The Boston Celtics’ bench contributed a measly 21 points over the first two games of the team's current four-game road trip out west and a particularly vocal group of fans used the anemic output to renew both their laments that Danny Ainge didn’t make a deadline deal to bolster Boston's second unit and that the team hasn’t yet landed help on the buyout market.
It’s absolutely fair to question Boston’s depth, if only because of the health woes they’ve perpetually endured this season. Kemba Walker’s absence on this trip has forced Marcus Smart to elevate to the first unit and, combine that with rough stretches for Brad Wanamaker and Enes Kanter, and suddenly Boston has had to lean even heavier on rookies like Romeo Langford and Grant Williams.
If the Celtics can get healthy by mid-April, and especially if Robert Williams can emerge as a reliable presence in the center rotation, then the Celtics can confidently trot out an 8-man playoff rotation and lean lightly on rookies in spot minutes.
But even a single injury to Boston’s top 5 puts the team in a tough spot. All of which has some Celtics fans scanning the buyout scrapheap daily and pondering whether there’s an upgrade to be found.
Championship favorites like the Bucks (Marvin Williams) and Lakers (Markieff Morris) swooped up some of the more intriguing options while the Clippers elected to roll the dice with Reggie Jackson. The remaining buyout pile is paper thin, especially among players with size that Boston might covet to supplement its perimeter depth.
Ainge has admitted that nothing currently on the market has left the Celtics tripping over themselves to cut a player from their full 15-man roster in order to add a free agent. Any player currently on an NBA roster must be bought out by March 1 in order to be playoff-eligible for another team. Which means that Boston will pretty much know what’s available by week’s end (playoff-eligible players can be signed any time before the end of the regular season).
Let’s comb through some of the more popular names, some that have been bought out and others that Celtics fans still have their fingers crossed for, and evaluate the possibilities:
Maybe the only player that could truly alter a top contender’s playoff chances, Thompson remains under contract in Cleveland and it’s not likely he’ll hit the open market. The Cavaliers can use Thompson’s Bird rights this summer to both pay him a more lucrative contract than he’d otherwise find on the free-agent market and then facilitate a sign-and-trade that could bring back valuable assets for a rebuilding team.
It’s the made-for-Hollywood moment, right? Beleaguered former star returns to a beloved former home and rekindles the magic. Those romanticizing what Thomas did with those 2016-17 Celtics are blinded by the limitations of both player and team. The Celtics prefer spot-up shooting and defensive versatility from any addition but Thomas needs the ball in his hands and his defensive limitations are well-documented. Yes, it’d admittedly be fascinating to see if the Celtics and IT could catch lightning in a bottle again but it’s simply not the right fit, the right circumstances to run it back again.
The Lakers cut Cousins knowing it was unlikely he could get on the court this season (he tore his ACL back in August, this after working his way back from an Achilles tear). Yes, the Celtics could use pure size given the daunting big men in the East. No, it’s not fair to think that Cousins could get healthy quick enough to help them this year. Cousins seems content to continue rehabbing around the Lakers and explore a second chance with the team this summer.
Speaking of beloved old friends, Turner got dealt from Atlanta to Minnesota at the trade deadline and seems to be waiting to see if a buyout is in his future. A Brad Stevens favorite, Turner would provide a steady ball-handler with playoff experience. The downsides: He doesn’t provide much-needed shooting (he hasn’t made a 3-pointer in 251 minutes of floor time this season) and , when healthy, the Celtics are well-stocked on the wings.
There simply isn’t a lot of intriguing names currently on the buyout market. Journeyman Tim Frazier knows the Celtics system a bit after his time in Maine but that feels like it would be an overreaction to Wanamaker’s recent hiccup. Same with Trey Burke, who has virtually no playoff experience. Nene has size; he’s also 37 year olds and couldn’t get on the floor for the Rockets this season. Dion Waiters is subtraction by addition. Maybe others will pop onto the market before Sunday. The Celtics would be especially intrigued by someone with size, especially if that person can consistently knock down 3s. But if the upgrade is marginal over what they’ve got, the Celtics will be content to roll with the current mix. Boston can also examine the G-League or overseas for a potential wildcard addition.
Ultimately, Boston's playoff 8th man might already be in-house. Williams will get a final scan on his balky hip this week and, barring a setback, the team can start easing him back into game action. Romeo Langford has seen an uptick in minutes with Walker sidelined. Semi Ojeleye’s muscular frame could help in series against teams like Milwaukee.
Health would be Boston’s best late-season acquisition and it’s far more important to the overall success of the team than anyone Boston could add for the final weeks of the season.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Jazz, which begins Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.