The Boston Celtics are highly likely to be a luxury tax team this coming season. Boston has (or will once they fully guarantee Al Horford) over $149 million in guaranteed salary on their books for the 2022-23 season. That’s just over the projected luxury tax line of $149 million for next season.
Now, being over the tax line isn’t what determines which Mid-Level Exception (MLE) a team gets. That’s actually being over the tax apron that makes that determination. That number is just north of $155 million.
So, it is technically possible, if improbable, that Boston will open the offseason with the Non-Taxpayer MLE of $10,349,000. The challenge? Spending any amount out of the Non-Taxpayer MLE that is north of the equivalent to the Taxpayer MLE of $6,392,000 triggers the hard cap.
Boston isn’t going to hard cap themselves. That would remove too much flexibility, including using most of their big $17.1 million Traded Player Exception. Thus, we’ll assume the Celtics will either actually only have the Taxpayer MLE of $6.4 million, or that they’ll be limited to only using that amount.
Something important to note: Because acquiring a player via sign-and-trade also triggers the hard cap, that’s not in play for the Celtics this summer. Anyone they sign this summer will be a straight signing via the MLE or a minimum deal.
With all that in mind, here are 15 players Boston could target with the Taxpayer MLE.
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1. T.J. Warren – unrestricted free agent – Indiana Pacers: It’s been almost two years since we’ve seen Warren play in an NBA game. After dominating in the bubble, Warren was shut down just four games into the 2020-21 season and then missed the entirety of the 2021-22 season due to a left foot injury.
The good news? Warren is fully cleared to play again. He could have played at the end of last season, but with the Pacers prioritizing ping pong balls, there was no reason for Warren to play.
When Warren last did play, in the bubble season, he was tremendous. He scored 19.8 points per game on 53/40/82 shooting splits. Obviously, when healthy, Warren can really fill it up.
Could he get more than the Taxpayer MLE? Possibly. But this might be a “prove it” type of season for Warren. Prove he’s healthy and worth a bigger deal next summer. No better place to do that with than off the bench for a title contender where you’re a perfect fit.
2. Bruce Brown Jr. – unrestricted free agent – Brooklyn Nets: Had drama torn apart the Nets, Brown might have been really gettable for the MLE. Now, that might be harder to pull off. He’s a perfect fit for Brooklyn, just as he would be for the Celtics. Maybe being a Boston native could help swing things, but Brown might be out of the Celtics salary range with the Nets likely to bring back most of their key contributors.
3. Nicolas Batum – unrestricted free agent – LA Clippers: Batum is likely to re-sign with the Clippers, but the Celtics were one of the teams mentioned as having interest in the veteran combo forward. Batum could fill a major need as a 3/4 for Boston. He’s a willing ball-mover, solid defender and decent outside shooter. If LA gets at all stingy, or Batum wants a slightly bigger role than the incredibly deep Clippers can offer, the Celtics should be in the mix.
4. Gary Harris – unrestricted free agent – Orlando Magic: Harris is kind of a forgotten man, as he spent the entire year toiling out of sight in Orlando. But Harris rediscovered his shot while with the Magic. His rugged frame also allows him to play up a position and guard anyone 1-3. He’d be a really solid fit in Boston’s switch-everything defensive scheme, while providing some shooting off the bench.
5. Kyle Anderson – unrestricted free agent – Memphis Grizzlies: Anderson has long been the apple of Celtics fans eyes. His game would fit in well in Boston. He’s also got Spurs connections with Ime Udoka. One challenge? Anderson has never really been a very good shooter. And he’s not a big scorer. That goes against a couple of Brad Stevens’ stated areas that Boston needs to improve.
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6. Otto Porter Jr. – unrestricted free agent – Golden State Warriors: If Porter gets priced out in Golden State, Boston should definitely make a call. He’d fill the swing forward need, while giving the Celtics that bench scoring punch and shooting they’re been looking for. Health is always a question mark, but Porter made it through a long title run with the Warriors without many issues last season.
7. Caleb Martin – restricted free agent – Miami Heat: We’re getting into the true wing section here. Martin had a breakout season with the Heat, as he developed into a solid 3&D player. Miami doesn’t have any sort of free agent rights for Martin, so matching a deal for him could get tricky. The Taxpayer MLE could be in play from the Heat too, but they have other priority free agents as well. That makes Martin potentially a stealable player.
8. Cody Martin – restricted free agent – Charlotte Hornets: If you can’t get Caleb, why not grab his brother Cody? Not only are they identical twins, but they have very similar games too. Cody Martin has also become a good 3&D player. Charlotte can match any deal, but there are rumors the Hornets are worried about finances. That makes this Martin twin another potentially stealable player.
9. Chris Boucher – unrestricted free agent – Toronto Raptors: Boucher might fetch more than the Taxpayer MLE, but it’s possible that would be an overpay. For Boston, he’d kind of fit in that sweet spot at the Taxpayer MLE. This is a bit of an upside play. It’s not that Boucher is young, but you’re betting that he gets back to being the guy who finished everything around the rim while shooting 38% from three and blocking shots on the other end in 2020-21. If enough teams see Boucher as the guy who fell off in all areas last season, then he might be gettable at Boston’s MLE.
10. Isaiah Hartenstein – unrestricted free agent – LA Clippers: The Clippers are capped out at offering Hartenstein the Taxpayer MLE, same as Boston is. That levels the playing field. He’d be a backup in both places too. But one more year in LA and Hartenstein would have Early Bird Rights. If Ivica Zubac was to move on, Hartenstein could be set up for a nice pay day in 2023 from the Clippers. If LA sees it differently, Hartenstein would be an ideal backup center for the Celtics.
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11. Nicolas Claxton – restricted free agent – Brooklyn Nets: It looks like the Nets are mostly going to run it back, but their ownership has made comments about trying to lessen the tax bill next year. That could make Claxton potentially gettable for the MLE. He’d strictly back up Rob Williams, but Boston would have the center position set for years to come with talented young players.
12. Gary Payton II – unrestricted free agent – Golden State Warriors: There is some belief the Warriors might be picking between Payton and Otto Porter Jr. Whichever one the champs don’t re-sign, Boston should be in on the other one. Payton would fit in perfectly in the Celtics defensive scheme and his off-ball work as a cutter would do wonders for Boston’s offense.
13. Ricky Rubio – unrestricted free agent – Indiana Pacers: This one might be pandering to Celtics fans a bit…Rubio showed last year that he can still play, but he’s coming off a torn ACL. At best, he’ll be ready to play midseason. So, part of the deal is waiting that out. Rubio also can’t shoot. At all. Not even a little bit. And he’s going to be 32 years old. But he’s still an elite passer and solid defender Is that really worth the MLE, considering you have to wait?
14. Delon Wright – unrestricted free agent – Atlanta Hawks: Don’t let Wright’s counting stats last season fool you. He barely got to play for the Hawks last year, for reasons only known to Atlanta and Nate McMillan. Wright has turned in multiple strong shooting years in a row now and he’s solid defensively. If the Celtics want a combo guard that leans more towards being a point guard, Wright would be a terrific option.
15. Taurean Prince – unrestricted free agent – Minnesota Timberwolves: If Boston really wants a combo forward and they strike out on the better players, Prince isn’t a bad fallback option. He’s historically been a reliable catch-and-shoot guy on three-pointers. That’s probably how most of his shots would come for Boston. He can get in a little trouble when he tries to do too much off the dribble, but overall, Prince is pretty solid.