The “Hospital” Celtics are nothing new to the team’s faithful fans. Boston backers have celebrated Brad Stevens’ ability to get more from less, as the team has battled injuries over the years. For the next week or so, Stevens will need to call upon his team’s resiliency once again.
The Celtics announced that Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams and Robert Williams will all be out for Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards due health and safety protocols. Subsequent reporting is that Robert Williams has tested positive for COVID-19 and that Thompson and Grant Williams are out due to close contract with their teammate.
Those three make up three-fourths of Boston’s primary frontcourt, leaving Daniel Theis as the only available rotation big man.
In addition, the Celtics are still without Romeo Langford and Kemba Walker, as both continue their rehab from offseason surgeries. Jeff Teague remains questionable, as he recovers from a recent ankle sprain.
That’s six players of the 17-man roster that could be out. At least five (Langford, Thompson, Walker, and both Williamses) are out for at least seven days. There is no definitive timetable for Langford or Walker, and the three big men have quarantine for a minimum of seven days. And the three big men could miss anywhere from seven to 14 days, pending coronavirus test results.
Over the next week, the Celtics play:
· vs Washington Wizards
· vs Miami Heat
· at Chicago Bulls
· vs Orlando Magic
· vs Orlando Magic
The available Boston players for those games are:
· Ballhandlers: Jeff Teague (eventually), Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard, Tremont Waters, Carsen Edwards
· Wings: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye, Javonte Green, Aaron Nesmith
· Bigs: Daniel Theis, Tacko Fall
It’s easy to see how thin Boston is up front. So, what can Danny Ainge do to get Brad Stevens some help?
The short answer is: Not much.
Boston doesn’t have an open roster spot. They are at the maximum of 15 players on standard contracts and two players on Two-Way contract. All but Javonte Green are on fully guaranteed contracts, making it unlikely anyone would be waived to create a roster spot. That rules out signing a player.
A trade is also unlikely. Despite what many think (likely due to a restriction that exists in the NBA2K video game series) an injured player can be traded. However, it’s probably not a direction Ainge is going to go at this point. There is also no guarantee that would help with the current roster shortage, unless the players being traded away are the ones who are out.
Many have asked about the Hardship Exemption, which is something the Memphis Grizzlies recently used to add an additional player. That’s something to keep an eye on. The challenge is that it will be a while before Boston qualifies to apply for a Hardship Exemption.
Under the current rules, a team has to be missing at least four players for at least three games before they qualify for the Hardship Exemption. As it stands today, Boston is only down three players (Langford, Teague and Walker). After three games without Thompson and the Williamses, assuming Langford and Walker are both still out, Boston will qualify for the Hardship Exemption.
It’s important to note what the Hardship Exemption is. It’s an allowance from the NBA to go over the maximum roster size of 17 for as long as at least four players are out. This means, Boston could add an 18th player to the roster for a temporary amount of time. If approved for an additional exemption, the Celtics could add a 19th player.
For the 2020-21 season, the NBA also tweaked the rules to allow teams using a Hardship Exemption to sign a player to a 10-Day contract. Normally, teams have to wait until February 23 (adjusted from the regular date of January 5 for the 2020-21 season) to sign a player to a 10-Day contract. Due to the potential of teams being down players, the NBA is allowing 10-Day contracts to be signed early this season, but only to fill a roster spot granted via the Hardship Exemption.
The question for the Celtics becomes: Is it worth it? Any player added would add to the team’s salary, thus taking away from the amount of salary they could take back in a trade and stay under the tax apron/hard cap. Because of needing to pass three games of missed availability, Boston could potentially only get two games worth of use out of the Hardship Exemption.
If Thompson and Grant Williams both return negative tests, they should be able to return at the end of their seven-day quarantine. That would leave just the two games against injury-ravaged Orlando, as the contests where Boston could add a player.
The guess here is that the Celtics will forgo adding anyone to the roster at this time. If any of the currently quarantining players faces an extended absence beyond seven days, then Boston could move for a Hardship Exemption at that point.
Buckle up for some small-ball, additional time for younger players and maybe even some meaningful Tacko Time. The Hospital Celtics are back again.