The new collective bargaining agreement is also set to unleash an avalanche of luxury tax penalties on the team with the largest payroll in the league next season — as much as $85 million if they re-sign Howard and keep Gasol and his $19 million salary.
“When you lose, everything is in play,” GM Mitch Kupchak said. “This is the third year in a row that you could argue we didn’t live up to or play up to expectations.”
Kupchak’s biggest challenge may be persuading Howard to stay. Bryant may not be fully healthy until January, Nash will turn 40 next season and the rest of the roster is filled with journeymen and role players, taking some of the glitz out of what has been one of the most glamorous destinations in the league for decades.
“If you just look at the opportunity, which is to play for this franchise in this city, with what this franchise has meant to this city and its accomplishments, that’s probably the most any team can offer a player,” Kupchak said.
The Celtics lost point guard Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL in January, almost a month before the trade deadline. But GM Danny Ainge declined to add another ball-handler, and it cost them dearly in the playoffs against the Knicks.
The struggles of both teams to overcome key injuries stands in stark contrast to the Bulls, who have weathered the season-long absence of Derrick Rose and serious health concerns for Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich to advance to the second round. The Spurs won 58 games despite missing Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for long stretches.
Now the Celtics enter yet another summer of deciding whether to bring back Pierce and Garnett, or start over around a rehabbing Rondo and Jeff Green, who played well with the increased minutes. Only this time the finality is much more palpable.