BOSTON – Today, the Celtics made it official, inking rookie Chris Babb to a multi-year contract. The signing will likely be the final in-season roster move for the Celtics, as the team’s depth chart is now full with 15 players under contract.
On first glance, Babb’s deal doesn’t seem like much beyond being a feel-good story for the youngster. The swingman was one of the final cuts by the Celtics after a strong training camp back in October. The 24-year-old then suited up with the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s D-League affiliate for the first few months of the season, before getting a call up to the big club three weeks back.
Babb’s numbers, 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds per contest over six games, won’t jump off the page at you, but his defensive prowess and effort have caught Brad Stevens’ eye.
“He’s a wing with size. I love having him around,” Stevens said Wednesday night. “He’s an unbelievable teammate, and when he’s played he’s given us good minutes.”
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.
Ainge already has a treasure chest of assets, including nine future first round draft picks, a sizable trade exception via the Pierce/Garnett deal and the non-guaranteed $5.3 million dollar salary of Keith Bogans to move in any trade.
Like the Bogans deal, the non-guaranteed contracts of Babb, Johnson and Pressey give Ainge more options for players to throw in a larger deal to a team that wants to cut salary right away.
At this point, whether Babb stays in Boston beyond this season or not, he is just another piece in Ainge’s rebuilding puzzle. He’ll get a chance over the final few weeks of the season to prove he belongs, but if not, the Celtics have positioned themselves to use his new deal to their advantage in other ways during the coming months.
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