Even with multiple avenues to adding talent this offseason, the list of potential candidates the Boston Celtics can attract with the taxpayer midlevel exception or their bulkiest traded player exception is, well, underwhelming.
Maybe there will be an opportunity to splurge on an offensive-minded wing (think Kevin Huerter or Luke Kennard). We’re not sure that fills Boston’s biggest need and likely comes with a high cost in terms of salary and draft assets. Maybe the team can add some wing depth, or a third-string big with the midlevel exception, but there aren’t a lot of options you can fetch at $6.4 million that are decidedly better than what Boston already has in-house.
Which is why we keep daydreaming of ways to get Kyle Anderson to Boston. The free-agent forward feels like he might just be the piece that Boston is missing. And he could be the long-term succession plan for Al Horford.
Alas, short of Dennis Schroder-like dry up in the marketplace, it’s hard to see Anderson taking a paycut to play in Boston.
Maybe that’s where Ime Udoka can help. Udoka was an assistant in San Antonio when Anderson was drafted with the 30th overall pick in 2014. Udoka — along with the core of the Celtics team -- could make a strong pitch about using Anderson in a hefty role with a goal of limiting the wear and tear on Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and especially 36-year-old Horford.
The 28-year-old Anderson checks all the boxes for Boston: He’s got size (6-9), content to play a reserve role (58 of his 69 appearances last year came off the bench), defends at a high level, and is an excellent ballhandler/playmaker. Even with his slo-mo ways he’d fix a lot of what ailed the Celtics in transition this past season.
We’ve been brainstorming ways to land Anderson at something north of the taxpayer MLE. The Celtics could sign him at the full value of the midlevel — a four-year deal worth $45 million with a starting salary of $10.5 million — but Boston would be hard-capped at the tax apron ($156.9 million) for the entirety of the season, and hard-pressed to even fill out a roster even if they paid to dump salary.
Then we thought about a sign-and-trade with Memphis where the Grizzlies would take back Daniel Theis ($8.7 million) and Aaron Nesmith ($3.8 million), along with a first-round pick and cash, to deliver Anderson on the same full-MLE deal. The Celtics would be able to take him back into the Fournier TPE and generate a new Theis TPE. But we ran our pie-in-the-sky scenario past our cap guru pal Ryan Bernardoni and the Celtics don’t appear to have enough room under the hard cap after bonuses and minimum roster charges to fill out a 14-man roster.
Maybe the Celtics can target a power forward on a rookie deal that would more easily digestible into a TPE, and simply pay a higher cost in draft assets to nab a Horford backup (our pal Wayne Spooney suggested PJ Washington on a recent Celtics Reddit Podcast).
Maybe the Celtics should consider using the TPE to be a facilitator when teams start dealing. Maybe there’s a way to replenish the now sparsely filled draft treasure chest (including the four second-round picks paid to essentially turn the Gordon Hayward TPE into the Evan Fournier TPE).
Or maybe Boston’s brain trust has something more creative up their sleeve than we could dream up. The Celtics really only need one good swing of the bat this offseason and, should they land an impact talent that fits this core, we’d be even more bullish on their chances to be back in the Finals next season.
The salary cap projection spiked a bit for the NBA on Wednesday. But not enough to make our Anderson math work. What it does is add some extra money to what those teams with the full taxpayer midlevel can offer. And makes it even harder for taxpayers to win that tug of war.
Maybe that puts Boston in wait-and-see mode on Thursday when teams can (formally) start to talk to free agents. But Udoka and Co.’s first call should still be to Anderson, just to let him know he’s wanted.