Even about two-and-a-half months from the start of the NBA season, the Celtics are littered with question marks surrounding their roster.
As things presently stand, Boston has loads of positional redundancy spread out over 18 men including the yet to be officially signed Evan Turner – and the club sits well over the salary cap. Moves must be made.
Many have outlined their preferences on how to trim both bodies and salary, from dealing All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo all the way down to eliminating the non-guaranteed contracts owed to Keith Bogans, Chris Johnson, and Chris Babb.
So, among the C’s current pieces and with the team in the midst of what projects to be a long-term rebuild, who are the keepers? Our panel of Boston.com Celtics insiders weighed in.
Gary Dzen: I'm going to give you two tiers of keepers.
The first tier hasn't changed since last season. Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley are the closest thing the Celtics have to untouchable. The team clearly agrees on Bradley, having inked him to a four-year deal. Sullinger is still on his rookie contract, and given how productive he figures to be this season, he's one of the best values in the league. There are lots of quibbles with Bradley's contract, but I believe he's a top-six player on any successful NBA team. He's the consummate third guard, and maybe something more given his ability to knock down the 3-ball last year.
In terms of who else the Celtics should build around, Rajon Rondo is definitely at the top of the list, but his potential value in a trade keeps him out of the untouchable group. Should the Celtics trade Rondo? Only if they can get close to equal value. By all means, Kelly Olynyk should stick around. Marcus Smart and James Young should get the chance to prove themselves, though it's too early for me to commit to whether I'd build around them.
Jeremy Gottlieb: At this very moment, there isn't a single current Celtic who should be considered off-limits except Rajon Rondo, a player whom the Celts should do whatever it takes to retain for years to come. Just because Kevin Love isn't coming to Boston doesn't mean another big name, star player won't be at some point in the next year or so and each and every player on the roster at this moment could be moved along with some of the C's stockpile of first-round picks in the right deal.
That being said, there are a few names it would be nice to see stay rather than go. First-rounder Marcus Smart has garnered so much hype, from summer league to Team USA practices to the league's rookie transition program that it makes sense to want to see how much of it is actually real, particularly if Rondo winds up elsewhere. Jared Sullinger still has upside and it will be fascinating to see if he and coach Brad Stevens can figure out how to solve his size-oriented problems on offense beyond just trying to turn him into a three-point shooter. If the C's can somehow find themselves a true center who can defend the rim without having to give Sullinger up in the process, that will go a long way toward understanding what sort of player he really is. If that guy winds up being Tyler Zeller, the 7-footer acquired a month ago in that three-teamer with Cleveland and Brooklyn, that would be quite helpful, and seeing how Zeller responds to his likely role at the top of the team's depth chart in the pivot will bear watching. And Kelly Olynyk remains intriguing thanks to his range and passing ability, both very impressive for a player his size. He has a long way to go on defense, as most young players do, but there's as much potential with Olynyk as there is with anyone on the team.
And that's about it. We know pretty much everything there is to know about holdovers Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Avery Bradley (although in Bradley's case, now that he's being paid as a top-line starting two-guard, if he can ever get over his injury issues while continuing to develop offensively, he'll join Smart, Sullinger, Zeller, and Olynyk on the "try to keep" list). Maybe Evan Turner explodes in Stevens' system and proves himself worthy of being the second overall pick in the 2010 draft and becomes a keeper, too.
But, really, who knows? There is so much about the C's as currently constituted of which we can't be truly sure, we can just go ahead and add any group of possible keepers to the list.
Adam Kaufman: Let’s start with the obvious: Absolutely nobody, not one player, is untouchable in the right deal. Getting that out of the way, who would I like to see the Celtics hang onto as they build toward Banner 18? It’s a short list.
If the C’s were closer to contention, Rajon Rondo would be at the top. However, since he’s closing in on 30 and on the verge of landing a lofty, long-term deal and would otherwise be a focal piece on a bad-to-middling team for years to come, it makes more sense to move him for additional assets.
Only young players on the roster really fit on an ideal “Keeper List.” Recently drafted Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, and James Young, plus fifth-year guard Avery Bradley are all still 23 or younger. Through the aid of future draft selections and maybe some rare luck in free agency, that group could form a good, young, energetic core in the years ahead.
After that, buh-bye, and thanks for your service.
Unfortunately, however, the aforementioned players are the only ones – Rondo, aside – for whom Boston could really net any kind of decent return. Therein lies the problem facing president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
But, it is possible to get better by giving up perceived building blocks, as Ainge demonstrated way back in 2007 when he parted with Al Jefferson in a package for an aging but still incredibly effective Kevin Garnett.
While we’ll all root for that ’07 sequel, there are at least a few players we can be excited to watch in what may be another trying season. If they’re still here.
Brian Robb: Part of the problem with the Celtics rebuild right now is that they don't have many surefire "keepers" on the roster. Much of the team's future depends on upcoming first-round draft picks over the next few seasons, as the majority of the team's current personnel features veteran role players and youngsters with untapped potential. Knowing that, no one on this team is off limits when it comes to trades.
Currently I'm in the keep Rajon Rondo camp, at least until we get a look at what he looks like with a fully healthy right knee. Danny Ainge should move him if he can get a monster haul in return (a pair of first-round picks and/or promising young talent) but that is unlikely to happen until Rondo hits the court this season and returns to 2012 form. I'm still of the mind that attracting talent is easier when you have a star in place and the Celtics should not try to start at square one in that department this offseason unless there is an adequate reason to. Plan A for next summer should be keeping Rondo and finding more talent to put around him.
As far as the rest of the roster goes, I'd like to see the team hold onto Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger as well. Sullinger showed plenty of promise last season in spurts despite a rough season from a conditioning standpoint. Now that he's fully recovered from his back surgery and slimmed down, he should be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come. Meanwhile, Smart's potential on the defensive end and rave reviews during his time with the US Select Team this summer is enough evidence for me to keep him around.
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