By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With COVID-19 making its way up and down the roster, the Boston Celtics are in a precarious spot this week. If the team ends up playing its four scheduled games — and that is a giant IF at the moment — it could look more like one of those kid’s rec league games that you see at halftime rather than an actual NBA tilt.
If you’re in playing shape and stand at least six-foot-eight, you may be able to finagle an emergency spot on the Boston roster this week. The Celtics are going to be extremely small over the next few games, and they could use all the help they can get.
The team will be without its two rising stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown due to COVID-19 protocols, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The frontcourt is severely lacking with Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams and Grant Williams all out. Forward Semi Ojeleye is sidelined as well, leaving Boston’s depth at forward even more thin than its depth at center.
At this point, it’s easier to tell you which players aren’t in the NBA’s health and safety protocols because of either a positive COVID test or a close contact. Here’s a rundown of Brad Stevens’ depth chart at the moment, which could change with more close contacts or positive tests:
Boston is at the league minimum of eight players, so technically they could field a team for its upcoming games this week. But as you can see, there isn’t much size on that roster, leaving Stevens with a small and inexperienced group for the foreseeable future.
It’s possible that we could see a starting lineup of Smart-Pritchard-Teague-Edwards-Theis, which is not a starting five that anyone anywhere has ever envisioned. But it could be a reality for the Celtics in at least two of their four games this week.
Reinforcements could arrive as early as Friday night (Jan. 15) when the Celtics play their second straight game against the Orlando Magic. Thompson and Grant Williams could potentially return that night, with Brown, Ojeleye and Javonte Green potentially back a few nights later when the C’s play the New York Knicks on Sunday night (Jan. 17). All of those players are currently out due to close contacts, so those return dates could change. As for Robert Williams and Tatum, they could return to the team on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21, respectively.
(Kemba Walker could also return this week after being cleared to return to practice last Friday. The point guard could potentially make his season debut on Friday, though he won’t provide much help in the height department.)
But that none of that will help Boston when the team takes on the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and the Magic on Wednesday. Brad’s love of smallball is going to be put to the test, with five of Boston’s eight players under 6-foot-4. Rookie Aaron Nesmith is Stevens’ only true wing player right now, and Fall is all he has to back up Theis at center. If Theis picks up some early fouls in any game (or rather, when Theis picks up his early fouls) and Fall does the same, the Celtics could be in some serious trouble in the paint.
Orlando is one of the best rebounding teams in the league, so two matchups with the Magic this week is not ideal for the Celtics. It could get really ugly on the glass in those contests, unless Brad gets creative and puts Edwards on Waters’ shoulders for a few possessions. Given the current state of the Boston roster, we really can’t rule anything out.
The Celtics have overcome a lot so far this season, racing out to a 7-3 start. Along with Philadelphia — a team also dealing with a COVID crisis at the moment — they’re the only two teams with seven wins in the Eastern Conference. And while such a small and limited roster isn’t ideal by any stretch, the door is now open for Edwards to try to find his shot, and Nesmith to get some much-needed “right into the fire” experience. At least Danny Ainge will have plenty of chances to evaluate the bottom of the Boston roster over the next seven days.
Hopefully things will get better on a COVID front in the very near future — around the NBA, in the Celtics locker room and around the country. But this week is going to be an incredibly difficult and interesting one for Brad Stevens and the Celtics, as they try to navigate their way through a massively depleted and undersized roster.