The Boston Celtics knew that they were going to have tough roster decisions to make this preseason, carrying 16 players with guaranteed contracts. And decision time is coming really soon.
Boston is still carrying 20 players on its roster with two preseason games remaining. The Celtics will be doing some heavy evaluating this week as they must get down to the league-mandated 15 player maximum by October 24. The C’s (4-1) will host Brooklyn on October 17 before closing out the exhibition schedule against the New York on October 19.
What has made the decision even harder for general manager Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens is that the Celtics are very deep, and each of the players on the proverbial bubble has shown flashes of their potential.
“I think the one thing that’s been very clear is there’s nothing really clear with regard to that right now, as far as finalizing our 15 people on the roster,” Stevens told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. “They’ve all really, really improved, really made great strides. It’s going to be a tough call to ultimately not have a couple of these guys on our roster full-time.”
The good news is that the Celtics know who 13 of the 15 players are going to be on their opening day roster — Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller, Jordan Mickey, Amir Johnson and Marcus Smart.
The C’s also appear to know a few who won’t be on the opening day roster, which includes Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jalen Jones, Damion Lee and Ben Bentil. Those four players just mentioned have each appeared in just one preseason game and none since October 8.
That leaves James Young, Demetrius Jackson and R.J. Hunter vying for the final two roster spots per Chris Forsberg of ESPN.
Jackson appears to be the favorite for one of the spots as he signed a four-year deal worth $5 million this summer with $1.45 million of it being guaranteed this season. The 22-year-old, who was taken with the No. 45 selection in this year’s draft, has gotten quality minutes in his last two appearances and was very productive in his time on the court.
After seeing action in just seven minutes in the Celtics first two preseason games, Jackson totaled 27 minutes of playing time against the Charlotte Hornets (October 8) and New York Knicks (October 15). His best performance game against the Knicks, where he tallied 10 points and doled six assists while committing one turnover. Jackson has made 6-of-his-last-11 shots, including 4 -of-5 from beyond the arc.
Hunter may have created some creation in the battle with Young for the last roster spot with his performance against the Knicks. In 12 minutes against New York, Hunter poured in 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. It was the 22-year-old’s second double-double of the preseason. He has also shown significant improvement in his defense though he is still a work in progress on that end of the floor.
“[Defense has] been my main focus,” Hunter said. “I think before I was coming in trying to figure out how to score, and now I’m just trying to figure out how I can help my team on the defensive end. I think that makes the offensive end a lot easier.”
Before Saturday’s game, Hunter made 4-of-13 (30.7 percent) shots from the floor and 2-of-10 (20 percent) shots from the three-point line. He is under team control over the next four years and is scheduled to make $1.2 million this season — the least amount of the three players battling for the last roster spot.
Unlike the Jackson and Hunter, Young has not had a breakout game this preseason. The 21-year-old has bulked up and is shooting better than last year. He is averaging 4.1 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 43.7 percent from the floor as well as 44.4 percent (4-of-9) on his trey attempts.
Young is a better rebounder than Hunter and does have the ability to play on the wing. The problem is that is that his defense is not up to par. Synergy Sports preseason numbers have opponents shooting 61.5 percent against him and generating 1.35 points per play. He will make $1.8 million this season with significant increases coming in each of the next two years.
The player that loses out in the battle for the last spot will likely get waived. However, the Himmelsbach reported that Ainge would prefer to find a trade partner rather than just release him. Ainge said that he has been in conversations with other teams about a possible trade, but nothing has materialized.
[Featured Image by Kim Raff/Associated Press]