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How Do Zeller/Thornton Acquisitions Affect Boston’s Non-Guaranteed Players?

In case your Twitter account has been deactivated and this is your first time visiting Celtics Hub today: Danny Ainge executed yet another coup this morning, moving Boston’s massive trade exception — set to expire in two days — to Cleveland. The Celtics took on a pair of expiring contracts, freeing up LeBron space for the Cavaliers, and acquired yet another draft pick — Cleveland’s top-10 protected in 2016. The pick becomes unprotected if the Celtics don’t get it before 2019.

We’ll get into Tyler Zeller’s potential impact tomorrow. For now, what does this trade mean for the unguaranteed players on Boston’s roster?

First, the Celtics have about $56 million in salaries returning, $4 million committed to Smart and Young next season per the rookie scale, and $10 million tied up between Zeller and Thornton, and they handed Avery Bradley $8 million per year over the next four seasons earlier this summer. When everything shakes out Boston has committed $78.8 million at the moment.

As currently constructed, the Celtics have 17 players on their roster. Some of those players (LOOKING AT YOU KEITH BOGANS) will certainly be gone by the time the season roles around, but for Boston’s unguaranteed players, this trade was not good news. Let’s break this down:

Chris Johnson

Marcus Thornton’s expiring deal is a valuable trade chip as well as an expiring piece. Boston can let him stay on the roster through 2014-15 and create $8 million in cap space at the end of the season, or they can play him significant minutes, hope he shows skills that would help a contender and try to get something useful out of the deal.

This, unfortunately, does not bode well for Chris Johnson. Johnson’s deal — which would pay him an extremely cap-friendly $915k next year — is not guaranteed. Johnson hustles like crazy, he plays decent defense, he’s very athletic, and he’s a moderately respectable 3-point shooter (although 33.4 percent is no reason to offer a guaranteed deal). None of that, unfortunately, justifies keeping him around on such a crowded roster with so many shooting guards. One would hope Johnson’s performance last season will earn him another look on another roster, but Boston just doesn’t have enough space to keep him.

Chris Babb

Babb’s situation is even more precarious than Johnson’s. When Babb gets going and knocks down a couple of jumpers, he can spread the floor nicely. His 3-point stroke is perfect. Defensively, he contests every shot and is generally in the right place at the right time.

None of that, unfortunately, makes him indispensable. Boston loves his work ethic, and he was great both on the bench and in the locker room, but last season was a freebie for the Celtics. They could afford to bring in a player that performed well in training camp and who simply was a good guy to have around, giving him a chance to prosper in the NBA

Babb didn’t do enough to truly prosper last season, and this year, roster spots mean something. He is extremely unlikely to be on the team this fall.

Phil Pressey

This case is a little more interesting.

Unlike Johnson and Babb, Pressey has the potential to be a truly effective NBA player off the bench if he can improve his scoring. I wrote about him yesterday here, but it bears repeating: The organization loves him, he’s quick, he’s smart, and if he can develop some semblance of a scoring threat, he could be a legitimate NBA threat on both ends.

Summer League is even more important for Pressey now. He has been working hard on both his floater and his jumper, and if he can demonstrate recognizable improvement, he could remain on the roster as the third point guard.

If not, he may find himself another casualty of Ainge’s eternal search for picks and cap flexibility. Pressey’s contract becomes guaranteed on July 15th a decision on him should come soon. Stay tuned.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

  • hax

    I think Johnson & Babb are gone because Moser has outplayed them in summer league.
    Not to mention we have too many players already and aren’t done dealing yet.

  • CoachAJ

    When you add in what Moser is doing and the fact that Moser is a SF with good size, it’s looking more and more like Babb and Johnson will be back at Maine, at least until the trade deadline. Pressey will stay. Don’t think Iverson makes it with Zeller in town now. But he should also go to Maine. I think Moser makes this team, and we are a full 15 man team.