AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Could the Celtics be interesting in O.J. Mayo?O.J. Mayo became an unrestricted free agent on Friday when the Memphis Grizzlies elected not to extend him a qualifying offer, and it may not be long before Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge inquires about the services of the four-year shooting guard.
With Kevin Garnett agreeing to a new three-year deal on Saturday, Ainge can begin setting his sights on other targets, and he'll need a backup plan if Ray Allen decides not to re-sign with Boston and heads elsewhere.
Would the Celtics look to Mayo as a potential replacement for Allen? Well, technically, they already have. The C's reportedly came very close to dealing Allen for Mayo back in February, which clearly indicates there's an interest level on Boston's part.
At a quick glance, Mayo seems like an enticing candidate. He's a skilled offensive player and an accomplished shooter, and would most likely accept a bench role similar to the one he played in Memphis the past two seasons, and, most importantly, he's young, being only 24 years old. But he's an experienced young player, capable of contributing to a team with lofty playoff goals. If the C's did acquire Mayo, he'd be both a short- and long-term contributor, providing help now, but also serving as a fairly significant part of an eventual rebuilding effort.
As is routine in the NBA, such a partnership could come down to money.
The qualifying offer the Grizzlies could have extended to Mayo was for $7.4 million, which would have put them right near the luxury tax line, hence why they were probably hesitant to put forth the offer sheet. If Ainge and the Celtics play their cards right, they could put together a quality team, exceed the salary cap utilizing the Bird Rights of their own free agents like Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, but still remain within $4 million of the luxury tax threshold (projected around $70 million), which would qualify them for the full mid-level exception, which has been set at $5 million for the 2012-2013 season.
That mid-level exception would most likely be Boston's best chance at luring Mayo (or any other big-name free agent), should they choose to pursue him. Given the cap holds the Celtics currently have in place on all of their free agents, coupled with the money it will take to bring back Bass and Green, they don't project to have anything in the way of cap space to sign Mayo to a new deal without using an exception.
If Mayo were to accept the mid-level exception, he would technically be taking a pay cut, but not by much at all. Mayo made $5.6 million with the Grizzlies last season, and, depending on how long the Celtics signed him for (players can be signed for up to four years using the mid-level exception), the salary escalates from the initial $5 million (if they offer the full value).
The Celtics and Grizzlies could explore a sign-and-trade involving Allen and Mayo, with the biggest benefit to both clubs being the right to retain the Bird Rights of each player and exceed the salary cap in order to sign them. For Boston, trying to sign Mayo the way they'll attempt to sign Green and Bass could put them more than $4 million over the luxury tax line, which would take away the mid-level as an option, leaving them with only the taxpayer mid-Level exception (worth $3 million), to sign other free agents.
However, this scenario is unlikely, mainly because Memphis, on the surface, doesn't seem an enticing option for Allen, even if more money is on the table. While Memphis can still upgrade its team, Allen doesn't seem like the piece that will vault them to the top of the Western Conference. Allen would likely be more enticed by a surefire contender (like much-rumored Miami).
Mayo's still a promising young player, but if the Celtics sought his services they know they wouldn't be gunning for the next Ray Allen. Mayo's not as much of a pure shooter as Allen is, but can arguably be described as a better overall playmaker. While his shooting percentages, particularly from the field overall (40.8) and from beyond the arc (36.4), were on par with the lowest of his career last season, Mayo's ability to score the ball (12.6 points per game last season) cannot be overshadowed as Boston looks to revamp its team for next season.
How often have we talked about the scoreless runs late in games that have sealed the Celtics' fate on multiple occasions? While Mayo might not be the sole answer to such a dilemma, he'd certainly play a critical part.