Celtics

Celtics MLE targets: Who could be potential additions in 2022 free agency?

The Celtics will likely have a $6.4 million exception at their disposal to add some help.

Celtics MLE targets
Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum could be a potential target with the mid-level exception. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

With free agency somehow (impossibly) already upon us, the Celtics have a chance to add talent to the roster with the help of the mid-level exception (MLE).

As a refresher course, the mid-level exception allows teams to sign players to a deal above the minimum even if they are above the cap. There are two iterations — the taxpayer and non-taxpayer MLE. This season, the former is worth $6.4 million while the latter is worth $10.3 million. The Celtics likely will only have access to the smaller exception, since using the non-taxpayer MLE hard-caps a team. The Celtics prioritize flexibility for midseason moves, so expect to see a player in that $6.4 million range.

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So who might the Celtics target? In theory, any free agent can sign the MLE — there were rumblings that Kyrie Irving might sign one with the Lakers, although he eventually opted for the only logical option and returned for presumably his final season with the Nets. The Celtics could use another serviceable center, some additional shooting/scoring depth and maybe another ball-handler to boost the bench. Here are some names that might make sense.

Patty Mills — Mills opted out of the final year of his deal with the Nets, and he might be the dream candidate — essentially an upgraded version of Payton Pritchard with deep playoff experience, ball-handling chops and some 3-point shooting. He also has a great relationship with Ime Udoka. Can the Celtics wrangle him into the fold as a high-usage back-up for Marcus Smart?

Nicolas Batum — Batum was overpaid so long in Charlotte that a solid season with the Clippers was largely overshadowed. But for a Celtics team in pursuit of cheap help on the wing off the bench, his 40-percent 3-point shooting with great size and versatility would be a welcome addition. Batum turns 34 in December and missed some time last season, but he played in 27 of the Clippers’ final 30 regular-season games.

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Bruce Brown — Would the Nets really let Brown get away? Presumably not, but if they do, the Celtics would be ecstatic to acquire his tough, versatile defense. Brown quietly shot 40.4 percent from 3-point range last season, feasting from the corner on defenses that keyed in on the Nets’ stars. He also showed an odd-but-effective pick-and-roll game as the roll man, despite being just 6-foot-4.

Otto Porter Jr. — The Warriors will have to navigate some choppy financial waters, which could shake a useful player free. Porter isn’t the league’s best defender, but he has good size and can space the floor offensively off the bench. If the Warriors look to move on, the Celtics could swoop in and steal a player who helped beat them in the Finals earlier this month.

Isaiah Hartenstein — Hartenstein reportedly wants to stay with the Clippers, but a lot of people seem to want to stay with the Clippers (it is, after all, LA). If he ends up looking elsewhere, Hartenstein would be a great fit behind Al Horford and Robert Williams and could easily slot in for starter minutes as necessary to buy rest throughout the course of the season.

Delon Wright — Wright wouldn’t be the most exciting name, but he also wouldn’t be the most expensive one, and he shot 37.9 percent from three last year in Atlanta while playing hard on the defensive end. The Celtics wouldn’t be getting a true knockdown shooter, but they also wouldn’t take on a defensive target.

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Robin Lopez — A big man who knows exactly who he is and what he brings (and doesn’t bring) to a team. Frankly, there’s a lot to be said for that. Lopez probably won’t command the full MLE, but he might be worth a look.

Victor Oladipo — Per Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Oladipo has gotten interest for the taxpayer MLE. Oladipo shot 41.7 percent from 3 last season and was one of Miami’s best defenders against the Celtics in the postseason. Would he be interested in joining the team that eliminated him from the postseason?

T.J. Warren — Warren’s name gets brought up in these conversations often, although he’s a gamble. Is the MLE enough? If so, what does he have after playing just four games over the last two seasons?

If he’s healthy and can return to something close to his former self, Warren is an ideal fit and would be a steal at MLE money, but that’s no guarantee.

Free agency begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

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