What John Wall joining Clippers means for Celtics trade exception and free agency options

One of the first chips to drop in NBA Free Agency occurs a few days ahead of schedule. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, John Wall plans to join the Los Angeles Clippers later this week after agreeing to a buyout with the Houston Rockets.

The veteran point guard is reportedly returning $6.3 million of his $47.4 million expiring contract to the Rockets as part of the buyout. That sum is presumably the same amount he can sign with the Clippers for the mid-level taxpayer exemption.

On the surface, this move doesn’t seem to matter much from the Celtics’ perspective. Wall hasn’t played a game since 2021 after the Rebuild Rockets opted to sit him out for an entire season while prioritizing game time for their younger players. Wall will travel to the West Coast to join friend Paul George and a Clippers team looking for a big year of recovery after key injuries to Kawhi Leonard and others prevented them from even making the postseason last season.

Where things get interesting from Boston’s perspective is the complexion of the Clippers roster (when healthy) with Wall in the crease. Suddenly there’s a tremendous amount of veteran depth under contract and some expensive names to boot.

PG: Reggie Jackson, John Wall

SG: Paul George, Terrance Mann, Luke Kennard

SF: Kawhi Leonard, Norm Powell

PF: Marcus Morris, Robert Covington

C: Ivica Zubac

Keyless Agents: Nicolas Batum (who was reportedly leaning towards a re-signing with Clippers last week), Isaiah Hartenstein

Assuming Batum re-signs with the Clippers (the Celtics have reportedly expressed interest), that’s 11 rotary caliber players under contracts, including eight guards/wings. Needless to say there won’t be enough minutes to play for this group provided Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are back at full strength for the start of the season.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer might just be willing to take on a gargantuan tax bill and try to keep all those players, but keeping them all happy will be a bigger challenge. The roster looks similar to the 2018-19 Celtics with plenty of talent on paper but not enough minutes to keep everyone happy.

The largest area of ​​excess depth is at the wing position, and that’s where the Celtics need to upgrade the most. The Clippers’ total contracted bank wing depth could also fit into Boston’s $17.1 million trade exception.

The Celtics would have to give up something useful (player or pick) to land a mid-size contract like Kennard or Powell, but these are players the Clippers knives are now in trade talks with another ballhandler in Wall signing with them , maybe more listening group.

If the Clippers aren’t realistic in their demands for a Kennard- or Powell-type player, perhaps the Celtics could make a strong case at hand. Talking to a player like Batum, you could argue that he would play a far bigger role off the bench in Boston than he does in Los Angeles, where he’s been competing with that crowded depth chart for minutes.

Wall’s plans to sign with the Clippers with the mid-level exception also opens the door for a useful big man in Isaiah Hartenstein, who will become more available to the Celtics in the free-agent market since the Clippers don’t have bird rights on him to have.

Either way, that sort of deal is likely to result in some sort of consolidation move by the Clippers. The Celtics are far from guaranteed to be there, but they’re certainly well-placed to be in the mix. Brad Stevens might not be able to pick a name he wants, but it’s certainly a situation to keep an eye on over the next few days as free agency kicks off and trade exemption options become clearer.

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