BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics' offseason did not produce any fireworks in the form of a top-tier addition to the roster. Instead, a host of upgrades at various positions were made, particularly in the frontcourt with David Lee and Amir Johnson.
Neither players fit the prototype of the Celtics' rebuilding plan from the past couple seasons. They are older (Johnson is 28, Lee is 32), and it's possible their best playing days are in the past at this stage of their careers. Still, both are expected to have enough left in the tank to help a rebuilding Celtics roster take a strong step forward in the Eastern Conference next season.
While both Johnson and Lee will improve the Celtics now, a big reason why both (among other additions this offseason) were brought into the fold is because they do not limit the Celtics' options for the future.
Let's start with the trade for Lee. The 6-foot-9 forward is an expiring contract, so he will not tie up the Celtics cap room next summer, even though the team will maintain his Bird Rights. Danny Ainge will have the inside track on bringing him back, but he can cut ties as well if more promising options arise.
Ainge also got creative with the team's free agent signings. Johnson and frontcourt mate Jonas Jerebko were inked to what essentially amounts to one-year deals. The former Raptor signed a two-year, $24 million contract, while Jerebko re-signed for two years and $10 million.
The second year of each deal is fully unguaranteed, but the Celtics' front office wrote in an interesting stipulation for the contracts that will give Boston plenty of additional flexibility next summer, according to Basketball Insiders. Reportedly, the salaries of both players do not become fully guaranteed for the second year until July 3rd.
On the surface, that may not seem like much, but it does allow for some maneuvering by the Boston brass.
The NBA calendar year starts on July 1st, so Boston will be able to start talking to perspective free agents at that point and agree to terms on a deal, if they find the right fit. By delaying a decision on Johnson and Jerebko until the third of July, the Celtics will have a combined additional $17 million in salary cap room to shop around with on the open market (i.e. the combined value of Jerebko and Johnson's deals).
This gives the Celtics the best of both worlds essentially as the salary cap skyrockets to roughly $90 million next summer. If they can lure a premier name in the first couple days of free agency, they can throw a monster offer at him or potentially two big offers at second-tier players. If not, they can elect to guarantee the contracts of Johnson/Jerebko, and keep both at very reasonable salaries for the 2016-17 season.
Most teams don't have this luxury when it comes to dealing with talented players, since very few agree to have unguaranteed seasons on contracts with a guarantee date in the middle of free agency.
Understandably, these guys want to be able to hit the open market at July 1st if they are going to be free agents because that's when the most money is available around the league. However, by paying both players a little bit more in their first season, the Celtics managed to gain some flexibility on the back-end of the deals.
With a huge influx of money entering the league this year thanks to the new NBA TV deal, each team is expected to be flush with cash to spend in the summer of 2016. Every edge counts. By inserting these unique clauses into the deals for Johnson and Jerebko, Boston will have the opportunity to get creative as they try to land a big name.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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