Money can buy you a lot of things, but it can’t buy you a first–round win against the Boston Celtics this year.
The Celtics wrapped up a four-game first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, whose team featured a lineup that was well–paid but not well–formed.
Headlined by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets failed to win a game against a team that spent nearly $40 million less than its opponent to the north.
In a post-game interview after the sweep, Celtics coach Ime Udoka alluded to what it’s like to play against a team with a much bigger salary (and much bigger drama).
“We talked about doing it the way we wanted to do it, which was letting the chips fall where they may. Not trying to avoid or manipulate anything,” Udoka said. “And so, when you see other teams that were doing it that way, I think the message like I said to our guys was we’ll worry about ourselves.”
The Celtics’ win, by the numbers
The differences between the Celtics and Nets lineups start with the money, but one could argue it goes far beyond that. That being said, you can bet it’s worth looking at the numbers to get a sense of the disparities in pay compared to the results on the court.
The Nets had the second–highest team salary during the 2021-2022 season at $174.8 million, which was $4 million behind the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics’ payroll was $138.1 million, the eleventh-highest in the league.
Here’s how those salaries looked when each team’s starting five took the court for the final game of the series:
|Nets||2021-2022 Salary||Celtics||2021-2022 Salary|
|Kevin Durant||$42.0 million||Jason Tatum||$28.1 million|
|Blake Griffin||$2.6 million||Al Horford||$27 million|
|Andre Drummond||$2.4 million||Daniel Theis||$8.28 million|
|Kyrie Irving||$35.3 million||Marcus Smart||$14.3 million|
|Seth Curry||$8.2 million||Jaylen Brown||$26.8 million|
|Total||$90.5 million||Total||$104.5 million|
The Celtics’ main lesson: keep the money on the court
While the Nets have the bigger payroll, they had about 51% of that payroll in their starting lineup against the Celtics in Game 4. The Celtics, on the other hand, kept 76% of their salary in their starting lineup.
As the Boston’s first–round series against Brooklyn showed, it literally pays to keep as much of your payroll on the court at one time as you can.
It’s a lesson the Nets would do well to learn. In early February, the team traded away James Harden and Paul Milsap to the Philadelphia 76ers for three players and a couple of picks.
Two of those players–Andre Drummond and Seth Curry–took the court in Game 4, costing the Nets a little over $10 million. But that third player, Ben Simmons, cost the Nets $33 million and he never set foot on the court after his trade from the 76ers.
What’s even more incredible is that Simmons earned more this year than any player on the Celtics.
Numbers aside, the Celtics walloped the Nets, and Simmons likely would’ve made little difference in the series’ outcome.