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What Will Barton opting out means for Celtics and Evan Fournier’s free agency market

The free agent swingman market this summer just added another name to the mix on Saturday when Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton opted out of his $14.7 million player option according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nuggets will retain Bird Rights on Barton who has played for Denver since 2015. According to Charania, both Denver and Barton have interest in a new deal but the 30-year-old will hit the unrestricted free agent market next month. He played in 56 regular seasons games last season, averaging 12.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

What could this move signal for Evan Fournier’s market?

The decision by Barton is a bit of a surprising move given his injury woes to end the year. There are only a handful of teams with significant cap room this offseason so it’s unlikely that Barton’s agent will be able to leverage his departure and still get a raise on the player option he turned down.

However, since the Nuggets are an over-the-cap team, they will have no way of replacing Barton and his production if he walks away beyond using their mid-level exception ($9.7 million). With Jamal Murray expected to miss a significant chunk of next season while recovering from a torn ACL, the Nuggets can’t afford to lose a dynamic scorer in Barton if they want to keep pace with other Western Conference contenders during the regular season. Barton’s agent knows that and will likely try to use it to leverage a long-term deal for his client from Denver or another potential suitor.

Barton’s decision to test the market waters should help the Celtics’ hopes of retaining free agent wing Evan Fournier for a reasonable salary. The Celtics won’t have a chance to sign Barton since they won’t be able to offer him more than the mid-level exception but his presence will create a more crowded market for wings.

Outside of top-tier talent like Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan, Barton becomes one of the top shooters on the market with Fournier. His presence along with other veteran talented scorers such as Tim Hardaway Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr., Duncan Robinson, Nic Batum, Reggie Bullock, Norm Powell, Doug McDermott, Andre Iguodala, Trevor Ariza, Gary Trent Jr., and Josh Richardson.

With such a limited number of teams (only 5-10 depending on what happens at NBA Draft) with salary cap room beyond $10 million to spend, the addition of guys like Barton to the market should help Boston. His availability raises the possibility that there will be one fewer team in play to go after Fournier aggressively with a big contract since Barton could be a cheaper appealing alternative.

There are still plenty of other dominoes left to fall to help shape the 2021 free agency market but more good players hitting the market is good news for Boston. Brad Stevens has no meaningful cap room to spend beyond the mid-level so he wants a crowded market to help keep Fournier’s eventual price down. Barton’s availability as a veteran wing may help in doing just that.

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