Most NBA teams hit a point in the offseason where they have a couple of roster spots to fill, but have spent all of their cap space and used their Mid-Level Exception. At that point, teams use the Minimum Exception to fill out their roster. The Boston Celtics are likely to be, with no pun intended, no exception.
The Minimum Exception allows teams to sign any player they want for a cap hit equal to the rookie minimum, 1-year or service minimum or 2-years of service minimum (often called the veteran minimum). In a one-year deal, a player with 2-10+ years of service counts for the same amount against the cap. The player’s actual salary goes up by years of service, but the cap charge remains the same.
Teams can also use the Minimum Exception to hand out a two-year contract. In that case, the cap charge is equal to the amount dependent on years of service. All Minimum Exception deals cap out with the same charge for 10+ years of service.
For the Celtics, if they make trades or move some draft picks, they’ll probably have a few roster spots to fill. They’ll use the Mid-Level Exception to fill one of them. The others will likely be filled via the Minimum Exception.
Often, these spots will be filled by rookies. Teams take a chance on upside with an undrafted player. Sometimes it’s a player the team really liked at Summer League. Boston has used the Minimum Exception a few times with overseas veterans like Daniel Theis, Brad Wanamaker and Javonte Green. The Celtics also occasionally used this tool to add veteran players like Shane Larkin and Ryan Kelly in recent years.
In Boston’s last title run, Danny Ainge used the Minimum Exception regularly to add players like P.J. Brown, Stephon Marbury and Michael Finley all in-season, and Shaquille O’Neal and Eddie House in the offseason.
It’s the latter category that probably fits this team best. Boston already has more than enough young players with upside. The team is a title contender that can use that extra push to get over the top. That’s where the Minimum Exception can be handy. Sometimes it’s just an extra veteran voice/influence at the end of the bench. Sometimes that player can play a key role.
This offseason there are several players who will likely sign for the Minimum Exception that could help the Celtics. We’ll again look at them through the lens of: Bigs, Wings and Ballhandlers.
Last year didn’t go at all how Willie Cauley-Stein hoped it would. He signed with the Golden State Warriors for just above the minimum to be their center du jour in yet another title chase. The wheels fell off for the Warriors and Cauley-Stein was traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Shortly thereafter, the season shut down and the 27-year-old center sat out the re-start with a baby on the way. Cauley-Stein can still play. He can block some shots, rebound and he’s quick enough to hold his own on perimeter switches. His passing is better than most realize. He’d be a nice fit as a third big with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams.
It seemed like Noah Vonleh figured things out in 2018-19 with the New York Knicks. He was one of the few Knicks that played defense that season. He was a solid rebounder and he showed off extended range on his jumper. That got him an above-the-minimum deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer. And then Vonleh kind of disappeared. Despite the lack of quality bigs alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, Vonleh couldn’t crack the Wolves rotation. He was dealt to the Denver Nuggets at the trade deadline and barely played. As a true 4/5, Vonleh would fit nicely in Boston. He could give the Celtics solid minutes if Daniel Theis or Robert Williams battle injuries again.
Nerlens Noel has long been a target for Celtics fans. Going back to when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston fans wanted the bring the big man home. Noel is 26 years old now, and no longer a developing prospect. He’s essentially a slightly bigger version of Robert Williams with less upside. But that would still be a nice player as a third big for the Celtics.
Two things never go out of style in the NBA: players who play with great energy and effort, and poaching players from smart teams. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fits both of those categories. He’s become a solid option for teams at the four, and his effort allows him to play some small-ball five as well. Toronto might be pressed to try and keep him. That could allow Boston to swoop in. This one has the added benefit of hurting a direct rival as well.
Jared Dudley would be an ideal mentor for Boston’s young roster. He’s been through just about everything in his career, and he’s now a champion. Dudley went to school at Boston College and often speaks of his fondness for the city. Sure, he’s essentially an older version of Grant Williams at this point, but at one point he was a wing player too. He’d be a nice addition to help the kids through the ups and downs of the season.
Glenn Robinson III
Glenn Robinson III is the kind of player Boston could really use. He can play both wing spots and even a little bit of small-ball four as well. He can shoot and score, and is perfectly comfortable coming off the bench. Robinson can also slot in as a spot-starter on those nights when Gordon Hayward or Jaylen Brown are out.
We’ve reached the “take guys away from Philadelphia” section of the article. Burks is a nice fit as a combo guard off the bench. He has good size, so he can play alongside Kemba Walker, but can handle the ball just enough that he could play behind him as well. Boston’s bench groups suffered some because they lacked a second creator off the bounce. Burks can do that. His defense isn’t great, but he’s competitive enough to hold his own on the second unit.
Pat Connaughton has become a good shooter and a better-than-you-think player off the dribble as well. He’s also killed Boston during his time in Milwaukee. If the Bucks pivot in a slightly different direction, Connaughton could be available to the Celtics. Boston also has the advantage of bringing Connaughton back home to Massachusetts as a selling point.
James Ennis III
When you spend the year playing for the Orlando Magic on the minimum, you kind of get forgotten about. James Ennis was forced into a starting spot in Orlando due to Jonathan Isaac’s injury. He’s miscast in that role. As a bench shooter that can also rebound and hold his own defensively, Ennis is a great fit for a contender. That’s the role Boston would ask him to play.
This one might have you saying “Who?”, but Jordan McRae can score. He’s good off the dribble and he can also shoot. Due to some injuries and situation, he hasn’t played much in the NBA. When he’s gotten actual chances, he’s shown flashes. McRae has dominated in the G-League to an extent that his numbers translate into a role as a bench scorer in the NBA. This is the kind of under-the-radar signing no one gets excited about, but pays off big time later in the season.
Fresh off a title with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he had a huge role in the playoffs, Rajon Rondo is poised to be a free agent. It’s unclear how much Rondo will entertain leaving LA and LeBron James and Anthony Davis. If he does, a return back to his first NBA home would be a nice way to bring things full circle. Rondo would give Boston someone to run the offense behind Kemba Walker. On the nights when Walker sits, Rondo can increase his minutes as a backup or even start if necessary. It would also have the benefit of being a nice story at the end of his career.
Talk about a nice story! There might not be a former Celtic that fans in Boston root for more than Isaiah Thomas. His run wearing green was one of the most fun ones Boston has had since the last Finals teams. Thomas is reportedly finally healthy after undergoing surgery on his hip. If true, he’d be the scoring guard Boston so often needed off the bench in recent years. On the nights Kemba Walker is out, Thomas can step right in and play a bigger role. This also gives Danny Ainge a chance to set things right karmically.
Reggie Jackson is in an interesting place. He likely sees himself as more than a minimum player, but it’s unclear the NBA agrees with that assessment. Jackson will either sign early with a contender, or may wait out the market and see who still needs a point guard later. He’s been a solid scorer and playmaker throughout his career, so Jackson would fill a need on Boston’s bench. Like Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Thomas, the Boston College product is ideal as a backup or spot-starter when Kemba Walker is out.
Why not double-down on UConn legends at the lead guard spot? Shabazz Napier has never really found a home in the NBA. Such is the life as a third point guard. It’d be no different in Boston, as Napier would be behind fellow Husky Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart. But Napier could be a nice third guard, a la Shane Larkin. Someone Brad Stevens could call upon when the team needs him and comfortably know he’ll hold his own.
Trey Burke looked like he was headed the Shane Larkin route, where he was going to have to go overseas and prove himself before coming back to the NBA. Instead, Burke stuck it out, did the G-League thing and got back in the league with the Dallas Mavericks. Burke has always played his best ball with a defined role in Dallas. He’d be in a similar spot in Boston. Brad Stevens would make sure he knew his job was to support Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart as a depth option. That would seemingly fit Burke just fine.
You may notice Shane Larkin mentioned a few times, which leads to the inevitable question: “Why not just bring Shane Larkin back?” Larkin signed a lucrative extension with Anadolu Efes in Turkey. He’s getting great money to start in a featured role for one of the best clubs in Europe. He’s not making a return to the NBA anytime soon.
Who are your targets for the Celtics with the Minimum Exception? Do you want to bring an old friend back to Boston? Bring a Massachusetts kid home? Or someone not mentioned at all? Let us know in the comments!