Emptying out the suitcase from summer league and unpacking some leftover thoughts on the Boston Celtics:
There's still plenty of time before training camp convenes in late September and the Celtics are certainly still looking for ways to improve both the overall talent level of their roster and the positional balance. At the moment, however, Boston projects to have 16 guaranteed contracts and it raises the question: Who's the odd man out?
Let's start with a look at Boston's current depth chart (utilizing Brad Stevens' preferred four-position system) while accounting for the eventual re-signing of Jae Crowder and a swap that will deliver David Lee from the Golden State Warriors.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge laughed during the summer league when asked about the logjam in the frontcourt -- if only because he'd been peppered with questions about how the team appeared to have too many guards in the immediate aftermath of the NBA draft. But there's clearly not enough minutes to go around up front. You can make a case that eight players -- exactly half the roster at this moment -- are vying for minutes at the power forward position.
Let's say the Celtics cannot find another move before the start of the season, at least without taking 50 cents on the dollar for one of their bigs. Typically you'd be looking at the player with the lowest salary to eat, but that might not ultimately be a major issue for a team that projects to be well under the tax line.
Initially, it's likely Perry who will face the longest odds. In sending cash considerations as part of last week's trade, the Oklahoma City Thunder are essentially paying his salary regardless of whether he's on Boston's roster (and Boston got Detroit's second-round pick in 2019 for its troubles).
That said, if Perry shows some potential, Boston won't hesitate to examine other potential trimdown options. Heck, 10 of the 16 players on the team's roster will earn $3.4 million or less next season and, again, with no tax concerns, eating some salary isn't as much of an issue as it might have been in past seasons. Making another move or finding a team that will give up a pick is far more preferable, but Boston can simply cut bait without too much regret.
If Perry shows he deserves to stick on the roster, things get a bit trickier for Boston. Evan Turner's role is murkier this season, though Marcus Smart's hand injury could force Boston to consider extra ball-handling depth. It would seem unlikely that the Celtics would give up on any of their recent draft picks. Ultimately, it might come down to how long Boston is willing to hold out before trimming down and maybe a team develops a need that the Celtics can help fill.
Both team and player have to be happy with the four-year, $5 million deal inked by second-round pick Jordan Mickey.
Mickey will earn nearly twice as much this season as a rookie second-rounder that signs a typical minimum-salary deal. And he gets some security with the first two years of his contract guaranteed. Mickey is essentially being paid like the No. 26 pick at 100 percent of the rookie scale (or a fictional 33rd first-round pick at 120 percent, like most rookies sign for).
Meanwhile, the Celtics walk away with the four-year deal that protects their investment. If Mickey emerges as a rotation player, they've got him for four years at a bargain rate and the ability to keep him here into the future. If he never quite blossoms, those nonguaranteed seasons make him a tradable asset down the road.
As former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks noted on Twitter, six of the first seven second-round picks to sign this summer were inked for three years or more. Teams are hip now to maximizing those picks by using cap space or a small bit of the midlevel exception to generate longer-term deals.
Win sharing is caring
A Sports Illustrated article projected the 2015-16 standings based on win shares lost/generated during the offseason and has Boston at 47.4 wins and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
At 47 wins, that's a seven-win improvement from last season and a two-spot jump in the playoff seedings. The Celtics are spotlighted for that potential leap with a note, "The rebuilding job at the Garden continues to zoom along without a hitch. The Celtics will be a ton of fun to watch in 2015-16, and should expect to improve on their playoff seeding from last season."
While some Boston fans continue to lament the lack of a big-splash addition, this is one of the more encouraging outlooks following Boston's offseason tinkering.
Boston's four rookies did well for themselves at summer league. The question that remains to be answered is whether any of the first-year players will have an impact on next year's squad.
Marcus Thornton, the team's final pick at No. 45, is headed overseas to start his pro career (as expected when Boston drafted him). But will Terry Rozier (16th overall), R.J. Hunter (28), or Mickey (33) muscle their way into the rotation?
Rozier's defense probably gives him the best chance of getting on the floor, and his speed is tantalizing. The Celtics need to help him harness that speed and turn it into a consistent weapon on the offensive end. While Boston's got some depth at both guard spots, you can see a scenario where Rozier will get playing time, particularly if injuries open doors. Depth will work against Hunter and Mickey, but both have key skills that Boston needed last season.