Signing Chris Babb (and immediately assigning him to the Red Claws) doesn't exactly move the needle for most, and rightly so. But I always find things like this somewhat interesting. The Celtics didn't have to make this move and it likely won't have any impact on the team for the rest of the year. But it might give the Celtics just a little more flexibility in the summer.
Backing up a bit, it is important to note that the Celtics first choice was to extend Shavlik Randolph's contract into next year (non-guaranteed). He preferred to have more flexibility in the summer so he politely declined.
Randolph would like to keep his options open, including the possibility of returning overseas to China with the intention of returning to the NBA in February, as he has done in the past. "As much as I would have loved to finish the season and playoff run with this team, I just wasn’t willing to commit to a non-guaranteed deal for next season," Randolph told Basketball Insiders. "So they had to do what was best for them, which I completely understand."
So why did they want to extend him? It wasn't like he was a necessary piece of the puzzle that they had to lock up. In fact, you could find a replacement for him rather easily over the summer.
The answer boils down to his contract. A free agent doesn't do much beyond creating a cap hold this summer. A non-guaranteed contract, however, is something that you can use to include in trades (to match salaries). The team taking him back in a trade has the right to waive him for no additional cost or commitment. Likewise, if the Celtics don't trade him, they have the ability to free up some cap space immediately.
This is also why the Celtics were interested in giving JaVale McGee a non-guaranteed multi-year contract. He wanted a player option instead, and the sides parted ways.
So with those two options exhausted, the Celtics settled on bringing back old friend Chris Babb, who was more than willing to take the non-guaranteed contract.
The Celtics did not disclose details of Babb's contract, but have used chunks of the mid-level exception in recent years to sign young players to nonguaranteed deals (see also: Chris Johnson). This puts the player under Boston's control moving forward, while also making them trade assets after the season. The Celtics could spend up to the remaining level of the midlevel exception to sign Babb (or about $1 million after being prorated).
None of this is to say that Babb is useless on the court. He just might not get a lot of chances to prove his worth in a playoff race. With another summer and more hard work, he could work himself into being a useful role player at this level.
The 25-year-old Babb averaged 15.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists over 34.7 minutes per game in 45 appearances for Maine this season. He's a 3-and-D guy, landing on the D-League's All-Defensive team last season and ranking among the league leaders in total 3-point attempts this season (he shot 37.5 percent beyond the arc).
But still, at the end of the day, it was a bookkeeping move. You can dismiss that if you will, but the Celtics used some bookkeeping wizardry to turn a TPE into Tyler Zeller and Isaiah Thomas in the last year. The offseason isn't always won in July. Sometimes you have to work all year to put yourself into the right position to make the moves down the line.