Friday, July 8, 2016
Celtics Offseason...so far
After a wild opening week to free agency for the Celtics and the NBA, the dust has collectively started to settle on what the 2016-17 season should look like. The Celtics were as busy as any franchise and made as many headlines as their rival Eastern Conference foes and perhaps even surpassed a few. Boston was able to secure a highly anticipated meeting with 2016 free agent darling Kevin Durant and ultimately finalized a 4-year, $113 million dollar deal with former Atlanta Hawks big man Al Horford.
The Horford signing (still pending) has been the only new addition via free agency for Boston but he is a tremendously admired signing that has C's fans buzzing about what may come next. If Boston was to stand pat, here are some thoughts on what the 2016-17 roster would look like and what that could mean for some of your favorite Celtics:
Bigs (Centers/Power Forwards):
C-Kelly Olynyk: Kelly is coming off another year of being Boston’s “offensive” center but is still unable to secure the starting role without major questions. His ability to knock down the open jumper and run the floor has been impressive at times but most realistic Celtics fans are starting to realize Olynyk’s ceiling as a player. To keep it short and sweet, he’s a solid offensive “5” with the ability to stretch the floor and open lanes for others. In the same breath, he’s an improved defender but is still going to give up big nights to any big that’s above average offensively.
[Skinny: Kelly will still play a major role on the 2016-17 Celtics. His offensive game fits Brad Stevens playbook exceedingly well and will ensure he gets on the floor as a starter or high minute back up to Amir Johnson]
F-Al Horford: Horford is Boston’s biggest free agent signing…ever. His abilities include (but are not limited to) a great mid-range game, the ability to score around the hoop, defend at an exceedingly high level, and can physically battle with practically any big man in the NBA, making him the perfect fit for Boston.
[Skinny: Horford should be in line for a career year. Expect Boston’s first team offense to run through him and Isaiah Thomas in the half court, catering to him shooting more shots this up coming year than at any other point in his career. Also expect Stevens to keep him away from defending too many other physical bigs. Stevens won’t want to wear his new star out prior to playoff time and will likely use an additional “bigger” forward to guard those who Horford would have in Atlanta.]
F/C-Amir Johnson: Johnson’s $12 million dollar a year option is expected to be picked up this evening meaning he will fulfill both years of his deal. His role as part-time starting center and defensive big man was a welcomed surprise all season long for the Celtics last season. His energy and willing to do the “dirty” work made him a perfect fit with Boston’s lunch-pail style and adaptable to any lineup he was added to.
[Skinny: Look for Johnson to continue his role as “defensive” big man next to Al Horford or Olynyk. His energy will keep him in the lineup and virtually splitting time with Olynyk at center]
F-Jordan Mickey: While it may seem like a bit of a long shot, Mickey’s all-star level play in the NBDL in his rookie season seems to have elevated him into Brad Stevens 2016-17 plans. His ability to defend and rebound at a high level could have him in the Celtics rotation as their fourth big man (behind Horford, Olynyk, and Johnson) as long as the C’s don’t bring back Jared Sullinger or Tyler Zeller.
[Skinny: Mickey’s defense and rebounding alone should be enough to get him a shot at rotation minutes. If he can provide some competent offense, Mickey could be looking at a bright future in green, starting this season.]
F-Ben Bentil: Bentil unquestionably has an uphill battle to make the C’s roster and find a role on this deep squad but his inside-out offensive game should see him make the team. Once he makes the roster, the battle gets even tougher. Stevens has been known to use four bigs in his usual rotation with Crowder filling in the smaller lineups at the power forward slot as needed. Bentil will need to impress early and often if he wants one of those slots and not a bus pass to Portland all winter.
F-Guershon Yabusele: Nothing is set in stone about Yabusele playing in Boston for 2016-17 but his inclusion in the summer league may indicate he’s here to stay. The real question for the Frenchman will be how many minutes he can steal from fellow young bigs Ben Bentil and Jordan Mickey. If Yabusele can slide past Bentil in the pecking order and put pressure on Mickey for a rotational spot, the big “Frenchie” could already start to make Danny Ainge look like a draft night genius.
F-Jared Sullinger (if signed): If Sullinger returns to Boston for 2016-17 there will be major drop in minutes for him. His role is firmly filled with Al Horford’s arrival and minutes would be exceedingly hard to come by for the former Buckeye. Expect him to be traded prior to the season.
C-Tyler Zeller (if signed): Zeller has been a solid (if unspectacular) back up center for Boston over the last 2 seasons. His return does seem more likely than Sullinger’s but he would also be scraping for minutes if he does extend his stay in Celtic green. His added length would be a welcomed asset to the Boston bench but retaining him would require the Celtics to send Yabusele back to France and/or trading Ben Bentil or Jordan Mickey to make room on the roster.
C-Ante Zizic: The new “Big Z” is all but certain to spend another season in Europe prior to the beginning of his NBA career. Unless Boston pulls off a blockbuster deal and needs to add front court depth prior to the season “Big Z” will be a mystery for another day.
Wings (Small Forwards/Shooting Guards):
F-Jae Crowder: After earning a starting spot in 2015-16, Crowder looks to establish himself as an indispensable part of these young C’s this season. His career year elevated him to a clear starting role and his versatility and toughness has kept him there. Crowder will be used as a defensive specialist on elite offensive forwards in the league and should be in contention for an NBA All-Defensive Team spot in 2016-17.
[Skinny: Crowder is a huge part of the Celtics locker room and will likely be a key cog in the 16-17 starting line up. Expect him to at least match his success from last season and possibly exceed it with the lessened offensive pressure from Horford’s arrival.]
G-Avery Bradley: The Celtics All-Defensive Team pit bull is possibly the most sought after players on the C’s roster. His ability to shutdown opposing guards is recognized as a key component to Boston’s 2015-16 success and that isn’t likely to change this year. Bradley’s defense is what has made him great but his ability to fill up a stat sheet is quickly becoming one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA.
[Skinny: Bradley is one of Boston’s 'three headed' defensive monster on the perimeter. He’s one of the reasons people hate playing the Celtics and why this team is on the right path. Expect him to match his 2015-16 career season and possibly garner some all-star love this season.]
F- Jonas Jerebko: With Evan Turner’s loss in free agency, Jonas Jerebko might stand to gain the most from his absence. Jerebko won’t fulfill Turner’s role as a playmaker but his minutes as a forward will likely fall to the “Swedish Bird.” As the most tenured reserve forward on the roster, expect Jerebko to see his minutes exceed last season’s total while maintaining his versatile and efficient form.
G/F-RJ Hunter: While Jerebko may gain the biggest role increase in Turner’s absence, Hunter may see the biggest minute increase by any returning Celtic from 15-16 (except maybe Jordan Mickey…maybe). Hunter had a sheepish rookie season but still has the skills to be a solid shooter, scorer, and contributor to this years team. Hunter needs to show a marked improvement defensively but his shooting could open a plethora of minutes for this second year man.
G/F-Jaylen Brown: As the 3rd overall pick, many would assume Brown plays a major role for the Celtics from day one. If Brad Stevens track record means anything, I’m betting Brown will be earning every minute he gets this season. Brown should be able to carve out a role his rookie season but his minutes will not be guaranteed and he’ll be battling Jerebko, Hunter and James Young for every chance he gets.
G/F-James Young: The often forgotten 3rd year man from Kentucky might be facing his NBA future dead in the eyes in 2016-17. Young was a top 20 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and has struggled to break into Brad Stevens line up in either of his first two seasons but if this summer league is any indicator, this might be the year. Young is a sweet shooting lefty (when confident and “on”) with athleticism and ball handling skills. Needless to say, if he can fulfill some of the potential he showed at Kentucky, he could end up being another benefactor to the Evan Turner exit.
G/F Abdul Nader: Nader is almost certain to be stashed in Europe for a year or two to improve his game and return to Boston when more roster space is available (think Marcus Thornton last season). Nader has some nice skills as a wing but will face an almost impossible task of making the 2016-17 squad.
G-Isaiah Thomas: The “little guy” is Boston Celtics basketball. Toughness, tenacity, and a never quit attitude that has turned him into the Celtics leader and best player. The addition of Horford should only enhance the All-Star’s play in 2016-17 by making opposing defenses have to respect his new running mate and opening even more perimeter space for Thomas to operate.
[Skinny: Expect Thomas to repeat his stellar 2015-16 campaign and have numbers close to what we saw from him last season. The big number to watch with Thomas in 16-17 will be his efficiency rating, expect him to be in the leagues elite when it comes to impact on winning and successful play for his team.]
G-Marcus Smart: Marcus Smart will be the NBA’s 6th Man Award winner for the 2016-17 season. Smart’s impact off the bench is explosive at worst and game changing at best. His energy, defensive pestering, and growing offensive arsenal should have Smart among the best bench players in the game. If his decision making and offensive efficiency improve to where they should, Smart will be one of the Celtics best bench players of the last 20 year…this year.
G-Terry Rozier: The unexpected 16th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft has had some flashes of what he can be. A fantastic ball handler with speed and quickness, Rozier should be able to provide top notch depth to the Celtics guard rotation but will again struggle for regular minutes. Boston’s glut of guards and wings will likely leave Rozier battling for scraps but if an injury does happen (God forbid) he could be one of the bigger surprises for this team next season.
G-Demetrius Jackson: Jackson will be even further buried on the Boston bench than Rozier but should be a player to watch in the NBDL this season. Expect him to flourish in Portland and have everyone excited for his involvement with the 2017-18 squad.
Boston is currently 16 players deep (with Zizic staying in Europe and Sullinger and Zeller finding new homes). This means one of two things: Yabusele is back to Europe or a trade is immanent. Unfortunately for these young C’s, I tend to think it will be the latter. Expect Boston to move one of Hunter, Rozier, Jackson, or Young to make space for everyone else.
The Celtics may still be looking for a 'blockbuster' trade but with free agency calming down GM’s are likely going to stand pat and wait to see what they have in the preseason before making any major shake ups. Boston’s team, while very similar to the 2015-16 version, should be a tough out in the Eastern Conference as currently instituted. If unchanged, the Celtics should be shooting for a top 4 seed in the East and revenge on LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Final come next spring. Now let's see how it plays out.
Photo used is courtesy of Getty Images