The Boston Celtics have three extension-eligible players from the class of 2012 in Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, and Perry Jones III, along with the necessary cap flexibility to consider hammering out deals before the Oct. 31 deadline.
For Day 10 of our Celtics Summer Forecast, we asked the 17 members of our blogger jury to put themselves in president of basketball operations Danny Ainge's shoes and consider: Will the Celtics agree to extensions with any of those three players?
Each player presents a unique situation:
• Sullinger, who slid all the way to Boston at No. 21 in 2012 because of concerns about his back, has been a solid contributor, though health and conditioning questions have shadowed him. By the end of last season, both the player's camp and the team seemed to agree that an extension was unlikely -- the team needing to see that Sullinger can stay in shape and on the court, while Sullinger's reps will hope he can establish himself as the sort of player who would command a hefty payday on the open market. Offseason social media snapshots suggest Sullinger is trying to work his way into the sort of shape that the Celtics have yearned to get him in, and soon we'll find out whether that translates to the court.
• Jones, the 28th pick in 2012, was acquired by Boston this summer in a no-risk swap with the tax-shedding Oklahoma City Thunder. An extension isn't even worth pondering unless Jones plays his way onto the roster -- and he'll face an uphill battle -- but things get a bit more intriguing if he does elbow his way onto the Celtics' 15-man opening-night roster. It remains unlikely that Boston would desire to muddy its books for next season unless Jones was willing to ink a low-money, low-risk deal. But the team can wait until late October to see if that's a bridge that even needs to be crossed.
• Zeller, the 17th pick in 2012 who was acquired via trade by Boston last summer, is maybe the most curious case for the Celtics. Boston knows plenty well that 25-year-old 7-footers don't grow on trees. Zeller has an intriguing offensive game, one in which he thrives running the floor (but he also showed an impressive midrange game by the end of last season). There's a line of thought that -- with the cap about to skyrocket and multiple teams ready to shop next season -- Boston ought to lock up Zeller at any reasonable number, which just might be an eight-figure deal.
So what happens? Well, 47 percent of our survey participants believe the Celtics won't make a deal. Another 47 percent believe Zeller will be extended (with those panel members averaging a $10.6 million annual value on that deal). And 5.9 percent -- one respondent -- think Boston should make a surprise deal to extend Sullinger.
This writer's guess? Boston will perform its due diligence in exploring extensions with Sullinger and Zeller, but will ultimately sit tight through Halloween. It simply seems more likely that the Celtics will endure the risk of the restricted market next offseason in order to maintain their much-desired flexibility in case a more intriguing deal for a more surefire player develops between now and next summer.
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (None)
I like Zeller a lot, but I'm not extending him right now if I'm Ainge unless he's taking a discount ($9 million a year seems like a discount to me based upon the rising salary cap). The big man proved to be a terrific fit for Brad Stevens' offense, but his inability to stretch the floor should keep Ainge from offering too much. The Celtics will own Zeller's rights in restricted free agency, so no need to tie up too much future cap space on a guy who might not crack the starting lineup this season.
Jay King, MassLive (None)
Sullinger is coming off an underwhelming season, Jones might not even make the team, and there isn't a huge risk Zeller will play himself into a much bigger contract by next summer. Plus, Ainge has done whatever he can to build cap flexibility. I could be wrong, but I see him keeping as much of that as possible entering the 2016 offseason.
Alex Kungu, CLNS Radio (Zeller, $8 million AAV)
If Zeller is extended, I would expect the Celtics to make a deal similar to Jae Crowder's contract, where they exchange length and security for less dollars. Zeller has been a consistent player who currently is the only traditional center that Boston has. However, his peak projects more as a reserve, and the Celtics won't look to put a dent on the cap for that caliber of talent.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Zeller, $12 million AAV)
Big guys with skills get paid, period. Zeller has already proved himself to be a capable rotation center and he could develop into a solid starter. That's worth hanging onto, even if it means sacrificing some of the precious cap space for next summer. I'd rather lock him in now than risk him getting an even bigger offer next summer and being forced to match or lose him for nothing.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live(None)
I don't see Ainge extending any players before the deadline. This team is in flux far too much to commit to any of these players and too many questions remain with each current roster player. Ainge is a gambler and while the market might very well go insane, I think he'd prefer to get answers to who these players are this season before spending his cash. Sullinger is the only player of this trio I would even consider extending.
Ben Mark, Red's Army(Zeller, $11 million AAV)
It's hard to give a per-year figure to Zeller without knowing how much playing time he'll receive this season and how he fits into the big-man rotation. But 7-footers who can dive to the rim effectively and shoot midrange jumpers are rare and with the cap set to rise next year, $11 million won't look as steep as it does right now.
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (None)
I like Zeller, but is he as valuable to this team long-term as Crowder? My impression is that he isn't ... and Crowder is getting $7 million per year. If Zeller comes cheap, there is little harm in signing him, assuming Boston clears out some of its highly crowded roster. But inking a backup big man to a long-term deal before you have the long-term starter in place feels like buying laces before you get your shoes. Maybe wait and see what color shoes you end up buying before you purchase something cheap like laces?
Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (Zeller, $12 million AAV) Zeller is above average or better at these skills: scoring efficiency, midrange shooting, passing, screening and defending. What more could you ask for from a rotational big man? Zeller has a high basketball IQ and, realistically, has room to improve. If he progresses this season, a $12 million average-annual-value deal would make him count approximately 13.3 percent against the cap in 2016. By comparison, 13.3 percent in 2015 is $8.4 million, and Zeller is certainly worth more than that. I'd offer him four years, $40 million, but would feel comfortable going to $12 million in a preseason extension. Even that could turn out to be a bargain.
Nick García, CelticsLife (Sullinger) Sullinger's 2014-15 season was a frustrating one due to the stress fracture in his foot that caused him to miss 24 games, but his numbers prior to the injury and after his surprising April return were evidence of Brad Stevens' confidence in him as his starting power forward. With David Lee likely being a one-year rental and Amir Johnson non-guaranteed for next season, it makes sense to lock Sullinger up for the future. Zeller certainly exceeded expectations last year, but if the Boston brass still believes in Kelly Olynyk's long-term potential, the Celtics may not mind letting Zeller walk next offseason, especially given their wealth of draft picks.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (None)
This is somewhat of a trick question, because no one can predict what Ainge is going to do. He always surprises us. All we know is that, if Zeller is extended, he won't get $64 million like his counterpart in Toronto, Jonas Valanciunas, even though their stats last season were generally similar.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog(Zeller, $10 million AAV)
Unless a trade is consummated before training camp, PJ3 will probably get cut before November rolls around, and with Sullinger, the Celtics just don't know what they have yet. It's smart for Ainge to wait and see how the season unfolds for a seemingly slimmer, healthier Sullinger. He's a boom-or-bust player and I don't think Ainge is confident in Sullinger's projection. The surest thing might be Zeller. True centers are a dying breed in the NBA, but if you can get an above-average 7-foot rim protector/runner at a bargain, you sign him up. If I'm Zeller, I take a three-year extension in a heartbeat. In a very inconsistent year for the franchise, Zeller was one of Stevens' most consistent players, and I can't imagine a better coach to trust my career with.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (None)
The one constant in Ainge's current rebuilding strategy is that he always makes sure to keep his options open. I doubt he views Sullinger, Zeller or Jones as essential pieces of the puzzle. Nor do I believe Ainge is afraid any of them will play so well this season that he'll be forced to overpay for their services later. Boston has only about $26 million in guaranteed salary after this season, something Ainge is likely quite proud of.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Zeller, $9 million AAV)
The $9 million price tag annually for Zeller is based on Crowder's $7 million value and Johnson's $12 million value. Zeller is in an interesting market after Enes Kanter took advantage of his restricted status to get significantly overpaid at the max and Valanciunas secured a similar deal. Zeller doesn't have the same upside as these max players, but he has been consistent in the midst of fluctuations to his role. Zeller is the only extension-eligible player whom Ainge can sign with confidence. The prevailing issue is that an extension reduces flexibility. Considering how Kanter has become exhibit A for restricted free-agent centers being overpaid, locking up a reliable player at nearly half the price would be a worthy endeavor.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Zeller, $11 million AAV) Ainge doesn't appear too fond of Sullinger's conditioning and Jones might not make it past October in a Celtics uniform. Zeller was quietly one of the team's best players last season and the Celtics would conceivably be getting the 25-year-old Zeller at the peak of his career. Considering the dearth of quality big men, on top of the ever-rising salary cap, it would not be unreasonable for Ainge to ink Zeller at $11 million or $12 million per year. Toronto just signed center Valanciunas (who is younger and has more upside) to an annual salary of $16 million. Zeller may never be an All-Star, but it pays to have players you know can perform, while at the same time possessing the maneuverability to be traded.
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Zeller, $12 million AAV) Zeller will be the one to get an extension at about $12 million annually. With the cap rising, that's a reasonable number. Omer Asik just got $10 million a year from New Orleans, giving Zeller $12 million isn't that far off. Extending Jones before the season makes no sense because he didn't do anything of consequence in Oklahoma City, and Sullinger has inconsistent health. You can't bank on him playing 75-plus games a season at the salary he's going to want. He'll need to prove it this season before he gets an extension.
KWAPT, Red's Army (None)
If Boston elects to do an extension, Zeller is the best option. He has been solid, does his job every night, doesn't complain, and gives his best effort each and every time he's out on the floor. You know exactly what you're getting.