Earlier today, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics re-signed Tyler Zeller to a 2 year, $16 million deal with a team option for the 2nd year. On the surface, the deal seems like a fair-but-not-very-meaningful one. The Celtics used their remaining cap space on a quality backup in Zeller, which is fine given that there are no more worthwhile free agents out there and Zeller’s new deal doesn’t tie up any 2017 cap space.
When examining the contract a little further, though, the deal is tremendous. What’s at the top of every Celtics fan’s wishlist right now? That’s right, a blockbuster trade. When trading for a superstar, the Celtics will need to match salary in order to trade for one of the top guys on the market. Given that they don’t have any huge expiring contracts on mediocre player a la Theo Ratliff in 2007, making it hard to math salaries without giving up an asset that the C’s otherwise wouldn’t have to (such as Amir Johnson and his $12 million salary).
If the C’s wanted to trade for Jimmy Butler and his $17.5 million salary, for example, they couldn’t get the job done by only giving back Avery Bradley, RJ Hunter, Terry Rozier and a bunch of top draft picks to put the deal over the top. (The picks would be the centerpiece of that trade, of course.) The C’s could make that deal by throwing in another small salary, but what if they wanted to take back another player from the Bulls or another team in a 3 team deal? Or what if they wanted to give the Bulls the option of attaching a bad contract to Butler in order to get more assets from the Celtics?
Now that the Celtics have Zeller signed for $8 million this season, they can toss in another expiring contract. And Zeller has some added value as an expiring deal, because he’s still a productive player who is on a reasonable deal for the 2017-2018 season, if some team chooses to pick up his option. Any team that might acquire Zeller from the C’s would probably love the option to give a productive center $8 million to hold down the front court.
Worst case scenario? Zeller gives nothing to the Celtics, who cut him, trade him as part of a larger trade, or trade him for nothing to one of the many teams with cap space. There’s zero downside to Tyler Zeller’s new contract, which is why Danny Ainge made a fantastic move.