Jared Sullinger’s tenure as a Celtic appears to have come to an end. The team rescinded his qualifying offer, making the power forward an unrestricted free agent, a move first reported by Kevin Smith of RealGM.
The procedural move enabled the Celtics to create enough salary cap space to making the signing of Al Horford to a four-year $113 million deal official on Friday. That addition led to the team’s front office deciding that Sullinger was expendable, according to Brad Stevens.
“I think Jared’s a really good player and I think Jared will continue to be a really good player,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said in Las Vegas Sunday. “Obviously when we got Al, that made us make hard decisions. And the thing that stinks about that is having to move on and move forward, both for him and us. But he’ll do great.
“Jared’s one of the more talented guys being able to get the ball off the glass, and he’s got beautiful touch and he’s a good guy, and so I think he’ll do well. I’m hopeful this move will benefit him as well, and I think it will. We’ll see where he lands, but I know there’s a lot of interest in him based on how my phone’s been ringing and everybody else’s, so I’m sure he’ll land where he wants to and do exceptionally well.
The 24-year-old could technically still return to Boston, but the team sacrificed his Bird Rights when rescinding his qualifying offer, so the Celtics would need to use available salary cap space to sign him to a deal. Boston also surrendered the rights to match any offer Sullinger signs with another team by making him unrestricted.
That choice was a likely signal that Sullinger’s odds of playing for the Celtics next year are slim, something Danny Ainge also confirmed in comments to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe on Sunday.
“Jared’s a good kid and I’m grateful for what he gave us and I wish him well,” Ainge said by telephone Sunday. “I hope he gets a good opportunity. We just feel this is the best thing for our team.”
Sullinger started 73 games for Boston in the 2015-16 season, averaging 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. His playing time dissipated down the stretch of the season however and he eventually fell out of the starting lineup in the team’s first round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.
With the 6-foot-7 forward reportedly out of the mix, Boston’s frontcourt for next season is appearing to take shape. The team appears poised to keep Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson on the roster after their contracts became guaranteed for next season last Thursday. Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Mickey also remain on rookie contracts while Horford will surely take over Sullinger’s spot in the starting lineup. Boston’s other restricted free agent, Tyler Zeller, still has not a signed an offer sheet with any other team so it’s possible he could still return to Boston as well if the two sides agree to terms.
In the wake of Sullinger’s likely departure, his teammate Terry Rozier shared some thoughts about Sullinger’s impact with the team Sunday morning in Las Vegas.
“He’s a smart, smart guy on the court,” the second-year guard said. “He’s definitely not a downfall for the team. He’s going to score points. He’s just great to have around. Once you’ve got one of them good locker room guys, the good guys to be around, the great veterans, you need that. That’s why I think he’ll be fine. He’ll find a home.”
Sullinger should benefit from becoming on an unrestricted free agent since several teams still have significant salary cap room to sign free agents. Constant health and weight issues over Sullinger’s four years in Boston could hamper his ability to land a long term deal, but he was one of the best rebounders in the NBA last season so there will be many places happy to give him a home.
Wherever he lands, Rozier believes he’ll be missed in the Celtic locker room.
“Wherever he goes, he’s going to be happy,” Rozier said of Sullinger’s likely exit. “He’s a great person mostly off the court and on the court. He’ll be fine wherever he goes. It’ll be sad not to have him back but he’s got to do what he has got to do. It’s a business and everybody makes their own moves. Some fits are better in other places.”