The Boston Celtics are in a rough spot with their finances this offseason, which may have made their NBA Summer League performance all the more important. After signing both of their rookies and Avery Bradley, they are well over the salary cap and now must start looking at the luxury tax.
The 2014-15 NBA season's tax level has been set at $76.829 million. With the recent draft additions and the guarantee of Phil Pressey's contract, Boston also has about $71.7 million in guaranteed money going to 14 players.
Their inability to be spenders on the free-agent market this summer, outside of re-signing Bradley, certainly upped the ante for their five games in the Orlando Summer League.
The Celtics went 3-2 down south, and there were some promising individual performances, both by players on the roster and those still fighting for a spot.
The 14 players already on Boston's roster must certainly be taken into account when gauging its future plans, but it also isn't an absolute, hard line. The Celtics could still send James Young or another player to D-League affiliate Maine to get some playing time and seasoning. Danny Ainge is also still very active on the trade market.
If a move must be made to clear out a roster spot or extra playing time, he isn't afraid to pull the trigger. Just recently, he agreed to a sign-and-trade of Kris Humphries to the Washington Wizards, picking up another trade exception and second-round pick in the process.
The Celtics showed some flashes in Orlando, as well as some shaky stretches. Everything seen at the Summer League must be analyzed through the lens of competition. This is certainly a high level of play, but it isn't quite the NBA, especially defensively.
The No. 36 jersey is the one most fans were tuning in to see last week in Orlando. Marcus Smart, Boston's No. 6 overall pick in June's draft, started all five games and saw an average of 29.2 minutes.
That was a healthy dose of Smart for this early in his career, and like with most rookies, there were some things to like and some not to like.
Getting the obvious out of the way early, he did not shoot the ball consistently well. Smart was 29.4 percent from the field and missed 26-of-35 three-point attempts. He was incredibly streaky, getting hot from outside at a few intervals, but he mostly struggled to get his shot down.
That is mostly analysis from statistics though. In actually watching the games, there was a lot to like about what Smart showed.
Defensively, which will likely be his prowess in year one, Smart showed impressive quickness, both laterally and up and down. He will have to learn to trust his feet and not overcompensate with hand checks, but he has the speed to stay in front of any perimeter guard. He also had the presence of mind to keep a hand on the ball of a few fast-break drivers to avoid a foul, but also prevent the easy bucket.
Perhaps what was most impressive about Smart in his first NBA foray was his patience offensively. Whether it was scanning the defense from the perimeter point or penetrating and waiting for lanes to open up, he was remarkably patient for a rookie. That led to a lot of interior assists and open layups for him, even in traffic. On that note, he got to the line 30 times through five games.
It was also nice to see him really go at Elfrid Payton during Boston's game with the Orlando Magic. He definitely upped his intensity when going against the other lottery-pick point guard.
Smart played a fair amount of the games at shooting guard while Phil Pressey ran the point. The two had a decent rapport, though it didn't lead to quite as much of Smart posting up as one would like to see. It is tough to do that in these individual-based Summer League games, but hopefully that is worked on a bit during training camp.
The player everyone watched—and was somewhat enamored with—during last year's Summer League, Kelly Olynyk returned for a second go-round in 2014.
What we saw from Olynyk was more of the same from a year ago. He can dominate scoring the basketball against these young, inexperienced defenses. The difference was, in 2013 he just couldn't miss, shooting 57.8 percent from the field. This time, he was clearly working on showcasing a real repertoire of offensive moves and shots.
While he shot just 40 percent overall and hit on just 5-of-18 three-point attempts, Olynyk was impressive in his four games. In two of them he registered three and four assists, respectively. He showed a knack for using his height and position on the perimeter to better read the defense and find open teammates.
That jab step, while maintaining his dribble, from 15 to 18 feet was just deadly and is a shot that will work in the real NBA. On a couple of occasions, he also showed his guard training, able to handle the ball in the open court and penetrate for up-and-unders and pull-ups.
There were a couple other new things he was attempting to display, sometimes successfully. When rebounding, he made an honest effort to catch the ball already looking up court for an outlet pass. Offensively in the paint, he absorbed a fair amount of contact, which is good to see from a second-year big not blessed with incredible athleticism. Olynyk is too good of a free-throw shooter (81.1 percent as a rookie, 13-of-17 during Summer League) to shy away from contact inside.
Rounding out the Summer Leaguers already on Boston's guaranteed roster is point guard Phil Pressey.
Pressey played in all five games in Orlando, starting three of them. He was forced to give some point guard time to rookie Marcus Smart, but he also played decently well alongside him for stretches.
The problems in Pressey's game didn't go away, and they likely won't ever. He didn't shoot particularly well, hitting 32.2 percent overall. There are some shots that stand out, a contested three off a pass from Smart here, a hard drive to the bucket through traffic there, but overall that remains a question mark.
Barring late trade offer that forces Celts to use Pressey - and nothing's in the works - his contract for next yr will be guaranteed.— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) July 15, 2014
His height was still a problem, even against Summer League competition. It sometimes led to seemingly careless passes and turnovers. Pressey did lead Boston with 27 assists, but he also gave the ball away 18 times. No other Celtic was in double figures. The presence of Smart may have put some added pressure on him, and things get dangerous when Pressey tries to do too much.
Pressey did make noticeable strides from his rookie season, some of which may have come from watching and studying Rajon Rondo so closely.
He really started showing a knack for penetrating in a way that drew attention. Some of that is due to the inexperienced defenses of Summer League, but Pressey still had to do the work. He was able to do things like change the speed, direction or angle of his drives to ensure maximum attention. That opened up his passing lanes for wrap-around dimes, behind-the-back looks and bounce passes to waiting bigs.
Boston's second-round pick from a year ago spent last season playing overseas. He was given a lot of opportunity during the Orlando Summer League, playing in all five games and starting three.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much noticeable improvement in Iverson's overall game. You could certainly tell that the effort was there to make changes, but they clearly either hadn't sunk in, or the player is just incapable of performing certain NBA tasks.
For instance, he definitely made an honest effort to keep his hands extended on defense, a crucial move for ground-bound centers, but he also leapt and made contact with the body. That is still a foul, no matter how straight you keep your arms.
One of the big surprises thus far has been Colton Iverson. We know he can defend and be physical. Has shown improved touch around basket.— A. Sherrod Blakely (@SherrodbCSN) July 5, 2014
Though he did only see 15.8 minutes per game, more rebounding was expected from Iverson. He grabbed just 2.4 boards per game, after hauling in nearly 10 a night as a Colorado State senior. The hands just weren't there a lot of times.
Where he did look strong was setting picks and finishing through on them. That means staying at home and absorbing the contact until his guard is free, as well as rolling towards the basket either hard or for that short jumper he can hit.
The surprise of Boston's Summer League was undrafted Oregon senior Mike Moser.
The thing that stood out most about Moser's performance in Orlando was obviously the three-point shooting. He was on and willing to shoot throughout the five games.
This was nothing new to Moser, though, as he shot 37.8 percent from long range last season in college. In Orlando, he hit on 11-of-23 threes for 42.3 percent. Elsewhere he shot 45.1 percent from the field, earning three starts and seeing an average of 26.2 minutes per game.
Moser's high release, coming off a 6'8" forward with a wingspan north of 7', makes him a dangerous stretch four or perimeter three. The freakish athleticism isn't there, but a wealth of experience, intelligence and that outside shot could carry him onto a NBA roster.
Mike Moser had a breakout week w/the #Celtics summer league team, good enough to get an invite to the team's training camp this fall.— A. Sherrod Blakely (@SherrodbCSN) July 11, 2014
What was a bit more hidden than the three-point shooting in Orlando was his ability to fill lanes offensively. He was able to read and react to the point guards and expertly navigate to openings on the floor where he could be found. That certainly helped his shooting percentage a great deal.
Moser also stuffed the stat sheet with 10 assists, 10 steals and a team-high five blocks. The length he has helped on all three accounts. Like Olynyk, his size on the perimeter helped him scope out a few assists, while his ability to stretch into passing lanes created deflections.
Boston's 10-day contract star from last season got maximum opportunity in the Orlando Summer League, but he didn't have a great deal to show for it.
Chris Johnson started all five games for the Celtics on the wing, seeing 23.8 minutes a night. That number would have likely been a lot higher if he had performed up to the level some thought going in.
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In reality, it was difficult to find Johnson on the court at times. He wasn't involved in a lot of the proceedings, getting what numbers he did accumulate off offensive rebounds and other hustle plays.
The good thing to keep in mind is that is what Johnson's game is and has always been. He isn't a guy who is supposed to score a lot of points, though 30.6 percent overall and getting just 3-of-16 threes to go is certainly a low point. Johnson is an effort player, and he did show spurts of what made him such a likable late-season addition to the Celtics last season.
Johnson had a great chase-down block against the Indiana Pacers that led to an easy Boston bucket the other way. He also did better work on the boards late in the week.
This was still a sizable disappointment after playing 40 NBA games last season with the big league club. Johnson may have played himself out of a contract renewal in Boston.
A pleasant surprise for Boston during the Summer League, O.D. Anosike made an impression with limited opportunities.
Seeing just 13.5 minutes over four games, Anosike showcased the skills that allowed him to lead the nation in rebounding in back-to-back years at Siena.
He had very active hands defensively, coming up with a few deflections that led to fast breaks for Boston's offense. He was also sure-handed offensively. He turned the ball over just twice in four games.
During Boston's final game against the Indiana Pacers, Anosike was 6-of-7 from the field for 13 points and 10 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action.
It was recently announced that he was signing a deal to play in Italy this coming season, but Boston will likely keep an eye on him moving forward.