On Friday, the Celtics inked Chris Babb to a multi-year contract for the remainder of the season. The undrafted rookie has performed well in his role as a wing off the Boston bench in limited action this season, but it’s safe to say several other NBA teams were not in hot pursuit of the former Iowa State star, and probably wouldn’t be this offseason.
So why exactly did the team sign Babb to a multi-year contract? And why have they done the same for other fringe NBA players like Phil Pressey and Chris Johnson this season? I tried to explain the Celtics’ new philosophy in a recent piece for CBS Boston:
The decision to lock up the rookie out of Iowa State to a long-term deal follows a track record of recent depth signings by the Celtics front office. With this contract, Babb became the fourth player this season on whom the team used a portion of their mid-level exception. Vitor Faverani, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey are the other recipients of the $5 million mid-level exception pool.
Using the MLE on young players provides a number of benefits to the Celtics. First and foremost, it allows Boston to lock up these players to a contract for up to four years, even when signing a player to hisi slotted minimum salary, based on experience in the league. Additionally, except for Faverani, all of the players’ salaries after this year are non-guaranteed, so the Celtics are protecting themselves from a player’s price going up if one of them has a breakout year, as well as giving the team flexibility if they want to cut ties with any player this summer.
That protection shows Boston’s front office is learning from their mistakes. The team was burned in a similar situation with an emerging rookie a couple of years back. Training camp invite Greg Steimsma was signed to a one-year deal for the rookie minimum back then and blossomed into a reliable backup center over the course of the 2011-12 season.
Although Danny Ainge and company wanted to bring the big man back to Boston after his contract expired, the team was hamstrung due to the limits of the CBA being over the salary cap. Boston was limited to offering Steimsma a qualifying offer, which came far short of the multi-year deal the Minnesota Timberwolves offered. Eventually, the center took the better deal, which meant Boston got no return for the young prospect they helped develop.
The multi-year pacts that Babb, Pressey and Johnson signed this year ensure that we won’t see a repeat situation of what happened to Steimsma. It’s far from certain that Babb, Pressey, or Johnson will even be on the Celtics roster next year, but if they aren’t, it will be because the Celtics don’t want or need them, not because another team snatched them away in free agency.
The non-guaranteed contracts for future seasons these players signed also provide additional useful chips in potential trade negotiations this offseason for Ainge. Wyc Grousbeck already acknowledged that there “could be fireworks” this summer involving an overhaul of this team’s roster.
You can check out the remainder of the piece by heading over to CBS Boston