The Boston Celtics had an active end to the 2024 NBA trade deadline, accomplishing their desire to bolster the bench by acquiring Xavier Tillman and Jaden Springer. By shipping off Lamar Stevens and Dalano Banton, in addition to three future second-round picks, the Celtics maintained their open roster spot heading into the buyout market.
The Celtics will likely take a few days to scope out what the buyout market will look like before making a final call, with another option of filling the final roster spot being converting two-way player Neemias Queta to a standard deal.
Celtics insiders Chris Forsberg and Brian Scalabrine further discussed Boston's options to fill their final roster spot on NBC Sports Boston's trade deadline special.
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"I think we need a big," Scalabrine said in response to what Boston's needs are down the stretch. "We need a big -- a versatile big -- not another big man that plays underneath. I like Queta and Luke Kornet, but let's say we wanted to go with another Tillman type of player -- I'm fine with (Oshae) Brissett, (Sam) Hauser, (Payton) Pritchard -- we have enough wings."
Queta has impressed in his minutes with Boston this season, averaging 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game, giving the Celtics a reliable depth player who allows for Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford to get rest. The 7-footer's rim protection and ability to chase down rebounds have been an unexpected yet welcomed piece of Boston's success this season. With his eligibility for NBA games dwindling being on a two-way deal, Brad Stevens will soon need to decide if Queta's contract will be converted to a standard deal, filling the final roster spot in Boston.
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Tillman -- who Boston acquired near the deadline from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Stevens and two second-round picks -- is a defensive-minded big who could take minutes away from Queta, lessening the need to convert his two-way contract. Although undersized compared to the Portuguese big man at just 6-foot-8, Tillman gives Boston exactly what it needs -- a player who doesn't need the ball in his hands to contribute. While he may not have the same shot-blocking and board-getting ability as Queta, he has still posted solid averages of 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and a block per game.
With Porzingis being historically injury prone, and Horford needing frequent rest due to his age, the Celtics lack another big who can shoot from deep. If the right opportunity arises on the buyout market, Boston could look to add a big who can consistently knock down the 3-ball, allowing the second or third string's offense to spread the court as the starting unit can.
"I don't know of a guy on the buyout market that can help us in the playoffs, maybe we can [find one], but the stretch between now and the end of the season, you want to keep guys pushing hard," Scalabrine added. "When the end of the season comes, Al Horford will have a game where he plays 38 minutes to build his body up for the playoffs, but he'll also have games where he sits out -- that's how you do it, that's how guys start preparing. Minutes will go up, but they'll also take games off. To me, it's about having a buyout guy that could be a stopgap for between now and the end of the season."
The Celtics likely have their rotation set for when the playoffs come around. Should Boston look to add a player through the buyout market, it is unlikely they'd see meaningful minutes beyond the regular season. The rotation the Celtics have been using so far has led them to an NBA-best 39-12 record, so barring a catastrophe, that is unlikely to change outside of the newly acquired Tillman and Springer, who will likely compete for end-of-rotation minutes.
Springer, a 21-year-old shooting guard acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers, gives the Celtics more guard depth behind Jrue Holiday and Payton Pritchard. Already playing in his third season at such a young age, Springer has yet to play too many meaningful minutes, averaging just 9.4 minutes per game throughout his career. Luckily for Boston, Springer exceeds in an area where Pritchard struggles -- defense. Ranking in the 99th percentile in block percentage and steal percentage, the 6-foot-4 guard-wing hybrid could be used situationally when defense is needed.
"While we are waiting to see who comes on the market -- hopefully Tillman's healthy enough, I know he was battling something and sat out that game when Memphis was here -- maybe get [Tillman] out there and see how comfortable you feel with him being the third or fourth big," Forsberg said. "You still have Luke Kornet, you still have Neemias Queta who could go up to the parent roster."
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While the list of players in the buyout market will continue to expand over the next few days as teams work out what their rosters will look like now that the trade deadline has passed, some teams have already started to waive players. Players can end up bought out for a variety of reasons -- they may have been added to the trade to make it work financially, a team may have acquired another talented player of the same position, or a player simply asks for one to give them a chance to play elsewhere.
"I start looking at guys who got traded today," Forsberg added. "Like, what does Utah do with Otto Porter Jr., someone who the Celtics were rumored to be interested in -- do they buy him out? Do you swoop in and get someone who at least has some playoff experience?"
Although the buyout market has some intriguing names that Boston could look to add, some financial restrictions hold players back from signing with the Celtics. Being in the second apron of the NBA's new CBA rules -- meaning the team's salary exceeds $182.5 million -- the Celtics can't sign anyone whose salary was over the $12.2 million midlevel exception before being bought out.
"You have to start looking at guys who are below [the $12.2 million contract value]," Forsberg said of buyout candidates. "Delon Wright, Otto Porter Jr. -- I'm just wondering who it's going to be, we don't know yet. Of the guys that are available now? Slim pickings."
The Celtics will presumably wait until after their next game on Friday night against the Washington Wizards, and possibly even longer, to see how the new acquisitions fit into their rotation before deciding on signing a buyout candidate or converting Queta's contract.