Playing Keep or Dump with Every Current Member of the Boston Celtics Roster
So many aspects go into rebuilding a team. You have to draft well, trade well, make shrewd free-agent signings and allocate playing time properly for player development. However, once you do accumulate assets, you must then evaluate what you have and decide which members of your roster complement one another best.
Unfortunately, that means you must send some players packing. Those players may be skilled and have potentially high ceilings, but if they don't fit within the construct of the scheme going forward, then you have no choice but to bite the bullet and relocate them.
The Boston Celtics find themselves in such a situation entering the summer of 2015. Two years into the rebuild, the Celtics have collected a sizable number of assets in the form of players and picks. The problem is, they can only have 15 men on a roster, and if they want to make other moves to improve the team, they must part with some of these assets.
This is a pivotal moment for general manager Danny Ainge and the rest of Boston's front office. Decisions must be made, gambles must be taken, and fruit must be borne.
So, who stays and who goes?
Brandon Bass is one of the more underrated players in the league.
A consummate professional, he will do exactly what is asked of him without making a peep. If that means seeing his playing time cut for the betterment of the team, then so be it.
It's easy to like what Bass has brought to the Celtics since coming over prior to the 2011-12 season. He has a reliable jumper, and he is tough and deceptively athletic. He can effectively defend either forward position. Bass has also demonstrated that he elevates his game in big moments, having put together numerous impressive playoff performances in green.
The big man is the definition of a solid role player. He has averaged .118 win shares per 48 minutes throughout his career and hasn't posted less than the approximate league average (.100) since 2006-07, his sophomore campaign. His career player efficiency rating is also right around league average (15) at 14.8, and that's largely due to the fact that he recorded single-digit PERs in his first two seasons.
All of that being said, it's time for Boston to cut the cord with Bass.
The 29-year-old is a free agent this summer, and contenders will come calling for his services. That could mean a multiyear deal that the C's just cannot afford to dole out to an aging veteran.
Some will make the argument that Bass is a good locker-room guy and a great influence on a young team, and while that may be true, is it wise to keep an "influence" at the expense of the playing time of up-and-coming players and at the expense of money that Ainge could allocate elsewhere?
The Celtics have a frontcourt glut as it is, and bringing Bass back would only compound that problem. The LSU product had a good run in Beantown, but that run has come to an end.
Avery Bradley tends to be a polarizing player among the Celtics fanbase, and you can understand why.
He is a difficult player to figure out. He is undersized and inconsistent. He does not get to the free-throw line and is not the world's most efficient player. On the other hand, he shoots the three well (36.4 percent for his career), is a good mid-range jump shooter and can be a tenacious defender when he is engaged.
The question many pose is whether or not he is a starting-caliber guard, but my response to that is, does it really matter as long as he can be effective in his role?
The San Antonio Spurs demonstrated last season how imperative a strong rotation is. It doesn't necessarily matter who starts; what matters is having good players up and down the roster.
So, if Bradley is sharing backcourt minutes with Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas, whether or not he is starting-caliber is almost immaterial.
For one thing, pairing Bradley and Smart together comprises arguably the best defensive backcourt in the league going forward. Whatever Bradley lacks on the offensive end of the floor he makes up for defensively.
Also, the newly acquired Thomas can fill it up in a hurry, so Bradley's offense is not even as important as it once was.
This three-guard rotation that Boston has looks good for the future. All three guys are young and fit well together. Keeping Bradley seems like a capital idea.
While Jae Crowder may never develop into anything more than a "glue guy," he is still a valuable member for any bench.
Standing 6'6" and weighing in the neighborhood of 240 pounds, Crowder, 24, has good size for a small forward, and his solid strength and frame allow him to even defend some power forwards.
Crowder isn't an incredibly gifted offensive player, as he isn't a great shooter or a pure scorer, but he doesn't try to do too much and mostly takes good shots.
After the loss, Thomas had high praise for Crowder. "He’s just a bull," Thomas said, via Zack Cox of NESN.com. "He’s a pitbull. A guy that’s not going to back down from anybody."
It's those types of qualities that keep lunch pail-type players like Crowder in the league. He may not be the most talented guy around, but his effort and infectious energy make him a phenomenal teammate.
The catch with Crowder is that he is a restricted free agent this summer. He will garner some interest, but the thought here is that his price stays well within Boston's range. Unless someone offers Crowder something unreasonable, Ainge will match.
The Celtics acquired Luigi Datome at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Tayshaun Prince back to the Detroit Pistons.
Datome is a 6'8" Italian wing who hasn't really worked out since coming to the NBA last season. As a matter of fact, he has only played in four games this year.
With Boston having several players who can man the small forward spot, it seems unlikely that Datome will ever find a role with the club.
He is a restricted free agent this summer. It's hard to imagine the C's matching any potential offers that are made to him.
Jonas Jerebko was the other piece that the Celtics received in the Prince deal, and unlike Datome, he has an interesting case.
No one is going to argue that Jerebko can play the game of basketball.
He is a lifetime 47.1 percent shooter with a career true shooting percentage of 55.2 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 51.5 percent. Those are solid numbers.
Jerebko has also shown significant improvement in his three-point shot over these last two seasons, hitting on 41.9 percent of his long-range attempts last year and 40.9 percent in 2014-15.
The Swede can run the floor well too, and at 6'10", he has great size for the small forward position.
The problem is, he just turned 28 and is an unrestricted free agent this summer. For a player who can fill a role on a contender, it's debatable whether or not Ainge should (or will) give him the likely multiyear deal that he will command.
Still, due to his ability to shoot the three-ball and be an efficient scorer, the thought here is that Boston should bring him back if he comes at an affordable price.
Here is where things start to get dicey.
Let me preface this by saying Kelly Olynyk is a solid player. He can shoot, is efficient, can pass and handle the ball and has good floor vision for a 7-footer. He absolutely has a place in the NBA and can be a key member on a lot of ballclubs.
But the Celtics are not one of them.
While Olynyk can certainly bring a lot to the table offensively, his defensive shortcomings prevent him from being a surefire keeper. Now, if Boston had another good defensive big to play alongside of him, that wouldn't be an issue, but it doesn't.
The Celtics' other two young bigs are Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller. Like Olynyk, both players are more offensively inclined. Sullinger has good instincts on the defensive end, but he just does not have the height or the wingspan to be an impact guy on that side of the ball. Zeller has the size but does not possess the toughness or reflexes to be anything more than a mediocre defender.
That means one of the three has to go, so Boston is essentially left to decide who to keep between Olynyk and Sullinger (as Zeller is a bench player and can stick as a backup big man). You just can't have two guys who can't play defense effectively sharing a front line.
There has been some debate about who is the better player, but you have to look at overall production and toughness here. Sullinger wins out on both accounts.
Again, Olynyk is a nice player, but he has yet to put together a long stretch of games where he looks confident, willing and able. When he has a bad shooting night, he seems almost afraid to touch the basketball, and this tends to persist for several games afterward, if not weeks.
This has been the case since Olynyk came into the league last season, and it hasn't changed.
If confidence is going to continue being an issue for the Canadian, putting your eggs in his basket as the key frontcourt member for the future is risky. That isn't to say that Sullinger does not have his deficiencies (we'll get to that later), but in a vacuum, he is simply the superior player.
Judging from most statistical measures, Phil Pressey is not a good professional basketball player.
The diminutive guard is shooting 35.2 percent from the floor and 30.4 percent from deep (which is actually an improvement). He has a true shooting percentage of 45.4 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 41.7 percent.
However, Pressey is one of those types of players who cannot solely be judged on stats.
The 24-year-old does possess some good qualities.
He is blindingly quick, has excellent floor vision, is a good passer and probably conducts the fast break better than anyone else on the roster. He is also a feisty perimeter defender.
The thing with Pressey is that he would fit much better on a good team with ample talent around him where he can be hidden as a reserve point guard off the bench. I can see him playing a spark plug-type role on a contending squad.
With Smart, Bradley and Thomas clogging up the backcourt minutes, it doesn't appear that Pressey has much of a future in Boston. It's a shame too, because the kid is a hard worker and gives 110 percent every time he is out on the floor.
I have always been a bit surprised that Shavlik Randolph has never stuck with any NBA team.
His per-36 numbers for his career aren't too shabby, as he averages 10.2 points and 10.8 rebounds. However, he is not exactly the most efficient big man, as he shoots only 45.4 percent overall.
This is actually Randolph's second stint with the Celtics, as Boston brought him over from China during the 2012-13 campaign.
At 31 years old and with virtually no room for growth, Randolph has no role in Beantown down the line. Expect the C's to allow him to walk in free agency this summer.
If anyone on the Celtics roster should be deemed "untouchable," it's Smart.
Although he is not having the greatest year in terms of shooting the basketball, the rookie is making an impact overall.
Smart is averaging .073 win shares per 48 minutes, and while you may not think that is such a big deal, put this into perspective: Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick who has drawn comparisons to LeBron James, is averaging .033. Elfrid Payton, the rookie guard whom everyone seems to be talking about, is averaging .022. Dante Exum, a guard who was drafted right ahead of Smart, is averaging minus-0.004.
So, clearly, Smart is doing something right.
The stocky 6'4" Oklahoma State product is a demon on defense, using his blend of size, strength and athleticism to torment opposing guards (and even forwards) on the perimeter. He has also shown the ability to hit the three-ball in his first season, shooting 40.9 percent from distance between December and January.
The question is whether Smart is a shooting guard or a point guard, but I'm not even sure that matters. His position is arbitrary; what's important is his production, and Smart is proving that he should be part of Boston's future based on that.
Other guards around the league have taken notice of Smart's prowess. Kyle Lowry had this to say to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe during All-Star Weekend:
That kid’s good, man. I think he has the ability to really grow and be a lead guard and be a leader. He has toughness and that mentality to be a leader. I think he’s really going to keep growing and just developing. The big thing with him is just keep continuing to work, no matter what the situation. Get better. Don’t worry about the things that’s going on [around you]. Grow as an individual.
The only way the C's should even consider parting with Smart is if a bona fide star becomes available (e.g., DeMarcus Cousins), and even then, Ainge should still think long and hard about moving his fiery floor general.
A stress fracture ended Sullinger's third season a bit early, but you can't ignore the progression that the big man had been making.
His counting numbers won't show that. He averaged 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this year, very similar to the 13.3 points and 8.1 boards he put up in 2013-14. However, Sullinger demonstrated an uptick in efficiency, and his win shares per 48 minutes increased from .091 to .124.
There has been much debate in terms of who to keep between Sullinger and Olynyk, but the answer is Sullinger.
Of course, that does not mean the 23-year-old doesn't have issues to work on.
First of all, it may be time for Sullinger to ditch the three-pointer. He shot the triple at a 28.9 percent clip this season, a slight bump from last year's 26.9 percent rate. Now, this is probably not all his fault, as head coach Brad Stevens is surely encouraging Sully to shoot treys to spread the floor. While that idea is nice in theory, if it isn't working, it isn't working.
Sullinger needs to spend much more time around the basket, as he shot 63.5 percent at the rim this season, dispelling the myth that he can't finish over length.
The problem is, only 26.7 percent of his shot attempts came from that area. That number needs to increase quite a bit.
Sullinger also needs to shed some weight, and he said as much after his most recent injury.
"Change the physique, change the way I look. That's the biggest thing, I think, is just change the way I look," said Sullinger, via Jay King of MassLive.com. "I'm tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look and seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning's going to be a big factor."
Perhaps Sullinger will spend some more time down low if he loses a few pounds. That extra stamina would help him bang down low late in games.
Regardless, Sullinger is a keeper. He can score and rebound and is rarely out of position defensively. Plus, he is a good passing big man.
Let's just hope he gets in better shape and stays healthy.
Ainge pulled off a coup at the trade deadline by acquiring Thomas for Marcus Thornton and Cleveland's 2016 first-round pick. Now, the Celtics have their sixth man of the future.
What Thomas lacks in size he more than makes up for in terms of toughness and efficiency. The 5'9" guard can get to the free-throw line at will, averaging 5.3 attempts per 36 minutes over the course of his career. He also owns an impressive career true shooting percentage of 57.4 percent.
Thomas is simply a terrific scorer off the bench and is the type of player Ainge has been wanting for years.
His defensive shortcomings (no pun intended) will never allow him to be an 82-game starter on a contender, but that's OK; that's where Smart and Bradley come in.
Now, Stevens can mix and match with those three guards and play the hot hand(s). He definitely has some weapons at his disposal in that trio.
Most importantly, Thomas is on an affordable contract, with three years remaining on his deal at less than $7 million each season.
The man known as "IT2" feels comfortable in Boston, too.
"Given the opportunity I have with coach and my teammates to just go out there and play, that makes it easy on me,” Thomas said, via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. "I just have to go out there and play my game. They’re making the transition easy for me, making me comfortable, and making me not worry about things."
It has to be a welcome change of scenery for Thomas, who was unable to spread his wings with the Phoenix Suns due to sharing a backcourt with two similar players in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. With the C's, Thomas is playing with two guards in Smart and Bradley who complement him well.
It seems like the Celtics backcourt is set.
Evan Turner is one of those players who always put up decent counting stats but don't really help the team win games.
Turner is averaging 8.7 points, five rebounds and five assists per game this season. Not bad, right? Well, a deeper look into his numbers shows that he has once again been pedestrian this year.
He is shooting only 41.1 percent from the floor and has an ugly true shooting percentage of 47 percent and an even uglier effective field-goal percentage of 43.5 percent. Turner is also recording only .029 win shares per 48 minutes, below his lifetime average of .042.
But wait: It gets worse.
Per ESPN.com, Turner's real plus-minus is minus-2.88, and his WAR is minus-0.49.
One can make the argument that Turner is only 26 years old, but the problem with that justification is that the former No. 2 overall pick has shown no improvement during his five seasons in the league. As a matter of fact, he may have even regressed.
He isn't a good shooter, turns the ball over a lot, doesn't defend well and doesn't really have a position.
Turner is in the first year of a cheap two-year contract with the Celtics. Perhaps Boston can trade him this offseason, but his value will likely be at its highest at next year's trade deadline.
It pains me to say this because Turner is an easy guy to root for given his life story, but he just hasn't shown enough to solidify his role in the Celtics' future.
This one is pretty obvious.
Gerald Wallace has been nothing but a class professional since coming over in the trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets two summers ago. He has accepted his role as a mentor and has been seen countless times advising and counseling Celtics players from the bench.
Still, the 32-year-old is not even a shell of the player he once was, and next year, he will enter the final season of a four-year contract worth $40 million. He will make just over $10 million on 2015-16, so perhaps he could have some value as an expiring contract at next year's deadline (or maybe even this summer).
No matter what, Wallace does not fit into Boston's long-term plans.
James Young hasn't really gotten much burn during his rookie season, but there is no doubt the 19-year-old factors into the Celtics future.
Young is still raw, but he has flashed great potential, particularly as an outside shooter. He has a smooth stroke and displays quite a bit of confidence in his shot.
What Young needs to work on is his defense. He gets lost frequently on that side of the ball, and his slight frame makes it difficult for him to hang with other wings.
Again, though, Young is only 19, so his body has ample time to grow. Once he does mature, he will likely represent someone who can play either wing position.
Given that Boston has the triumvirate of Smart, Bradley and Thomas in its backcourt, you have to think the C's envision Young as a small forward once he starts to develop.
Young will almost certainly be one of the most coveted Celtics players in trade talks, and while he isn't untouchable, Boston would be better served holding onto him unless a deal for a true star comes along.
The Celtics got Tyler Zeller for essentially nothing this summer, only surrendering a trade exception in a three-way deal to acquire him.
That has turned out to be quite a steal, as Zeller is enjoying a solid season in Boston.
The 7-footer is averaging 9.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game, shooting 54.7 percent from the floor in the process. He is also tallying .174 win shares per 48 minutes and has a true shooting percentage of 59.9 percent.
As a bench big, Zeller should be part of the core moving forward. He is not a great defender, but he brings some scoring off the pine. He is great in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, has great hands and is a good finisher around the rim.
Zeller is also an impressive free-throw shooter, converting on 83 percent of his foul shots this year.
It probably isn't a good idea to start Zeller alongside of Sullinger due to his defensive deficiencies, but that's OK. He is the perfect reserve big man.