If you’ve watched as much Celtics basketball as I have this season, you would probably agree: This season has been draining. The balancing act of watching a team rebuild and try to develop while simultaneously hoping they lose as many games as it takes to get Andrew Wiggins has worn thin at this point. I’m really just ready for it to be over.
So is anything worth watching in Boston’s final five games? Absolutely, or at least that’s what I tell myself. Here are four storylines to keep an eye on as the season winds down.
#1: Sullinger or Olynyk?
There’s a slim chance Danny Ainge decides to try to ride it out with a Sullinger/Olynyk front line, but he’s much more likely to try to move one of them. Which is more likely?
As far as I can tell, Sully the odds-on favorite to be dealt given where the team is currently. Olynyk started off the season slowly, and when he started playing well, the Celtics were too uninspiring for outside observers to really get interested. Celtics fans, meanwhile, are seeing a mobile 7-footer who can shoot from anywhere out to the 3-point line and forces opposing, less mobile bigs to close out to the 3-point line. Sullinger, meanwhile, has had some tantalizingly big stat lines while also producing more in increased minutes. Any team that thinks its training staff could help get him in better shape in the offseason would see real, fascinating potential in Sullinger. Acquire-Kevin-Love potential? No. But there are plenty of other good players in the NBA who might fit Boston’s roster better than a Sully/Olynyk pairing.
#2: How miserable is Joel Anthony?
Let’s be very clear about one thing: Anthony has been incredibly professional. A slightly lesser man would be whining more about his current situation than I do on Twitter when my League Pass goes out.
Let’s recap: Anthony was traded from the Miami Heat (at this point, very much the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference over the stumbling Indiana Pacers) to the now 23-54 Boston Celtics. Adding insult to injury, Anthony — a real center — has played extremely minimal minutes behind four power forwards. Adding salt AND insult to injury: Brad Stevens has publicly said he wants a rim protector on the team. Anthony’s only real skill in Miami was…being a rim protector. Joel Anthony has a much more legitimate reason to go Keith Bogans than Keith Bogans.
So if Anthony hasn’t been playing, why is his storyline important? Because his $3.8 million contract has a player option for next season. Anthony has said that the Celtics have a great locker room, but a great locker room isn’t going to be enough for him to pick up his player option. Almost certainly, it’s the $3.8 million that’s going to make him pick up his player option.
Anthony isn’t going to opt out just because he’s unhappy. For a player who probably doesn’t have many NBA paychecks remaining, $3.8 million is a lot of money — about three times as much as the veteran’s minimum.
The only way Anthony declines his player option is if he is legitimately so miserable with the Celtics, he literally would give $3.8 million away to leave the team. This isn’t likely, and I hope that’s not the case — hoping for a man to be that miserable is pretty inhumane. That being said, look at the recap of Anthony’s last year above. He hasn’t had an easy time recently.
#3: Is this the end of Bayless and Humphries in Boston?
The latter is pretty simple: Probably. Kris Humphries isn’t worth $11 million per year, but he’s had a player efficiency rating well above league average all season, he’s averaging a double-double in points and rebounds per 36 minutes, and he’s shooting over 50 percent for the first time since the 2010-11 season. It would be surprising if a better team didn’t offer him a contract Boston couldn’t (or shouldn’t) match. If Humphries was willing to take a discount, it would be great to see him stay in Boston, but it makes very little business sense for him to do so.
Bayless is a little more likely to work contractually for Boston. His $3.1 million contract expires at the end of the year, but the general spending pattern around the NBA (in the non-Joe Dumars category) has gotten smarter. Bayless, who is pretty clearly a bench player on a good team, probably won’t earn a ton of money in free agency. But if you haven’t already, read Adam’s piece on Bayless. He has a chance to become the first Celtic since Ray Allen to shoot 40 percent from 3-point range, and having two ball-handlers has worked well for Boston. Sure, it would work better with better wings and posts, but such is life this season.
#4: Playing spoiler
The Hawks are fighting for a playoff spot. The Wizards and Raptors are fighting for playoff position. Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo doesn’t like anyone and wants to ruin all of their days.
From the Boston Herald:
Rajon Rondo may not be able to resurrect his own team’s dead playoff hopes, but he can influence the outcome for another team as a spoiler.
“We want to be that team,” the Celtics captain said before today’s practice. “Hopefully we can mess up Atlanta’s record a little more tomorrow, and knock those guys out of the playoffs. Every night I try to compete and win.”
Losing these games would benefit Boston, but if you can separate yourself from the Celtics’ season, there are some pretty compelling storylines if Boston wins as well.
That’s not doing it for you? Fair enough. A loss to Atlanta would help knock New York out of the playoffs as well. So you can watch for that if you want.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.