Could the Boston Celtics restock their point guard depth with veteran Patty Mills this summer?
Boston’s limited resources complicate a pursuit of the soon-to-be 33-year-old veteran but his age, a saturation of available guards, and his previous relationship with new Celtics coach Ime Udoka could seemingly open a pathway to chasing the 12-year veteran.
Celtics fans can get a glimpse of Mills -- and old friend Aron Baynes, too -- when Team USA hosts Australia in an Olympic tune-up on Monday night (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network). While Team USA was getting upset by Nigeria in their exhibition opener in Las Vegas, Mills hit a game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Aussies over Argentina.
Mills can provide steady minutes off the bench while bringing an infectious energy and scoring pop. He’s not a great playmaker but he can operate in the pick and roll and will value the ball. He’s going to hit open spot-up looks and push the ball whenever possible. Mills has also been extremely durable and would provide a healthy dose of veteran leadership.
The downside is his size and Boston has watched smaller guards get picked on in recent seasons. There’s also a bit of redundancy with second-year guard Payton Pritchard, who could benefit from more playing time and Boston would be quite undersized if those two shared the floor in reserve pairings.
Mills earned $13.5 million last season in the final year of a four-year, $50 million extension he signed with the Spurs in 2017. San Antonio has a bunch of tough decisions about free agents as it plots a path forward.
The Celtics are trending towards being a taxpayer this season which would limit them to the $6 million midlevel exception. It is Boston’s only real means of adding via free agency but the team could also break the midlevel into smaller chunks while pursuing depth. That might include using a slice to sign 2020 stash Yam Madar if the team elects to bring him over this season. Boston will get a glimpse of Madar, another point guard, at summer league next month.
With enough diligence, Boston could stay below the tax apron and utilize the $9.7 million nontaxpayer midlevel but would trigger the hard cap and complicate the pursuit of a big-splash player should a star come on the trade market during the 2021-22 season. Likewise, San Antonio could facilitate a sign-and-trade to deliver Mills to Boston, but receiving a player via sign and trade would also trigger the hard cap.
Having a veteran like Mills, who spent seven seasons with Udoka in San Antonio, could help foster buy-in, especially with Mills’ reputation as a leader in San Antonio. The question is ultimately what does the market dictate for a price tag and Boston could probably land an Ish Smith-type player at a more reasonable rate if Mills has bidders.
Mills isn’t the only Aussie with a Udoka connection that Boston could potentially pursue this offseason. Baynes spent his first three seasons in the NBA in San Antonio, arriving at the same time as Udoka. The veteran big man has a $7.4 million nonguaranteed salary for next season and the Raptors must decide his future by August 4.
If Baynes lands in free agency, the Celtics could try to add him as low-cost depth with hopes that some Boston familiarity could reinvigorate him after a disappointing season with Toronto. The Baynes-Al Horford frontcourt thrived back in 2018. The Celtics could also consider building a swap around Baynes and Canada native Tristan Thompson, if Toronto was interested, but paying a steep price tag for deep center depth is not ideal given Boston’s bloating payroll.