The Celtics looked incomplete Wednesday night at TD Garden, with just five players on their bench after yet another season-ending injury, this time to Leandro Barbosa.
There are 10 healthy players on the roster and one of them is Fab Melo, whom the organization wanted to keep in the NBADL but couldn’t out of necessity. There are reasons why the Celtics can’t just dip into the D-League pool and sign three players.
The fact that the Celtics chose to sign Jason Terry to a mid-level exception contract represented a major commitment, considering it locked them into a hard salary cap at the $74 million range, meaning they cannot under any circumstances go above that.
Last season, the club paid out $86 million in salaries, so its choice to use the mid-level exception while under the salary cap — a condition pushed by smaller-market owners who wanted to prevent their bigger brethren from using that deal to flourish by signing players to below-market deals — was a costly one.
So president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team has to take a patient approach instead of shuttling players in and out for quick fixes. Because of the salary cap constraints, Ainge has to be astute and measured about his moves.
“We like all of our players, and it’s been frustrating and guys have been playing really well,” Ainge said. “And you can see the wind taken out of their sails. You could see it in the faces of the players.
“But it’s going to take more than this to fold the tent. Our guys have played well. Our defense has been good. We just have to find some solutions. We’ve got this week and the All-Star break to try to find the best options.”
A player such as Kenyon Martin is on the market, but he comes with potential baggage, and according to Ainge, all the Celtics have to offer are pro-rated minimum contracts and there are a handful of free agents who would be insulted by playing for the minimum.
So Ainge and coach Doc Rivers will have to recruit those players and perhaps search internationally for talent.
The Celtics are playing hard and desperate, something that wasn’t always the case in the first two months of the season. Ainge wants to reward them for their work with some help, not some D-League retread who will sit the end of the bench. Players such as Carlos Arroyo, Sasha Pavlovic, and Troy Murphy has been added in recent years, with minimal success.
“As far as players, Danny and I, the last 48 hours, have probably covered every human being that’s breathing and can dribble and shoot,” Rivers said before the Celtics went out and scraped out a victory over the Bulls.
“We’re just going to take our time. We don’t want to rush into anything. We don’t have a lot of flexibility cap-wise. We’re just going to wait. If somebody shakes loose, or you can get someone, you will, but until then, we’re stretched at the guard spot.”
Hurry up and wait is the theme, with the Feb. 21 trade deadline looming.
Ainge doesn’t expect help from rival teams who understand the Celtics’ situation and may try to squeeze more out of a deal with them.
“Nobody feels sorry for the Boston Celtics,” he said. “Nobody’s trying to help any team. So you try to find a team to be mutually benefitted, a deal that would be a good for both teams.
“The challenge is, we have this hard cap right now. With trade possibilities and free agent signings, we need to maximize what we have left. That’s why we’re trying to wait as long as we can.”
Ainge said the Celtics are approximately $1 million under the hard cap, providing a sliver of flexibility if they want to make a trade.
Rivers said he told Ainge not to look for particular positions but to seek the best talent and allow him to work the newcomers.
“We’re going to be very patient,” said Rivers. “One of the things I told Danny, at the end of the day, let’s not look at a position anymore. That’s something we were doing.
“From now on, with all the injuries, whoever is out there who we think is the best player, no matter what position, we’ll just get them and we’ll figure out how to use them.”
Both Ainge and Rivers sounded confident, and after they survived a putrid offensive night to beat the Bulls, there is reason to make the right move, not the immediate one.