The Boston Celtics may have another situation on their hands.
The team is preparing to head into the playoffs with one hand tied behind their backs due to injuries. The team is still talented enough to win a first round series depending on the matchups, but getting any further would be a tough act. With so many injured bodies, the team could use any help that it can get, and they may have a potential solution at the end of the bench.
Yesterday afternoon, Jabari Bird had 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists in 21 minutes of action. It was a solid encore performance from his 15 point, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists on 24 minutes game against the Bulls on Friday night. It wasn’t so much the numbers that turned peoples head about Bird, rather, it was the way he looked on the court. Bird is an active off-ball presence who is an opportunistic cutter and if not guarded can break a teams back with timely offensive rebounds.
Defensively, Bird has proven to be sound. He makes the correct rotations, doesn’t gamble, flies for the boards, and makes 2nd and 3rd efforts. The competition hasn’t exactly been top notch, but in just 45 minutes of action, Bird has shown the requisite skill-set to potentially be a solid contributor in a playoff situation.
There’s just one problem: Bird is a two-way contract guy which means that he isn’t eligible to play in the postseason.
However, two-way players are allowed to sign an NBA contract up until the end of the regular season, but, if the roster is full (as is the Celtics with 15 contracted players), somebody needs to be waived to make room for him.
The most likely target to be waived based on finances and overall performance is Abdel Nader. The G-league 2017 Rookie of the Year has struggled to really find any rhythm for the Celtics, and in a reserve role where he is expected to come in and produce, he has consistently had mental lapse compounded with mediocre play that have drawn the scorn of the fanbase.
Nader has 450k guaranteed next year, so in order to waive him the Celtics would have to eat that money in a year where they would be dancing right around the luxury tax. On top of that, by signing Bird to an NBA contract the team would officially “start his clock” and this year will be counted as if he had been under an NBA contract for an entire year. Furthermore his salary would jump to 500k or more, (again, in an off-season where they will be right on the luxury tax line), and because they only have minimum contract to offer they could only sign him to this year and next year, and then he would become an Arenas RFA.
A move to bring Bird on the official roster doesn’t seem big on its face, but could have financial ramifications that put the team in the luxury tax a year earlier than they should which in turn means paying the repeater tax a year earlier. Is that worth the risk? Well, maybe. Just because there’s a risk of going over the tax, doesn’t mean it’ll happen. The money is small enough that Boston could still maneuver it’s way around the salary cap if it really needed to. It’s simply a matter of determining whether its actually worth it.
The alternative path for the Celtics could be trading Nader next year for a heavily protected 2nd rounder and give back cash consideration to make up for the guaranteed money which would alleviate having to have it counted against the cap. They then could figure out what they’ll do with their other free agents (Marcus Smart, Shane Larkin, Greg Monroe, and Aron Baynes) before circling back to Bird and giving him a contract in a year where they’ll actually have him for a full season and will already know they can fit under the luxury tax. You wouldn’t get Bird in the playoffs this year, but you’d have him on the roster next year where the team will have a higher ceiling and more of a need to have a trustworthy player rounding out the playoff roster. Does that beat having him in situation like this year where there’s a high chance he’ll actually play though?
The Celtics are thinking about it. Brad Stevens refused to really get into it, but the fact that Bird, a two-way player, played 21 minutes tonight while Nader only got 10 minutes despite the circumstances of the game gives an impression that Boston is trying to get as big of a look as it can at Bird before making their final decision. Tuesday night against the Wizards doesn’t mean much for the Celtics in terms of seeding, but it could prove a pivotal game in deciding who could ultimately round out the playoff roster.