The Celtics will be bringing 17 contracted (15 guaranteed) players to training camp later this month, but Celtics president Danny Ainge says that it is very much an open competition. He stressed that the 15 best players would be on the opening day roster.
You would almost have to assume that 14 of the 15 guaranteed contracts are set in stone. Semih Erden, Luke Harangody, Avery Bradley and Delonte West should have nothing to worry about. Those O'Neal boys should be pretty safe as well.
This leaves the battle for the final roster spot down to three players—Oliver Lafayette, Tony Gaffney and Von Wafer. This much you could have gotten from Chris Frosberg.
Here's comes the good part.
I'm already eliminating Lafayette.
Lafayette is a very good scoring guard, but at just 6'2" with a non-guaranteed contract on a team that already has Nate Robinson, Delonte West and Avery Bradley ahead of him on the depth chart, this is a non-starter for me. Oliver, I wish you luck elsewhere.
Okay, so now we have a two-horse race—Wafer and Gaffney.
Here are some important facts about each player that will weigh heavily in my mind when Ainge calls and asks my opinion.
Wafer, despite putting up good numbers in his freshman year at Florida State, was suspended during the early part of his sophomore year before becoming buried on the bench by the end of the season. He then declared for the draft against all common sense. During a pre-draft workout with the Phoenix Suns, Wafer, apparently irritated by a fellow draft hopeful, intentionally elbowed the cat in the face, then walked off the court and ending his workout.
The Lakers used a throw-away pick deep in the second round on him anyway. In between D-League assignments, Wafer appeared in 16 games with the Lakers before being waived at the end of the season.
Wafer next spend one week with the L.A. Clippers in 2007, appearing in just one game. Two more quick stops (Denver and Portland) followed before Wafer had his "breakthrough" season with the Houston Rockets in the 2008-2009 season. He earned a starting role after Tracy McGrady went down with an injury and produced reasonably well, averaging almost 14 points per game as a starter.
All was not well with Von though, he had quite a little dust up with the coach of the Rockets while on the bench in a playoff game. The always present questions about his attitude resumed with a vengeance.
Wafer fled to the greener pastures of Greece, signing a two-year, $10 million contract Olympiacos. For reasons unknown, Wafer was waived by the team one month into the season.
My impressions of Mr. Wafer? Petulant. Disruptive. Steaky shooter who might not handle a limited role off the bench.
Tony Gaffney was born in Boston, Mass.! Okay, I like him already, but I'll continue.
Gaffney, 6'8" and 205 pounds, was the Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year in his senior season at the University of Massachusetts. He accounted for over 100 blocks and 50 steals that season. He considers defense to be both his passion and his calling card. He has boldly declared that he can defend any NBA player at four positions (at least he's willing to try). He has said that he will die trying to make the team, and that no one will work harder.
The one affectionately known as "TG" (okay, I just made that up) was the final cut by the Lakers last season, reportedly praised for his passionate play on defense. Phil Jackson has a pretty good understanding of what a good basketball player looks like.
Well, that's enough for me.
We have a lanky, bulldog of a kid willing to do anything it takes (including filling Tony Allen's defensive stopper role) to realize his childhood dream of making his hometown team, versus a player who has been a bit more trouble than he's worth at several stops along his career fighting to cash in with any NBA team willing to pay him.
No contest. Give me Gaffney.
The Celtics do not have a pressing urgency for points off the bench from perimeter players. Robinson can score. West can score. Marquis Daniels can theoretically score. Heck, even Bradley might be able to score.
Boston does, however, have a pressing need for perimeter defense. Outside of Daniels, who off the bench is capable of guarding the small forward position? I know Paul Pierce is invincible, but even he might get tired and need an occasional break.
Do you want a precious roster spot to go to a kid who seems to define himself by playing time and points, or to a kid who will bleed to stop the opposing team from scoring?
I think the answer is easy.