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There is more than one way to skin a cat.

While a frequent complaint about the NBA on-court product is the homogenous style of play, nothing beats roster creation in the league. Front office and executives put in a variety of efforts to build their ideal team. From positional differences to skill overlaps, from free agency to draft, a front office is a real pleasure to watch not only gain superstar talent, but figure out how to maximize the group around them.

In the last five years, the hard part of the equation was met for Boston Celtics, They got their superstars, and did so through the draft. Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum, selected in back-to-back drafts, became All-Stars and cemented their place atop the pecking order in Boston by taking the Celtics to 2022. nba finals, Brown is only 25, and Tatum is 24. If history for the other stars is any indication, the two will be in their prime for the better part of the next decade.

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors vs Boston Celtics

Photo by Garrett Elwood/NBAE via Getty Images

In addition to securing talent and keeping them happy, the front office has to do some salary cap gymnastics, evade and dodge luxury taxes and play within the CBA’s rules to build a competitive team around those stars. Tatum and Brown, both of whom have signed maximum deals at the moment, will combine to make $59 million next year, according to spotrak, That figure will rise to $63.3 million next year, the last year Gelen is under contract before being able to negotiate a major spike in his deal. To keep these two together, the Celtics will either have to spend well in luxury taxes or find ways to eliminate cheap contracts at the margins of the roster.

Fourteen months earlier, Brad Stevens moved into the main front office chair, taking over for Danny Ange as President of Basketball Operations. Stevens’ first move was to package a 2021 first-round pick with Kemba Walker to get Al Horford. Many saw this as a cap-driven move at the time, exchanging the overpaid walker for a better deal and leaving the first of late as a cost of doing business. Horford became a major on-court takeover and a perfect role player for the roster.

At the 2022 trade deadline, Stevens was at it again, tackling his 2022 first-rounder to San Antonio (along with Romeo Langford and Josh Richardson) for Derrick White. White, an underrated role player caught in a backcourt logjam in San Antonio, was another experienced piece who could provide some backcourt depth for the Celtics, who never found the right replacement for Kemba. White proved to be all that to the Celtics, huge in the postseason and blending perfectly with his already established core.

Part Three of the ‘Stevens Trades a Pick’ saga unfolds with the Malcolm Brogdon takeover. On its face, Brogdon is the best player Stevens has achieved in his time as general manager of the Celtics, and it took only a slice of the draft capital (a 2023 first-round selection) to pull it off. The deal with Indiana also included wage earners (most notably, Daniel Theis and Aaron Nesmith).

Nearly fourteen months and Stevens have spent their first three years on the job considering the draft. Some cap experts may worry about the potential lack of cheap contracts with team control. Grant Williams is due to have a new contract next summer. Once that happens, Peyton Pritchard will be the only first-round pick made by the Celtics on the roster.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Stevens has already shown, with Horford, White and Brogdon trades, what his route is for building the roster.

Boston Celtics press conference for Gallinari and Brogdon

Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The first step is to put flexibility on the back end of the roster. During the regular season, this flexibility will give the Celtics the ability to add the right end-of-bench pieces based on who is available and what their team needs. The players they add could be experienced retreads (like Nick Stauskas) or youth standouts from the G-League who are good enough to be on the roster (like Malik Fitts). C could easily swallow one of its contracts if the right giant buyout is available in the market without disrupting long-term planning.

Stevens’ key is to sign each player an additional year of non-guaranteed pay. This mechanism allows the Celtics to bundle those pieces together for summer trading (as they did with Fitts, Juwan Morgan and Stauskas) to gain a better role player.

Giving him an extra year at the back end of the contract gives him team control in a new cap year, but Stapion is designed to circumvent rules that dictate the trade of draft picks. Under the Stapion Rule, an NBA team cannot trade future first-round draft selections in consecutive years. When the league year ends in July, however, that clock is reset.

This year is an example of how it works. On the deadline, because the Celtics traded their 2022 first-round pick for White, they could not deal a 2023 pick until after July 1, 2022. This kind of deal is back on the table, once the new league year begins. We could see the same thing happen next year: Boston has no 2023 pick, so they can’t deal a 2024 pick in any mid-season trade. The following July, that restriction disappears.

Stevens is likely to fill out the rest of the roster this summer with some G-League standouts, minimal veterans and interesting young players. Check them all out with the second year offering a two year deal with absolutely no guarantee, just for the purpose of using them in business down the line.

With the roster becoming more expensive in the coming years due to the imminent free agency of Grant Williams and Al Horford, as well as an increase in pay for their contracted players, the appeal of keeping the team-friendly pay is significant. But the only way to get a cheaper contract is through first round selection.

Since the Celtics stay good (or at least plan to be good in the Tatum and Brown years), the value of a first-round pick isn’t as good. Most of the selection for them will be in their twenties, and it’s very hard to find rookies with early-career influence in those places. We’ve already seen the dangers of trying to develop talent while chasing a championship; Nesmith and Langford were casualties of not having a long leash to play through mistakes and a lack of polish to play without making them.

What’s more, those future first round picks can be used to help secure a contract down the line. As with C’s expensive players, the recurring penalty of the luxury tax may lower the neck of ownership to trim one or more of those costly role player contracts. First-rounders are the great sweetener in deals to take money out of any team’s hands, and if traded to the right team with cap space can help make a trade exception for the Celtics.

Here’s the point: While the roster gets more expensive, don’t assume that the remedy to those expenses is to take control of our own first-round selections. Yes, first round polls are cheap and have value as a result. But the Celtics may find better use for them to help acquire role-players, offset expensive contracts and keep the title window open for a longer period of time. If I were a betting person, I think it would take a while for the Celtics to make another pick of the first round.

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