The Boston Celtics will most likely be a luxury tax team in the upcoming season. Boston has (or will, once they fully guarantee Al Horford) a guaranteed salary in excess of $149 million for the 2022-23 season on their books. That’s just above the projected luxury tax line of $149 million for next season.
Well, exceeding the control limit isn’t what determines which Mid-Level Exception (MLE) a team gets. That’s actually about the tax apron making that decision. That number is just over $155 million.
So it’s technically possible, albeit unlikely, for Boston to open the offseason with the $10,349,000 non-taxpayer MLE. The challenge? Issuing any amount of the non-taxpayer MLE north of the taxpayer MLE equivalent of $6,392,000 triggers the hard cap.
Boston will not limit itself harshly. That would take away too much flexibility, including using most of their large $17.1 million Traded Player Exception. As such, we’re assuming the Celtics either actually only have the taxpayer MLE of $6.4 million or they’re limited to just using that amount.
Something important to note: Since signing and trading a player also triggers the hard cap, it’s out of the question for the Celtics this summer. Anyone they sign this summer will be signed directly through the MLE or a minimum contract.
With that in mind, here are 15 players Boston could target with the taxpayer MLE.
1. TJ Warren – Unrestricted Free Agent – Indiana Pacers: It’s been almost two years since we’ve seen Warren in an NBA game. After dominating the bubble, Warren was shut down for just four games in the 2020-21 season and then missed the entire 2021-22 season with a left foot injury.
The good news? Warren is fully ready to play. He could have played at the end of last season, but with the Pacers prioritizing ping-pong balls, there was no reason for Warren to play.
The last time Warren played, in bubble season, he was great. He was averaging 19.8 points per game on 53/40/82 shooting splits. Obviously Warren can really fill it when he’s healthy.
Could he get more than the taxpayer MLE? Possibly. But this could be a “proof” season of sorts for Warren. Prove he’s healthy and worth a bigger deal next summer. There’s no better place to do that than off the bench for a title contender you’re a perfect match for.
2. Bruce Brown Jr. -Unrestricted Free Agent -Brooklyn Nets: Had drama torn the Nets apart, Brown really would have been within reach for the MLE. Well, that might be harder to solve. He’s a perfect fit for Brooklyn, just like the Celtics. Perhaps being a Boston native might help, but Brown could be outside the Celtics’ salary range as the Nets are likely to bring back most of their key employees.
3. Nicholas Batum – Unrestricted Free Agent – LA Clippers: Batum is likely to re-sign with the Clippers, but the Celtics were one of the teams mentioned as being interested in the veteran combo forward. Batum could fill a big need as a 3/4 for Boston. He’s a willing ball mover, solid defender and decent outside shooter. If LA gets stingy or Batum wants a little bigger role than the incredibly deep Clippers can offer, the Celtics should be there.
4. gary harris – Unrestricted Free Agent – Orlando Magic: Harris is kind of a forgotten man, having spent the whole year slogging away in Orlando. But Harris rediscovered his shot while he was with the magic. His sturdy build also allows him to play one position and guard every 1-3. He’d fit really well into Boston’s all-sub changing defensive scheme while also delivering some shots off the bench.
5. Kyle Anderson – unrestricted free agent – Memphis Grizzlies: Anderson has long been the apple of Celtics fans’ eyes. His game would suit Boston well. He also has Spurs connections with Ime Udoka. A challenge? Anderson was never really a very good shot. And he’s not a great scorer. That goes against some of the areas Boston needs to improve, as Brad Stevens explained.
6. Otto Porter Jr. – Unrestricted Free Agent – Golden State Warriors: If Porter gets priced out at the Golden State, Boston should definitely make a call. He would fill the need for momentum up front while also giving the Celtics the bench-scoring punch and shooting they’ve been looking for. Health is always a question mark, but Porter made it through a long title run with the Warriors last season without many issues.
7. Caleb Martin – Restricted Free Agent – Miami Heat: We’re getting into the true wing section here. Martin had a breakout season with Heat as he developed into a solid 3&D player. Miami doesn’t have any kind of free agent rights for Martin, so finding a deal for him could be difficult. The taxpayer MLE could also be in the game from the Heat, but they have other priority free agents as well. This potentially makes Martin a stealable player.
8th. Cody Martin – Restricted Free Agent – Charlotte Hornets: If you can’t get Caleb, why not get his brother Cody? Not only are they identical twins, but they also have very similar games. Cody Martin has also become a good 3&D player. Charlotte can strike any deal, but rumors have it that the Hornets are worried about finances. That makes this Martin twin another potentially stealable player.
9. Chris Boucher – Unrestricted Free Agent – Toronto Raptors: Boucher might rake in more than the taxpayer MLE, but it’s possible that would be an overpayment. For Boston, he would somehow fit into that sweet spot at taxpayer MLE. This is a bit of an upward game. It’s not that Boucher is young, but you bet he’s going to become that guy again who finished everything around the rim while shooting 38% of three and blocking shots at the other end in 2020-21 . If enough teams see Boucher as the guy who dropped in every department last season, he could be up for grabs at Boston’s MLE.
10 Isaiah Hartenstein – Unrestricted Free Agent – LA Clippers: The Clippers have no chance of offering Hartenstein to taxpayer MLE, just like Boston. That levels the playing field. He would also be a reinforcement in both places. But another year in LA and Hartenstein would have early bird rights. Should Ivica Zubac move on, Hartenstein could be set up by the Clippers for a nice payday in 2023. If LA sees it differently, Hartenstein would be an ideal backup center for the Celtics.
11. Nicholas Claxton – Restricted Free Agent – Brooklyn Nets: It looks like the Nets will mostly repatriate it, but their owner has commented on trying to reduce next year’s tax bill. That could potentially make Claxton available for the MLE. He would strictly support Rob Williams, but Boston would take center stage for years to come with talented young players.
12. Gary Payton II – Unrestricted Free Agent – Golden State Warriors: There is some belief that the Warriors could choose between Payton and Otto Porter Jr. Whichever the champions don’t re-sign, Boston should be on the other side. Payton would fit perfectly into the Celtics’ defensive scheme and his offball work as an editor would do wonders for Boston’s offense.
13. Ricky Rubio – Unrestricted Free Agent – Indiana Pacers: This one might coax Celtics fans a bit… Rubio showed he could still play last year, but he’s torn his cruciate ligament. At best, he’s ready to play mid-season. So part of the deal is waiting for it. Rubio can’t shoot either. At all. Not even a little. And he will be 32 years old. But he’s still an elite passer and a solid defender. Is this really worth the MLE considering the wait?
14 Delon Wright – Unrestricted Free Agent – Atlanta Hawks: Don’t let Wright’s scoring stats from last season fool you. He barely got a chance to play for the Hawks last year for reasons only Atlanta and Nate McMillan knew. Wright now has a string of strong shooting years in a row and is solid defensively. If the Celtics want a combo guard that’s more of a point guard, Wright would be an excellent option.
fifteen. bull prince – Unrestricted Free Agent – Minnesota Timberwolves: If Boston really wants a combo forward and they’re attacking the better players, Prince isn’t a bad retreat option. He’s been a reliable catch-and-shoot guy on three-pointers in the past. That’s probably how most of his shots would come for Boston. He can get in a bit of trouble if he tries to dribbling too much, but overall Prince is pretty solid.