BOSTON –The Celtics rebuild is ahead of schedule, and Boston has assembled a nice collection of young talent and maximized that group’s production this year thanks to some terrific work by Brad Stevens.
But, that doesn’t mean there is time for Danny Ainge and the team’s front office to stay patient this offseason.
Everyone saw this team’s limitations in the first-round of the postseason against the likes of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The overall defense was solid, but offense and rebounding killed the team’s chances to pull off an upset or two in the sweep by the Cavs.
Stevens used his entire active roster (13 players) in the series, mixing and matching every possible combination to attempt to find a spark, but nearly each grouping had some kind of a flaw Cleveland took advantage of.
Some of those warts will disappear with time, as youngsters like Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder continue to mature and progress in varying elements of their overall games. Other players showcased repetitive skill-sets with similar faults for Stevens throughout the regular season and playoffs. Depth is nice, but when you have a logjam at certain positions and only a set number of open spots on the roster, something has to give.
Ainge is left with a roster that appears poised for plenty of wheeling and dealing this summer. Nine players are signed to guaranteed contracts and two more have non-guaranteed deals (Phil Pressey, Chris Babb). With four picks in the NBA Draft along with several free agents open to a return to Beantown (Crowder, Jonas Jerebko), some space needs to be cleared if Ainge wants to make upgrades at multiple positions.
Who are some of the likeliest candidates to go? Let’s explore the possibilities:
Wallace makes the most sense to look at first, but I wouldn’t call his departure a sure thing. The seasoned veteran’s monster contract is finally coming to an end next year, as he will earn $10.1 million in 2015-16. That’s potential valuable salary cap space for Boston to open up if they want to land a premier free agent this summer, but it’s going to cost at least a first-round draft pick to dump Wallace on some team. We know how much Ainge values his picks, so moving one just to get rid of a player with a short contract remaining isn’t exactly an ideal option.
Additionally, Wallace has been a good citizen for the past couple years in the locker room, as a helpful intermediary between Stevens and the younger roster. He’s not worth the high price tag, but he has been a useful leader for the coaching staff. Boston could also “stretch” him to spread out his cap hit over the next three years if they don’t want to sacrifice a pack. Bottom line: I wouldn’t expect a deal unless Boston needs significant cap room quickly to land a big-name free agent.
Kelly Olynyk/Jared Sullinger
I put this duo together since they are representative of a promising but flawed frontcourt. Sullinger’s shooting and weight issues continued to be a problem last year. Meanwhile, Olynyk still can’t play defense without piling up fouls at a ridiculous rate. His shooting is solid, but he’s not nearly as aggressive as the coaching staff would like. Both players still have some potential to tap into, but each has faults that make you wonder if either will be a consistent starting frontcourt player down the road.
The truth is Ainge should deal one of these guys before they are due for raises in the next year or two. If Boston is looking to move up in the draft, including one of this pair might be enough (with additional picks) to slide up an extra slot or two in the lottery. Ainge won’t sell low on either (especially Sullinger, whose stock needs work right now), but I would label either as expendable if the right deal comes along.
A wildcard possibility here. Young is only 20, and he barely saw the court last year since he hasn’t yet shown the ability to play consistent defense at the NBA level. However, his outside shooting touch has translated well to the NBA 3-point line (as seen by his 44.2 percent shooting from downtown in the D-League), and his youth with a cheap rookie contract team might make him appealing to other teams.
Given the glut of guards in the backcourt (Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas) it’s unclear how much playing time Young will even see in the next few years in green. If Ainge can land an upgrade in the frontcourt, Young could be a useful piece to make a bigger deal happen.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.