The Boston Celtics will enter training camp with an overstocked roster. The team currently owns 16 guaranteed contracts and must trim at least one by the start of the 2015-16 regular season. In Day 3 of our Celtics Summer Forecast, the question for our panel is which player is least likely to be on the opening-night roster?
There were two popular options in our discussion:
• Perry Jones III: The Celtics were essentially at the 15-man roster limit in July and sent eyebrows skyward when they acquired Jones, a second-round draft pick, and cash from a tax-trimming Oklahoma City Thunder squad. Despite the roster crunch, Boston elected to bring Jones to camp with a chance to make this decision about whom to cut more difficult. The 23-year-old Jones -- a player Boston had considered at No. 22 in the 2012 draft -- still seemingly faces an uphill battle for a spot, but the Celtics are clearly intrigued by his athleticism and versatility.
• Evan Turner: Many dubbed Turner the Celtics' team MVP last season for his contributions, particularly as a ball handler and for keeping the team afloat both after dealing away Rajon Rondo and while rookie Marcus Smart endured growing pains running the offense. Turner put up a modest base stat line -- 9.5 points, 5.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds -- while appearing in all 82 games, but he had a knack for the big-time shot, posted a trio of triple-doubles and often showed up for his amusing postgame press gatherings wearing a custom ET chain or a gold grill.
In voting by our 13-member panel, Jones got the most votes (7), with Turner (5) close behind. Jared Sullinger picked up a stray vote.
This writer's opinion? The vote went to Jones, but he can make that decision much tougher on Boston if he shows up to camp hell-bent on earning a spot. One thing Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has repeated is that Boston doesn't have another player like Jones. While Boston seemingly already has a frontcourt logjam, it doesn't have anyone as athletic as Jones at the top of the depth chart, and Jones can endear himself real quick if he shows a desire to commit to the defensive end, where his length ought to allow him to disrupt multiple positions.
In the same vein as Jordan Crawford and, ironically, Turner, coach Brad Stevens might be intrigued by the idea of trying to identify and accentuate Jones' strengths. Can Stevens get more out of Jones than what we saw in Oklahoma City? With a cheap salary and the ability to be retained long term if developed, there are reasons to keep Jones around.
But he absolutely must force the issue at camp. And if he does, a player like Turner shifts into the crosshairs.
Make no mistake, Turner clearly has value and could very easily be a key part of Boston's rotation again next season. Here's the concern: Turner thrived last season in large part because the Celtics needed both a starting swingman and an extra ball handler on the court. This helped Turner log 27.6 minutes per game. Things are a bit murkier this season.
Smart spent much of summer league at point guard and looked much more comfortable creating both for himself and his teammates. There are still strides to be made for Smart to be a legitimate NBA point guard, but his progress appears encouraging. The Celtics also re-signed Jae Crowder to a five-year, $35 million contract, and he had elevated to the starting swingman role by the end of the last season's brief playoff run. It could be a bit more difficult to find minutes for Turner this year, especially if Boston desires to develop younger players such as James Young, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter (though the rookies are likely to get plenty of game reps with the Maine Red Claws).
If the Celtics could find a trade partner interested in Turner -- and some have suggested the Utah Jazz after they lost Dante Exum to injury recently -- then Boston would certainly have to consider it. Ainge could also pull off a more surprising move -- dealing one of Boston's young bigs to alleviate the crunch in the frontcourt? -- but our panel certainly believes the choice comes down to Jones and Turner at the moment.
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Perry Jones)
Jones is not the heavy favorite here, as Ainge could go in a variety of directions via trade to clear a roster spot or two. The former Thunder backup provides some athleticism on the wing, but he's not a long-term solution. Sullinger has something to prove in his contract year, so the team will give him a chance to step up after a disappointing 2014-15 campaign. Meanwhile, Turner probably makes the most sense to deal from a depth standpoint, but the team isn't just going to give him away. Barring a suitor's giving up a reasonable return for Turner this preseason, Jones is the odd man out.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (Evan Turner)
Jones is a low-risk, high-reward player with a rookie contract, so it makes sense for Boston to hang on to him. Between Turner and Sullinger, I'll guess Ainge's pride/ego makes Turner more likely to be dealt. Sully is a born-and-raised Celtics draft pick with oodles of potential despite his issues. Turner is a guy Ainge grabbed off the scrap heap for nothing but turned into something. Giving up on Sullinger feels like a loss for Ainge; getting anything of value in return for Turner is a clear win.
Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (Jones)
This isn't what I would do, but it's what will logically happen. It's more likely that a fringe bench player gets cut than an impactful rotational player gets traded. Jones has proved incapable of carving out a role in a do-or-die situation in Oklahoma City, so unless he experienced an epiphany, the chances of his forcing the Celtics to make a move they wouldn't make under normal circumstances are slim.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Turner)
I've been pleasantly surprised by Turner's contributions on the Celtics. He is a prime example of a buy-low kind of guy. He came in with something to prove and stepped up when the team needed him. He's a multiskilled, valuable contributor, and I think a lot of teams would value that enough to make an offer for him. Given the roster crunch, I think he's pretty expendable for the Celtics, so I could see them making a move to add another future asset and reduce the roster by dealing Turner.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Jones)
There have been reports that Turner is on the block, and bloggers have already started writing his farewell. The most common argument going around is that "He's too good to bench." Um, what? ET has been one of Brad Stevens' best reclamation projects, and while he doesn't excel at much, his versatility on both sides of the ball makes him a coach's favorite. Turner's cheap contract makes him a valuable trade chip for Ainge, but if he's going to move him, he'll wait until after the new year when teams start gearing up for the playoffs. The front office already has to make decisions on 2012 draftees Sullinger and Tyler Zeller. There's just no room for a look-see year for Jones.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Jared Sullinger)
Sullinger has battled weight concerns most of his career. Despite leading the team in rebounding last season, Sullinger was lambasted by Ainge for his lack of conditioning, and a foot injury caused him to miss 24 games. Judging by a few offseason photos that have circulated, Sullinger has lost weight and appears to be in a much better physical state. Sullinger will be a restricted free agent following this season, and with the salary cap predicted to increase greatly in the coming seasons, the former Ohio State Buckeye may command a sum Ainge is not willing to commit to.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Jones)
Sullinger's Instagram isn't enough evidence to get the league's GMs to give up value, and he has too much talent to force Ainge to sell low. There has been so much talk about how the Celtics' perimeter additions could push Evan Turner out the door, but he is still the second-best playmaker on this team -- or even the best by some assist-to-turnover analytics. Jones had a three-game run to kick off last season in which he scored 68 points, but that has been pretty much it in three seasons. While James Young could seemingly be waived if Jones significantly outplays him in the preseason, Young still has enough untapped potential to win a tiebreaker.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Turner)
The Celtics are going to want to take the new Sullinger out for a spin before cutting loose. Turner still has potential to improve, but his presence stands in the way of playing time for those who need it. Time for ET to phone home.
Jay Ouellette, Red's Army (Jones)
I'd say Jones is the logical pick, but Ainge usually surprises us. And a trade of Sullinger wouldn't surprise me, especially since I doubt he'd want to pay what his agent, David Falk, would be looking for. Then again, Evan Turner is also a Falk guy, and for the value, he's one of the best free-agent signings the Celtics have ever had.
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Turner)
The Celtics already have a plethora of ball handlers who are probably going to play. And Turner isn't a very effective player unless he has the ball in his hands. He himself once said that a coach who just puts him in the corner to shoot 3s is no genius. Smart is expected to handle the ball more this season, and that could make Turner expendable. He won't be able to spread the floor -- he's a career 31 percent 3-point shooter and shot 28 percent on his catch-and-shoot 3s last season.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Jones)
I'd love to be wrong, but there's a reason Jones couldn't stick in the rotation in Oklahoma City after his mini hot streak early in the 2014-15 season. It's fun to envision Jones breaking out and tapping into his athletic potential, but the safer bet is that he can't break through a deep Celtics rotation.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Turner)
Last season, Turner was a team leader, hit game-winning shots, and became a consistent triple-double producer. But he needs the ball in his hands, and with the current roster, he shouldn't be running the offense. He's a terrible passer and will take away minutes from the younger guys. David Lee and Amir Johnson should offset any loss of leadership.