 26-year-old who most recently played with CSKA Moscow will not be owed anything after his $236,802 paycheck for 2012-13.
The same can be said for Joseph and Milicic. Chalk these guys up as two more examples of Ainge's pitiful list of forward/center acquisitions.
Joseph, an All-Big East First Team selection out of Syracuse, was selected by the Celtics in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft. The 6'7” forward also played with the team throughout the Orlando and Las Vegas Leagues, and even made the 15-man roster as of October 24.
But he never panned out, scoring a meager seven points (with a .182 shooting percentage) over only 24 minutes in six games. He spent several assignments with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League, before getting officially waived by the Celtics on January 6 of this year.
Joseph now plays in Canada for the D-League's Springfield Armor, while still collecting checks from his $197,799 salary with Boston.
Meanwhile, Milicic will earn $180,773 by the end of the season for even less work. The seven-footer registered a mere five minutes with the Celtics before requesting to be waived so he could go home and tend to his ailing mother in Russia.
Ainge cannot be blamed for a player's off-court issues. But he never should have committed six figures to someone coming off a Minnesota Timberwolves campaign with averages of 4.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 45 percent from the field (not to mention 43 percent free-throw shooting). Milicic now plays in Serbia, a destination he should have reached long before being offered Celtics' green.
Once completely off the books, these contracts will collectively allow Ainge and the Celtics organization some rebuilding room during the offseason. Roster additions at the big-man positions, as well as backup small forward and point guard spots, could make or break Boston's chances in 2013-14 and beyond. Hopefully the team will avoid further contractual burdens in the future.