The Celtics left a valuable weapon for themselves this buyout season, keeping intact their entire taxpayer mid-level exception, which is worth $5.3 million for the 2018-19 season. Much like the disabled player exception last season (which the Celtics were awarded after Gordon Hayward went down for the year), keeping MLE intact through the offseason allows it to become a tool to try to entice a useful player to join a loaded squad for a deep playoff run without having to give up an asset in the form of a pick or player.
Having that extra cash came in handy last year for the C’s (at least during the regular season) when Greg Monroe took $5 million to sign with Boston in February after being bought out by Phoenix. Monroe turned down more potential playing time in New Orleans for the extra dough.
The challenge for the Celtics now will be trying to entice free agents to join a squad in which they probably won't be guaranteed as much playing time as they could get elsewhere, due to Boston's depth. The Celtics may try to simply bring on a guy on a two-year deal as well, which would enable them to use that salary in a potential trade package for Anthony Davis this summer (we'll have more on how they might work on BSJ later this weekend). Which teams will be Boston's biggest competition on that front when it comes to money and role? Let’s take a look at how the playoff teams in both conferences are positioning themselves on this front to see where the Celtics stand if/when they are ready to spend.
Which teams have roster spots available?
It's easy to begin here with the process of elimination. Some teams have multiple spots to fill, while others have no room to add anyone else to their roster. A look at the player totals on all playoff teams as of Saturday:
West playoff teams
Golden State: 14
Oklahoma City: 13
San Antonio: 15
LA Clippers: 15
LA Lakers: 14
East playoff teams
Analysis: A look at the numbers here indicate that Houston and Toronto plan on being big players in the buyout market, based on sheer volume alone. They will need to add at least two players to their roster in the next couple of weeks to match the league minimum. Oklahoma City and Miami are guaranteed to be active as well, but the Heat will be looking to dodge the luxury tax, so they may simply opt for periodic 10-day deals instead.
A couple of potential contenders have 15 players but even those squads have options to waive if they can add a useful upgrade. Philadelphia is expected to be in the mix for more wing or guard help.
For players that enter the buyout market, the motivation can be two-fold. Some guys are simply looking for the best chance of playing time on a playoff team or a potential playoff team. Winning and short-term money can be nice, but it doesn’t matter as much if you want to cash in on your next contract in the summer. For that reason, two veteran wings have already committed to two teams that don’t have championship aspirations. Wesley Matthews is heading to Indiana to take some of Victor Oladipo’s minutes, while Wayne Ellington will provide shooting for the Pistons on the wing after they traded away Reggie Bullock to the Lakers.
Out of the remaining teams with roster spots remaining, Houston, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Toronto likely are the playoff teams with minutes to be had. The Rockets depth has never been good, while the Sixers still have holes in their bench despite plenty of wheeling and dealing in the past few weeks. Oklahoma City could use more 3-point shooting off the bench from a wing or stretch big to take some of Patrick Patterson’s minutes, while a free agent in Toronto could see a chance to play over Norm Powell or Patrick McCaw off the bench.
Who has money to spend?
While winning can be a motivating factor for a veteran, there’s really only one spot that is guaranteed a Finals trip (Golden State) with this market. Once that is filled, there’s a long list of teams that think they have a great chance at a deep playoff run, which puts money as a strong secondary motivating factor. So who can offer what, among the playoff teams? Let’s take a look at the C’s top competition.
No money left to offer free agents besides the league minimum:
These teams have already used up their full mid-level exception last summer. If and when they get into the bidding, they won't have as much to offer as Boston.
Brooklyn: Everyone is getting healthy on this team now and given the priority on developing young talent here, can't see them sacrificing minutes for anyone else on the market.
Golden State: The Warriors used the full taxpayer mid-level exception on DeMarcus Cousins. It’s a move that is starting to bear fruit as Cousins returned last month, but has also created a bit of hole for their bench depth. They can offer a chance at minutes to a wing or a true situation center (i.e. Cousins insurance) off the pine but they won't be able to offer much money
Indiana: Like the Celtics, they have a lot of depth, even after the injury to Victor Oladipo. They still have one roster spot left after adding Wesley Matthews to the mix, so they could go after another true big to fill out this group.
LA Lakers: They added a couple of shooters at the trade deadline in Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, so shouldn't be a very appealing place in terms of minutes for most buyout candidates.
Milwaukee: Ersan Ilyasova and Pat Connaughton combined to take up the full mid-level exception for the Bucks. They also spent their bi-annual exception on Brook Lopez. Depth is strong here at most spots, after they added Nikola Mirotic at the deadline, but they could use some big man insurance after dealing away Thon Maker.
A portion of mid-level exception left to use