The Boston Celtics are heading into the 2015 offseason in a unique position—they have four free agents on the roster, all of whom were able to make decent contributions during the year.
The C’s have cap room to re-sign all of them in theory, but just because they can doesn’t mean they should.
Boston is still a work in progress headed into the 2015-16 campaign, with a mishmash of young players that need minutes to develop and a need to continue adding versatile talent wherever possible. Some of these free agents fit nicely into the youth culture and Brad Stevens’ system, while others have had success in the past but don’t make quite as much sense to retain.
All eyes for the next month will be on Boston’s pursuit of a superstar, but let’s take a moment to examine the free agents already in Celtic green and whether they should suit up for the team next season.
All statistics reflect only tenure with Boston Celtics.
2014-15 stats: 9.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 41.8 FG%, 28.2 3P%
Jae Crowder was not the fulcrum of the Rajon Rondo trade, but he wound up having the best post-deal season of anyone involved, Rondo included. He emerged as Boston’s most consistent small forward, and performed well in an expanded role once Jeff Green was dealt.
The 6’6” Crowder is a little undersized for the 3, but he’s tough and muscular, allowing him to match up with opponents above his height. He even played some 4 in small lineups, allowing Boston to push the pace and create defensive problems with his driving ability.
Crowder isn’t an elite passer, but he does just enough to keep the ball moving. In Stevens’ system, having players who can recognize the right pass is essential, and Crowder proved capable of doing so.
He even performed well in the playoffs, upping his efficiency, working hard on LeBron James and demonstrating great poise and leadership.
The 24-year-old swingman is a restricted free agent this summer, but should absolutely be a top priority for the Celtics to retain. Boston has plenty of backcourt talent, but is relatively thin at other spots on the wing. If they elect not to match an offer on Crowder and he walks, the C’s would need to seriously scramble to find someone to fill the hole.
Crowder has also expressed significant interest in re-signing, as reported by NESN’s Zack Cox.
Obviously though, Crowder isn’t a perfect player. As his shot chart (below) will attest, his jumper isn’t always consistent.
Boston has given him a lot of freedom on offense, which has worked well at times and been a bit rocky at others. Sometimes he takes questionable off-the-dribble jumpers or attacks the rim without a plan of action. Additionally, he needs to become more consistent on catch-and-shoot threes in order to provide spacing for Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley.
Still, Crowder is a capable rotation player and a valuable defender who proved he can play 30-plus minutes in meaningful playoff games.
The only situation in which the C’s should consider parting ways with him is if they can nab a higher-upside talent like Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton on a reasonable deal.
2014-15 stats: 10.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 50.4 FG%, 28.1 3P%
This one isn’t easy to swallow, as Brandon Bass has been a consummate professional and reliable contributor throughout his Boston tenure.
However, the Celtics now have several young players at the power forward spot, and Bass simply no longer fits the team’s plan going forward. Bass is a good defender and an elite mid-range shooter, but at 30 years old, he isn’t getting any better.
While Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk have their struggles, both are still somewhat unknown quantities and could benefit from splitting the 20 minutes per game Bass plays. That’s not to mention Tyler Zeller or Jonas Jerebko, who also require frontcourt minutes, and whomever Boston picks up via free agency and the draft.
As you can tell from his shot chart (below), Bass began experimenting with more three-pointers in 2014-15 but couldn’t find consistency from beyond the arc.
There’s a chance he becomes a reliable shooter from deep, but given he’s a 10-year veteran, that development should not be counted on. While neither Olynyk nor Sully are lights out from deep, they’re more comfortable firing from there and still young enough to develop that shot into a real weapon.
Additionally, the 6’8” Bass doesn’t provide much positional versatility. He’s strong and does a decent job guarding some centers on the post, but he can’t protect the rim and simply doesn’t rebound well enough to play major minutes at the 5.
Still, the reason not to re-sign Bass is more focused on the rest of the team than on the veteran’s performance, although he didn’t exactly impress in the postseason.
Boston has the cap flexibility to retain him on a moderate deal, but the team is still a ways away from title contention, and their focus right now should be on developing young talent. At this stage in his career, Bass is best served as the third big man on a title contender.
Keeping him wouldn’t be an awful move, but with a glut of 4s already here, there are more pressing areas to address than re-signing Bass, even for the leadership he brings to the locker room.
2014-15 stats: 7.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 43. FG%, 40.6 3P%
Acquired from the Detroit Pistons in the Tayshaun Prince trade, Jerebko managed to find himself a nice role off the bench as a stretch 4.
Now, you may be wondering why the C’s should keep Jerebko and not Bass, when Jerebko has a similar game to Olynyk and Sullinger, but there’s one simple reason: Jerebko can flat-out shoot.
A career 34.4 percent three-point shooter, Jerebko exceeded those numbers with Boston and proved to be lethal in the pick-and-pop. He’s comfortable reacting to a closeout and putting the ball on the floor, although it does lead to some tough looks in the paint.
Jerebko is also a sneakily effective rebounder on the offensive end, as his play against the Charlotte Hornets will attest. He uses his 6’10” frame and long arms to keep balls alive, and he is not afraid to mix it up down low.
While not an elite passing big man, Jerebko can make the right pass while driving and has decent court awareness for someone his size.
His shot chart (below), illustrates his prowess both from the corners and the wings, and he also has a few decent spots he can get to for mid-range jumpers.
Defensively, although Jerebko isn’t as athletic as he was before tearing his Achilles, he has actually proven to be quite competent. He moves his feet well, avoids fouls and quickly learned Stevens’ system. He can occasionally switch to opposing guards without it being a disaster—a big plus for Boston. According to 82games, he held power forwards to a 12.5 PER as a Celtic, which is impressive.
Jerebko struggled in the playoffs, but it was also his first experience on that stage, so it’s reasonable to expect him to play more like himself in future postseason appearances.
At 28 years old and with a somewhat checkered injury past, he may not get much better than he is now, but Jerebko brings some much-needed skills to Boston’s frontcourt rotation. A modest contract in the $5 million per year range should be agreeable for all parties.
2014-15 stats: 5.2 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, 49.4 FG%, 47.2 3P%
Luigi Datome became a fan favorite during his short stint with Boston, so this choice may catch some flack, but the reality is he’s simply not an essential part of the Celtics’ future.
Datome has a reputation as a sharpshooter, and he certainly has a nice-looking shot, but it would be shocking if he kept up the efficiency from beyond the arc he managed in 2014-15. While his shot chart (below), illustrates he was pretty efficient from everywhere on the floor, it’s important to note how his shots were dispersed with the C’s.
Per Basketball-Reference, just 10.4 percent of his attempts were within three feet of the hoop. Obviously he’s a specialist, but the C’s are still early enough in their rebuild that they should be focused on bringing in multi-faceted players.
Wing shooting is an easy thing to find in free agency, and as ESPNBoston’s Chris Forsberg notes, this summer is shaping up to be particularly hectic. The focus should be on landing an emerging star, not necessarily on re-signing a role player.
Should Datome leave, that would also mean increased opportunities for James Young, as CelticsBlog’s Wes Howard writes. Young barely played as a rookie, but he was a first-round pick for a reason and has the potential to become a starting 2-guard in this league.
While Datome did end the regular season on a high note with a career performance against Milwaukee, he barely saw the court in the postseason.
Defensively, Datome is smart and can occasionally force turnovers, although obviously he isn’t the most athletic wing in the league. He did manage to hold opposing 2s to an 8.8 PER and 3s to an 8.7 mark, per 82games, but there’s no way that holds up over a full season.
Datome is the kind of piece any playoff contender would love to have, but the 27-year-old shouldn’t be a priority for the Celtics to keep. He cannot create shots for teammates, and though he moves around the court well, he’s pretty useless when his jump shot isn’t falling.
Re-signing Datome wouldn’t be a fatal mistake by any means, but there are simply better ways for Boston to spend their money if he’s demanding more than a minimum deal.