Celtics have five bigs for four spots

Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

WALTHAM, Mass. -- While Boston Celtics players have gushed about the team's depth and the potential to utilize it as a weapon during the 2015-16 season, coach Brad Stevens has maintained that he'll likely stick to a 10-man rotation on most nights, including just four bigs.

Go ahead and get out your Celtics roster and count up the bigs (we'll wait). Yup, there's David Lee, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger. Or one too many bodies for a four-man group.

"My thought right now is we wouldn’t play more than four on most nights," Stevens said before the team's practice Monday. "So whoever those four might be may depend on the night, it may depend on how they are playing, it may depend on who is healthy. All that other stuff.

"That’s the challenge with our team right now. All the guys that are in that mix have been great. Not only some of the time, but all the time. They’ve all been really good about it, they all understand it. It is what it is. I think we all realize that we have good players, up an down that group. I’ve said this before: Some of it is going to be determined on who fits well with other guys to make those other guys better, and that’s a big part of this."

Here's what we know based on early returns: The Celtics started both of their exhibition games with Lee and Zeller up front. Lee, in particular, has shined with his passing abilities, while Stevens offered praise Monday for Zeller's scoring talents both as a roller and in the midrange. When Boston went to the bench, it was Olynyk and Johnson who took the big-man baton, with Stevens sweet on the way that duo pairs with spark plug Isaiah Thomas (Olynyk as a floor-spacer and Johnson as a screener/roll man).

So where does that leave Sullinger? He's played well when his number has been called, but even the fourth-year big man acknowledges he's fighting for time.

"I’m not here to make it a rivalry between me, Amir, Tyler, Kelly, Jonas [Jerebko] or D-Lee," said Sullinger, adding Jerebko to the big-man mix because of the way the Celtics often utilized him and Jae Crowder at the power forward spot last season. "My biggest thing is I just want us to win. If that’s me cutting back my minutes, that’s me cutting back my minutes, but the ultimate goal is to win basketball games. That’s the ultimate goal as a team, as a unit. Going forward, it’s a long season, so you never know what’s going to happen. You just have to stay ready."

Sullinger noted how all five of Boston's pure bigs have been starters at one point or another in their careers (heck, the quintet combined to start 197 games last season). Now, they all might have to adjust to splitting up minutes and the possibly of not playing at times.

"There’s going to be competition [up front], and the good news is, if somebody’s not playing well or if somebody is sick or out or whatever the case may be, we’re going to be able to go to our bench and be very, very good," said Stevens. "I think that’s the great part about having the depth. I think the more that we can have that -- kinda whoever needs to be ready is ready to perform on any given night -- the better we’ll be."

Stevens has emphasized that he's not set on his lineups and rotation yet, so the competition for roles at the start of the season remains open.

Some other news and notes from Monday's pre-practice access:

Jones, Jerebko back in action: The Celtics got two players back at practice in Jerebko (illness) and Perry Jones (death in family). Jones left the team in Milan and returned to the states for the funeral of his cousin.

Asked about the situation, Jones offered: "I can’t right now, I’d get too emotional. I’d rather not talk about it right now." Jones said his focus was on his family during his five days away from the team. Now he must refocus while competing for a final roster spot. Said Jones: "I noticed a few things I have to catch up on, but that’ll be easy, especially with my teammates helping me and things like that. Just go out there and work hard and everything’s gonna take care of itself."

Rest stop ahead: Stevens said that, while the team will have enjoyed nearly a full week off from game action between its Europe trip and Wednesday's exhibition against the Nets, he'll likely give a few regulars the night off Wednesday in Brooklyn.

"It’s two-fold: It’s rest because -- I’ve been on these trips now enough, whether it’s Europe, whether it’s China, whether it’s when I went to Africa this summer -- everybody is going to react a little bit differently. But, certain guys, I think it’s good to give a night off here and there, especially this time of the year. There will be three or four guys that we probably won’t play Wednesday night."

The Celtics also visit the New York Knicks on Friday and have three more exhibition home games next week. Stevens said he'll likely treat two of those local exhibitions like a dress rehearsal for the season, while top rotation guys might get rest in the other. Said Stevens: "The goal is to be healthy and ready to roll on Oct. 28."