No Love for Jared Sullinger: Boston Celtics' 3rd-Year Forward Needs Patience

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No Love for Jared Sullinger: Boston Celtics' 3rd-Year Forward Needs Patience
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
In his second year in the league, Jared Sullinger more than doubled his scoring and improved his rebounding by more than two per game.

Never ask an NBA player about a trade rumor. You’re guaranteed to get the same response. It’s as if the players have been coached to answer such inquiries since rookie orientation. Or maybe they downloaded the Bill Belichick press conference app that generates lifeless, monotonous answers and denials for all questions. Either way, you’re not getting anything from a player.

So if someone asks Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger about being traded for Minnesota Timeberwolves forward Kevin Love, you’ll probably get this denial: "I never heard about it."

In reality, Sullinger took a different approach and eluded the question like Avery Bradley sneaking behind the defense for a back-door layup.

“That’s not my job,” Sullinger said, via Jay King of “My job is to put the (basketball) in the hole and stop my man from scoring the basketball. I have nothing to do with the management moves.”

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Frustrated by losing, Kevin Love reportedly informed the Timberwolves he's leaning toward opting out of his contract in 2015 and leaving as a free agent.

A Sullinger-for-Love-centered swap is a hot discussion since Love informed the Timberwolves that he will exercise his option to opt out of his contract and become a free agent in 2015. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics are an intriguing possibility with young players, draft picks and salary-cap relief to offer Minnesota.

Should Boston make Minnesota an offer it can’t refuse or be patient with Sullinger and wait to see if his game rises another level in his third year?

Like Love, the Celtics want a quick turnaround from being a lottery team to being a contender again. While Love today is a significant upgrade over Sullinger, will that always be the case? Even if Sullinger doesn’t become as good as Love, he could come close.

Don’t forget that Sullinger’s second year was his first full season in the league, as his rookie year was derailed by a bad back that required surgery after just 45 games played. Before being shut down Sullinger established himself as Boston’s best rebounder and earned a spot in the starting lineup for then-coach Doc Rivers, who is known for being very tough on rookies.

In 2013-14, a healthy Sullinger played in 74 games (44 starts), but Sullinger wasn’t in basketball shape as he spent the offseason rehabilitating from back surgery.

Yet, Sullinger more than doubled his scoring and increased his rebounding from 5.9 per game to 8.1. And he did it while playing mostly out of position at center while trying to add a three-point shot to his offense, taking Sullinger away from his effective low-post game and developing mid-range jumper.

Despite all that, Sullinger wasn’t far behind Love when comparing sophomore seasons. Sullinger trailed Love in scoring by just 0.7 points per game, there was less than a full assist between the two, Sullinger was edged by 0.2 steals and Sullinger slightly got the better of Love in blocked shots by 0.3.

Love has established himself as a better player than Sullinger today, but the difference between the two based on their second years in the league wasn't by much.
Player Points FG% 3-pt % Reb Ast Stl Blk
Kevin Love 2009-10 14.0 .450 .330 11.0 2.3 0.7 0.4
Jared Sullinger 2013-14 13.3 .427 .269 8.1 1.6 0.5 0.7

Love outclassed Sullinger when it came to double-doubles in their second years. Love had 36 to Sullinger’s 22 in 14 less games and in half the number of starts (22 for Love, 44 for Sullinger). As for games with at least 15 rebounds, Love had eight to Sullinger’s four. But Love did it while playing power forward, his natural position. As said earlier, Sullinger played mostly center.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press/Associated Press
It's not a reach to project Sullinger will average a double-double in 2014-15 now that he's healthy to work on his game in the offseason.

With a full offseason to get in shape, Sullinger should be an improved player in 2014-15.

If the Celtics acquire a starting center, Sullinger will play his natural power forward position, which should help his production. It’s possible that Sullinger will work on his three-point shooting, making it a respectable weapon instead of an experiment as well. Sullinger should average a double-double in 2014-15 if all of the above happens. He might even get close to averaging 20-10 per game.

And if that happens, Boston will have a player approaching Love’s production who’s more than three years younger and for a fraction of the cost. Love will make $15.7 million in 2014-15, according to If Love re-signs with Boston in 2015, he will cost the Celtics even more.

Sullinger is still playing under his rookie contract for $1.4 million in 2014-15 with a team option the following season for under $2.3 million. That’s a lot of money Boston is free to spend on free agents for the next two years before a contract extension for Sullinger kicks in for the 2016-17 season.

Patience is in short supply in Boston after cheering for title contenders led by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for five years. The last thing the Celtics want is to be constantly rebuilding or on the mediocrity treadmill of being good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to win it all. Upgrading from Sullinger to Love seems like one way to accelerate the process.

But is Love the kind of player to lead a team to a championship?

While highly productive offensively and on the glass, Love isn’t a great defender. Yes, Love is a star player in the league. But he’s more like a player a team builds with, not around. If Love impacted his team positively on both ends of the court, then trading for Love would be a no-brainer.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Winning the NBA lottery could determine whether Boston and Minnesota consummate any deals.

But a deal for Love could be contingent on the bounce of certain Ping-Pong balls. The NBA draft lottery is Tuesday, and the results probably will have an effect on Love’s future. Do the Timberwolves try to convince Love to stay if they land a top-three selection?

Will Boston part with its lottery pick if it moves into the top three? If the Celtics fall from their current fifth spot, is the selection appealing enough to Minnesota? These are all questions that can’t be answered until the results of the lottery are revealed.

And lastly, does Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge pull the trigger on a deal without assurances that Love will stay in Boston? The Celtics would have one season to prove to Love that Boston is the right place for him long term or Love is one-and-done in Boston.

It’s a gutsy gamble for Ainge to make because Boston would be out some valuable assets if Love only makes a one-season stop in Boston until his next destination. But if anyone has the balls to do it, everyone knows Ainge does.

So far, based on careers, Sullinger is almost on pace with Love. Sullinger could be Love Lite as soon as next season. If Sullinger does improve dramatically in his third season, how good could he become?

The instant gratification of Love is enticing, but like the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, the Celtics might wonder if they should be patient with Sullinger and love the one they’re with.

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