Celtics’ Options for Signing Courtney Lee Limited After Using Midlevel Exception to Sign Jason Terry


Celtics' Options for Signing Courtney Lee Limited After Using Midlevel Exception to Sign Jason TerryThe Celtics have signed Jason Terry.

Wait, you might say. This isn't news. Terry was introduced as a new member of the Celtics on Saturday, and reports of his acquisition leaked weeks ago. Way to be late to the party, dude.

Well, Terry may have been an unofficial member of the Celtics for some time, but with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge telling reporters Tuesday that the team will sign Terry using the $5 million midlevel exception, much of the details of the Celtics' payroll situation come to form.

Many of those details will not be encouraging to Celtics fans. Namely, signing shooting guard Courtney Lee, or any other impact free agent, just got a lot tougher.

The delay in announcing the specifics of Terry's deal was due to the Celtics' attempts to preserve the midlevel exception for Lee or a player of similar stature. One possible avenue was working out a sign-and-trade with the Mavericks, Terry's old team, but the Mavs' interest in such a deal probably decreased from slight to none after they agreed to a two-year deal with O.J. Mayo. Ainge therefore was left to ink Terry to the midlevel exception, which pays Terry $15 million over the next three years and effectively places a hard cap of a little more than $74 million on the Celtics' payroll.

As a result, the most the Celtics could offer Lee is the biannual exception of about $4 million over the next two seasons, considerably less than he could likely find elsewhere. A starting spot, which could be available if Avery Bradley's shoulder surgery keeps him out to begin the season, would be something of a lure for Lee, but not much of one given that Bradley would probably assume his spot once he gets healthy.

The biannual exception is more in the wheelhouse of Mickael Pietrus, who received the veteran's minimum from the Celtics last season. Yet the $4.2 million Pietrus received from the Phoenix Suns as a result of a buyout made him much more amenable to that minimum deal. Without that buyout money coming his way this season, Pietrus might seek a little bit more in salary. If Lee agreed to the below-market biannual exception with the Celtics, Pietrus could be gone.

Do not blame Jeff Green for any of this, either. Green, 25, is a forward who willingly fills a bench need, one that is separate from but related to the need for backcourt help. If the Celtics had let Green go and signed Mayo or Lee instead, the team would have had its swingman. But the Celtics would then be in the even direr situation of trying to find a dependable backup for Paul Pierce, who concluded last season looking every bit of his 34 years.

Once the Celtics agreed to terms with Terry, re-signing Ray Allen became a virtual necessity due to the cap stipulations that allowed the Celtics to offer Allen, and only Allen, an attractive amount of money to play a bit role on a probable contender. Contrary to popular belief, the $12 million the Celtics reportedly offered Allen was not freed up to be spent elsewhere once he signed with Miami. In the world of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, that money effectively vanished. Now Allen is gone, Terry is on board for the midlevel and the Celtics are left to offer only the biannual exception and minimum contracts.

The Celtics may not be out of Lee's consideration entirely, but the likelihood of him wearing green next season has lessened significantly. Look at it this way, though: Given the choice between Terry, a knockdown shooter and bulk scorer, and Lee, a versatile player whose exact role has been ill-defined for much of his career, the Celtics made the right pick.

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