How Robert Williams extension impacts Celtics free agent possibilities outlook for 2022


Brad Stevens made a big bet on Robert Williams reaching his potential over the long-term on Friday by agreeing to a four-year contract extension worth $54 million with the 23-year-old. The pact will kick in during the 2022-23 season and lines up with Marcus Smart’s four-year extension, putting Smart and Williams under team control for the next five seasons, the longest stretch out of any current Celtics.

The extensions for Smart and Williams were the only guaranteed money the Celtics handed out beyond this current season with the team’s offseason moves via trade and free agency. All players acquired via trade are on expiring deals (Josh Richardson, Kris Dunn, Bruno Fernando) and the team also handed out one-year free agent contracts to Enes Kanter and Dennis Schroder, appearing to set themselves up maximum spending flexibility for next season. The extensions to Williams and Smart have all but taken that spending power away for next summer though. A look at Boston’s current projected payroll for the 2022-23 season.

Jayson Tatum: $30.5 million

Jaylen Brown: $28.7 million

Al Horford: $26.5 million ($14.5 million guaranteed)

Marcus Smart: $17.2 million

Robert Williams: $12 million (estimate)

*Romeo Langford: $5.6 million

*Grant Williams: $4.3 million

*Aaron Nesmith: $3.8 million

*Payton Pritchard: $2.2 million

(* indicates team option)

Total salary: $130.8 million to nine players

Total guaranteed money: $118.8 million (if Horford is waived)

Expected salary cap for 2022-23: $119 million

Expected luxury tax line for 2022-23: $145 million

Expected apron (hard cap) for 2022-23: $151 million

So what exactly can we make out of this mid-offseason pivot by Boston by rewarding two of the longest-tenured Celtics? A look at the fallout for 2022 free agency and the team’s future roster structure in the wake of Williams’ extension on Friday.

Easier decisions on upcoming team options

If the Celtics were going to keep a path open towards 2022 cap room, they would have had a number of big decisions coming up ahead of opening night in October. At that point, team options would need to be decided upon for four players (Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, Romeo Langford) for the 2022-23 season. Nesmith and Pritchard would have been locks to have their options picked up but the same can’t be said for G. Williams and Langford if the Celtics were serious about opening up enough cap space for a max player in 2022. It was possible both of those players would become cap casualties (via trade) if that route was pursued so the team could have simply declined those options this fall.

In the wake of the Williams/Smart extensions, that potential cap room has fully vanished. With that factor eliminated, picking up reasonable team options for Langford ($5.6 million) and Williams ($4.3 million) becomes a much easier choice for the team in order to secure some cost control for a couple of younger role players with potential upside.

Celtics could use full mid-level exception ($10 million) in 2022

With the team essentially using up all potentially available cap room on Smart/R.Williams extensions, they are still in good shape when it comes to the luxury tax line ($145 million) for next season. That will allow the team to tap into their full mid-level exception ($10.1 million) next summer to pursue a free agent on the open market or potentially re-sign Dennis Schroder if he looks like a good fit in Boston this season. Boston will not have Bird Rights on Schroder so they will be limited in using mid-level money to retain him with a raise. On the flip side, the Celtics will have full Bird Rights on Josh Richardson, opening the door to giving him a bigger contract if they are interested in retaining him.

Traded player exceptions available to pursue starting-caliber free agents

The Evan Fournier sign-and-trade opened up a $17 million trade exception for the Celtics, which will be one of the biggest TPEs in the league for the next year. The odds of Boston using that exception are rather meager for the current season, barring the team proving itself as a potential East contender with a major upgrade during the season. Where the trade exception could come in handy in a major way will be with next summer’s free agency options. The team won’t have any significant cap room in the wake of the extensions handed out last week but Brad Stevens is projected to be far enough under the tax line at the moment to have the ability to offer a big contract to a free agent via a sign-and-trade (up to $17 million) while still staying under the hard cap ($151 million) with the team’s current commitments. With limited teams expected to have cap room now next summer in 2022 free agency after a bevy of extensions being given out this summer, that $17 million will be a valuable chip for Boston to add some reinforcements for a player that wants to suit up for big money on a playoff team a year from now. It’s entirely possible the Celtics could look to use the Fournier TPE in other ways in the next 11 months but this path will be a valuable option for Stevens for the summer of 2022.