For all the hyper cynical Celtics fans (so, roughly 95% of you), this entire season was never really about what happens on the court. The games were important only because they filled a three-hour void in all those dark winter nights.
After six years of rollicking insanity, who can blame anyone who felt this way? Who has time to analyze Phil Pressey’s development when everybody knows another superstar is what this team needs, and getting one isn’t going to happen between the months of October and April?
Two nights ago, the Celtics didn’t look like they wanted to play basketball. They were pulverized inside and gutted in transition by the mediocre yet motivated Washington Wizards playing for their first playoff berth in six years. We’re almost at the finish line, and for the remaining 5% of you who really care about Kelly Olynyk’s impressive growth or Avery Bradley’s damp jump shot transforming into a razor, it’s finally time to look up and ahead.
Here, Brian and I will study July, when Danny Ainge can begin molding next year’s squad. We’ll begin by semi-stealing a question recently asked by our friends over at ESPNs Truth About It: Outside of Rajon Rondo, Olynyk, and Sullinger, if I said the Celtics traded _____, who would surprise you the most?
Robb: That’s a tough one. I can go in a couple directions here. They like Vitor Faverani, a serviceable big man with promise who’s under contract for the next three years. No need to dump him in a deal when you are selling low after an injury. Instead, there are plenty of other parts (Babb, Bogans, Pressey) to include in deals to make the money work.
Gerald Wallace is the other answer here. Surprisingly, he remained the good solider this year, and as much as Boston would love to get rid of his massive contract, that’s not happening easily after ankle and knee surgery. Stevens and the rest of the locker room like Wallace, he seems to be at peace with being a role player on a bad team, so there’s no reason to take on other bad contracts just to get rid of him.
I won’t lie: I was also tempted to write Jeff Green here too, only because Danny is running out of teams that might be fooled by his potential. Ainge needs to try to get Joe Dumars on the phone before he gets fired this summer to make something happen!
Pina: Wow. Great call with Wallace. Completely forgot/purposefully extracted him from my memory. Where do they go here? That he’s made peace with having the worst contract in basketball is amazing, but when healthy and functioning (used loosely here) in Brad Stevens’s rotation, Wallace was eight times less productive than Chris Johnson, turning the ball over like crazy, and taking/missing bad shots. There are three roads Boston can walk down:
1) The stretch provision. I’m sure we’ve gone over this before, but just as a reminder: If the Celtics waive Wallace between July 1 and August 31, then the remaining two years and ~$20.2 million left on his deal would become annual payments of approximately $4.04 million until 2018-19. Boston then has the option of having that extra $4 million on their cap sheet over the next five years. If Wallace signs with another team after he’s waived (even one in Europe), Boston is off the hook for a portion of the money owed, but it’ll probably be a very small sum, if anything at all—since nobody would ever pay Gerald Wallace more than their league minimum. Is this worth it? Pros: Wallace is no longer a player on the Boston Celtics. Cons: Putting off payments are counterintuitive for a rebuilding team that needs its books as clean as possible.
2) Boston attaches Wallace to one of their future first-round draft picks and sees if there are any takers. This would be an interesting exercise in measuring just how valuable a rookie deal is in today’s NBA, but the chance of it actually happening is small. The Celtics have no real motivation to part with one of their picks just to get rid of Wallace’s contract.
3) They let it ride until the end of 2016, then amicably part ways.
That third option is most probable and makes the most sense. But it’s no less a massive shame. Switching gears before I start to cry, what do we think about Kris Humphries? I’d be semi-shocked if Boston didn’t bring him back, but how much is too much for you?
Robb: Interesting you bring up Humphries. Ainge spoke about him on the SportsHub today and said the team likes him but could “make no promises.” I guess it all comes down to how serious of a jump Boston makes with their offseason moves. If there is a draft-day deal and a relatively big name comes into town (along with a promising top five pick) Boston could be back in the playoff picture with the right supporting cast. That’s where Humph would come in.
It’s really tough to gauge his market value, since his past couple deals with Brooklyn have been so inflated. I can’t see him deserving any more than mid-level money at this stage; is that even a stretch?
Pina: You’re right. It’s a toughie. Humphries turns 30 next season, and shouldn’t be offered any more than three years by Boston. That said, he’s been this season’s most pleasant surprise. He can set screens, grab offensive rebounds in traffic, knock down mid-range jumpers, and execute a defensive game plan. His pick-and-roll work has especially been consistent all year, and he’s the best shot blocker in basketball who nobody recognizes as a shot blocker. All this and he’s playing out of position—Basketball-Reference notes 42% of Humphries’s total minutes have come as a center. His previous career high there was 25%.
Brandon Bass signed a three-year, $19.35 million deal two summers ago. I’d personally be thrilled if Boston signed Humphries to something along those lines, as long as Bass is shipped out of town so the game of power forward musical chairs can be more comfortable for everyone. And still, this isn’t the team’s most pressing need. The Celtics will be mis-allocating their money if Humphries signs a new deal and no true rim-protecting center is brought into the mix.
Robb: There’s no doubt about that. Humph has performed admirably in a tough spot, particularly since he was so far down the depth chart early on. He had to work his way up, and in spurts has been impressive doing so. But yeah, everything is really predicated on the trade market. Even if you do move Bass, you still have Olynyk and Sullinger needing minutes at the four, so bringing back Humph on a deal that eats up your cap flexibility for the future might make signing him tough to justify. However, for the C’s to upgrade this summer in the way they want, they are probably going to have to deal a young body with value. I don’t see pick(s) and expiring deals being enough to make that happen, so if the deal presents itself where a young guy has to be included in a package, that gives you the opening to bring back Humph.
Pina: Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve asked myself these questions roughly 382,931 times over the past couple weeks: in a vacuum deal where the Celtics are bringing back some random All-Star small forward, would you rather Boston keep Olynyk or Sullinger? In general, who’s easier to build with? Who has the higher ceiling? And, dare I pose this question, who’s the better NBA player one year from today?
Robb: I go Sully. Kelly is making some nice strides in the past couple months, but I don’t trust him to be able to stay on the floor on the defensive end. Sullinger has his limitations, but that’s a guy who is still young and can rebound with anyone with plenty of potential looming. Once he shapes up his conditioning, I think he’s the better bet. Do you feel like Olynyk’s offense can make up for his defensive issues?
Pina: I do. Olynyk will likely pass Sullinger as the better offensive player pretty soon. His three-point range is legitimate—unlike the ongoing science experiment conducted by Sullinger—and he’s shaping into a MUCH better rebounder than the first few months of his career projected, especially on the offensive end. As far as defensive issues go, Olynyk is a seven-footer with quick feet and long arms. He doesn’t look that bad to me. On/Off numbers aren’t everything, but since the All-Star break, Boston’s allowed 9.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. That’s sort of insane.
Robb: That’s definitely eye-opening. This debate might be the question that ends up defining the C’s offseason, since for the Celtics to do what they want this summer, I’m not sure they’ll have the luxury of keeping both. We have quite a bit of time until then to figure out who should stick around, though.