Grampa Celtic Talks the Rodney Rogers Free Agency
Free agency starts tomorrow. As Derrick Coleman might say, "Whoop de damn do."
But the Celtics face a significant decision that cuts to the core of who they are and where they want to go. Does owner Paul Gaston break up the nucleus of the conference runner-up and publicly humiliate his basketball management team? Or does he swallow hard and agree to become a (gasp) big spender for a year - although not in the plutocratic company of Dallas's Mark Cuban or Portland's Paul Allen.
It would be all so much easier if we were talking about re-signing Paul Pierce. But we're not. That was an easy task. We're talking about re-signing Rodney Rogers, who may become the unwitting Poster Boy for Fiscal Restraint. That not only would be a shame, it would be foolish. As in, pound-foolish.
Gaston prides himself as a businessman, and re-signing Rogers is, simply, good business. The problem is that by doing so, the Celtics may have to pay the dreaded luxury tax, which makes the re-signing more expensive than just a simple salary. So what? It's not going to cost Gaston $22 million, which is what he saved when Rick Pitino got the message. The Celtics also profited enormously from their improbable playoff run - seven playoff dates - and then not only raised ticket prices, but basically attached them to the top of a three-stage rocket and lit the fuse.
Here's the math, and it's not too, too hard to understand.
* The Celtics have nine guaranteed contracts for next year totaling almost $52 million. They will have three, possibly four more players on the roster next season. One of them might be Omar Cook, who comes for short money.
* The luxury tax will kick in at an as-yet unknown number. Most people think it will be in the $54 million-$55 million range, but no one really knows. If a team exceeds that number, a few things happen. They pay a dollar-for-dollar tax on the overage. That overage fund is then dispersed to teams that don't pay the luxury tax, meaning the Celtics would miss out there. But there are conditions where Boston might get a percentage of the overage distributed back to them. For instance, if the excess money totaled $50 million, and 25 teams were under the luxury tax line, each team, theoretically, would receive $2 million. But for teams that barely go over the line, there is a condition whereby they would receive some of that $2 million, just not all of it. So it's not all or nothing.
So what are we talking about? $3 million? $4 million? Gaston is going to deny his team one of its more indispensable players for that amount? That's ridiculous. If Rogers is re-signed for $3 million a year and three others are added at minimum contracts, you're looking at a payroll of, maybe, $56 million to $57 million. If you want Erick Strickland back, you're looking at around $58 million to $59 million. Why is this such a hard choice?
And here's the even bigger reason for re-signing Rogers: It's only a one-year risk. That's because Kenny Anderson's contract expires after next season and the Celtics will be, once again, well under the cap limit. It is a one-season gamble, and, as we saw last year with Miami, teams blew up payrolls to avoid the tax and it never came.
I know Gaston has been a voice for fiscal sanity for years. He told his fellow owners that he'd field a team of CBA players before he'd sign someone to a Larry Johnson-like contract. (It didn't help that that particular diatribe came shortly before the owners took up the Celtics' petition to get relief from the deceased Reggie Lewis's contract. That matter wasn't even seconded.)
You make a decision: Does it make basketball sense? Chris Wallace, Leo Papile, and Jim O'Brien, the three men Gaston pays to run his basketball team, all say it does. Those are the voices that should matter. As Wallace put it Wednesday night, "We would not be the same team that you saw in the Eastern Conference finals" without Rogers.
By all accounts, Rogers wants to stay in Boston. By all accounts, he's not asking for the moon. No, he's not the difference-maker who will take the Celtics to the proverbial next level, but, if you don't bring him back, you run the risk of not even making the playoffs. And how can you possibly justify that after you've whacked the ticket-holders, who now not only expect a good product, but will have to pay dearly to see one?
Gaston has made millions off the Celtics. He could turn around tomorrow and sell the team for more than $300 million. His father, when he was in charge, never hesitated to re-sign key players, players who, like Rogers, probably meant more to the Celtics than they did to some other team.
And if you don't re-sign him, you lose him. It's as simple as that. You then have only Tony Delk left in exchange for Joe Johnson and the pick that turned into Casey Jacobsen.
No one's asking Gaston to go Cuban on us. Rogers isn't even going to get close to the NBA average salary of around $4.5 million. As it is, the Celtics are going to carry 12, maybe 13 players this season to keep costs down.
Last year's team created a level of expectation that can be both a boon and a hindrance. The old Celtic teams thrived on high expectations and presumptive greatness. But they were a great team. This is a good team in a horrible conference. By virtue of its run to the conference finals, it now, officially, has created expectations.
Ownership thinks the team is worth seeing and is asking fans to pay - and pay a lot - to do so. How can it possibly ask the fans to pay more for a demonstrably inferior product, which is what the Celtics surely will be if they don't re-sign Rogers? How can it ask the fans to pony up the big bucks to see the Rogers-less Celtics, knowing Antonio McDyess is now in New York, Caron Butler is in Miami, and Washington and Atlanta are both bound to improve because of changes they made on draft night?
The easy answer: It can't and it shouldn't.
If Wallace has to deliver the line that the Celtics could not afford to re-sign Rogers, he should immediately follow that with his resignation. Papile and O'Brien should follow suit and then every season ticket-holder should send in a cancel form. Because it would be a slap in the face to the basketball staff and to the fans to deliberately dumb down the product - while asking people to pay more to see it - simply for a one-time hit that can easily be absorbed in the overall scheme of things.
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