The Celtics waived Justin Champagnie on Tuesday ahead of his contract becoming partially guaranteed for $50,000, a move that saves Boston some luxury tax money, but more importantly opens room for a second standard contract this season. The Celtics signed Champagnie from Miami’s G-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, to fill minutes in April as Boston’s regulars rested for the playoffs. He signed a two-year contract with a non-guaranteed second season, setting him up to play in Las Vegas Summer League before Boston waived him.
Champagnie remains eligible for a two-way contract elsewhere and should receive one, the new collective bargaining agreement adding a third two-way slot to each roster to allow for 90 such players league-wide. He turned 22 in June, before averaging 13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists while blocking 1.0 shot per game on 39.2% shooting from the field. Champagnie only hit 7-of-23 three-point attempts (30%), previously mentioned as a key to his NBA integration, which began in Toronto as a 6-6 power forward. Boston’s crowded front court and wing position, including additions Kristaps Porzingis and Oshae Brissett, decreased the likelihood he’d play.
The Celtics lost little by bringing Champagnie to camp though, raising questions about why the team didn’t kick the can down the road to camp by paying him $50,000. That amounted to a roughly $125,000 tax hit, one they’ll pay regardless of who the roster’s 14th player becomes, and the new CBA allows 21 players to fill a roster in the offseason. Boston had 16 players signed before waiving Champagnie, including two-way players J.D. Davison and Jay Scrubb. That included 11 fully guaranteed standard contracts.
Champagnie’s release was a good sign for Luke Kornet, whose contract is non-guaranteed until Jan. 10, when it becomes guaranteed for $2.4 million. His productivity as a reserve last regular season and relatively inexpensive contract in a front court that could face injuries and require rest projects well to him making the team. Dalano Banton signed last month for a $200,000 guarantee that becomes $1-million on opening night.
He’ll receive his full contract guarantee of just over $2 million on Jan. 10 as well, and though he struggled in a short Summer League stint, he’s playing on a valuable two-year deal with a second season team option. Payton Pritchard and Davison can push him in camp for sure, and Malcolm Brogdon’s long-term future with the team remains uncertain, so it’s more probable than not that Banton makes this team.
So that leaves the question — why waive Champagnie now? Since the 15th spot on the roster can, and often does, remain open into the regular season, that places an emphasis on opening the 14th spot sooner rather than later if a desired target becomes available. Some significant free agents remain on the market, including P.J. Washington (restricted), Kelly Oubre, Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr., among others, but they’ve all been out there for over one month now. It’s unlikely Boston created room to urgently pursue any of those veterans, who either expect a larger role, more money than the Celtics’ available minimum, or won’t play at all.
My mind then goes to Blake Griffin. I’ve heard the door remains opens for his return despite the distance from family and his home on the west coast. Given that he mulled his options until October last year, it’s worth assuming he’ll follow a similarly deliberative process this summer, and his veteran status allows the team to sign him for a second-year salary on the cap sheet — $2-million this year — actually less than Champagnie would’ve made. Any other veteran with over 10 years of NBA experience would qualify for the same cap discount.
Of course, the Celtics could also utilize the $6.2-million Grant Williams trade exception to absorb salary into that slot, though in full it’d carry a $17.5-million cap hit, with even utilizing half of it costing over $7-million in tax and pushing Boston within inches of the second apron line (they’re currently $4.2M short). Don’t count on that being how they fill the 14th roster spot.
So, again, why cut Champagnie now? Though roster cuts hardly sit in the near future, the Celtics could sit intrigued by possible roster cutdowns looming for teams over the regular season roster limit. The entire league is currently eyeing an Oklahoma City Thunder roster currently filled with 20 standard contracts. Along with a single two-way deal, they’re at the league maximum for offseason contracts, and will need to waive or trade five of those rostered players by opening night.
That could include Isaiah Joe, a shooter whose deal is non-guaranteed until Jan. 10 following a strong season with the team. They could stretch Victor Oladipo to escape one of those deals. From there, I count 12 players crucial to the Thunder, too expensive to release, or who just arrived. That leaves Aleksej Pokusevski, Ousmane Dieng, Tre Mann, Aaron Wiggins (non-guaranteed) and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl among the players who could shake free here. You can’t rule out the team moving on from Usman Garuba, Ty Ty Washington and Jack White either, though all three players just joined the roster this past month.
Mann, 22 this season, took a step back after an encouraging rookie year out of Florida where he shot 36% from three and scored 10.4 PPG. He torched the Celtics in 2022 with a 35-point performance in a Boston win where he finished 7-for-12 from three. Mann helped lead a 150-point effort against the Celtics this January, too, where he hit five threes and scored 21. Pokusevski remains intriguing as a seven-foot, 22 year old playmaker who can shoot, but he’s averaging only 7.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 0.9 BPG on 38.9% shooting so far in his career. Wiggins, perhaps more likely than the others to become available, shot 39.3% from three on limited attempts last year as a 6-6 wing. Especially if the team keeps Joe, who scored 9.5 PPG and 40.9% from deep on 5.4 attempts.
Elsewhere, the Hawks, Knicks and Wizards have 16 players signed, while the Raptors have 18, with Vit Krejci, DaQuan Jeffries and Isaiah Roby on non-guaranteed deals on those rosters. Rookie Sidy Cissoko signing increased the Spurs’ pro roster count to 18, the Grizzlies have 17 players on guaranteed deals and Jason Preston’s non-guaranteed deal pushes the Clippers to 16 ahead of a potential James Harden trade.
That and the outstanding Damian Lillard trade request in Portland could create ripple effects the Celtics may want to stay prepared for. Nothing is likely imminent until Boston begins inking training camp deals, but there’s now room for a guaranteed contract to join the Celtics at some point in the future.