BOSTON – A tough decision is looming. With just one game left in the preseason, the race for the final Celtics roster spot is approaching the finish line.
Coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday that he will speak with Danny Ainge over the next several days with a goal of determining who will be the odd man out by Friday or Saturday. With Monday as the deadline to waive excess players to get the roster down to 15, Ainge will surely be clogging the trade lines in search for a more valuable move than waiving a legitimate rotation player.
“Everything is factored in,” Stevens said when asked whether the roster decision will be focused on the present versus the future. “Is it something that somebody did last year or two years ago, what you think they could be down the road? Off the court, on the court; everything had got to be a factor.”
The decision will be one of the more difficult choices the Celtics have made during this rebuild. It is the first time they will have to lose a player they want to keep because of an abundance of riches.
“I would say that unfortunately oftentimes it works itself out from the standpoint of you can tell, right,” Stevens said. “But these guys have all gotten better, and it's a tribute and testament to them, because it's not only not easy to get better and to keep a good mindset about you and be confident, but they're probably dealing with a lot of stress.
“And to continue to improve, continue to come with a smile and work every day and do those types of things is a testament to these guys, and we're going to have to make hard decisions. The one thing I feel good about is we've got more NBA players than 15 on our roster right now."
James Young and R.J. Hunter have been the focal point of the race for the 15th spot. Players like Jordan Mickey, Demetrius Jackson and Gerald Green are unlikely, but still potential, candidates. Considering how many teams are starved for NBA talent, Ainge will likely have a wide choice of potential small trades to unload one of his prospects.
ONE LAST LINEUP CHANGE
With the final preseason games occurring on Wednesday, Stevens will honor a long tradition of not being an idiot and sitting his starters. The Celtics are playing their fourth game in seven nights, so sitting their top players is a no-brainer.
He will start Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson. Stevens noted that he wants to start Amir so that he can give the Big Dog more run with Jerebko. The likely rotation pattern in the regular season will see Amir sit at the halfway mark of the first quarter, only to rejoin the second unit next to Jerebko with the next sub rotation.
“We're going to play some of the younger guys, get them extended minutes, get them extended time,” Stevens said. “And, hey, we need a lot of those guys to help us, especially as we move forward, so these are just as important as every other time we've taken the floor and hopefully we'll play well."
And as for the other four starters?
"They're all available, but I would say unlikely. Is that the appropriate phrase to put? They're not playing."
The rest is a bit of a necessity with their condensed preseason schedule. There has been advocacy league-wide for a shorter preseason, something Stevens showed as much support for as his stoic disposition could allow.
“This is, I think, our fourth game in seven nights. So that’s thrown a little bit of a curveball with practicing as much as you want and really working on the things you want to. But we try to use the pregame shoot arounds, the in-game work like a practice. I think that you can probably figure out what you need to figure out with less. But I understand why we play them.”
When pressed to propose a new number of preseason games, Stevens just shaved a little off the top.
“I don’t really have an ideal number. I think the bottom line is, if it’s anywhere between – I know some teams are playing six. I don’t know if anybody is playing eight anymore. But certainly, six sounds like a number that makes a lot of sense. But seven’s not too many, so that’s a good thing. It’s an opportunity again for our team, especially the young guys, to play. We need to continue to learn about how much they can help us once the game starts.”
ROSE WINS TRIAL, HEADING BACK TO KNICKS
The biggest news in the sports world Wednesday was Derrick Rose winning his civil rape trial. The former MVP who labeled the Knicks a superteam has been away from the team during the heart of the trial, but he is now free to get back to work.
“It’s a tough thing he went through but now it’s over and now we can focus on basketball I know that’s what Derek wants to get back to doing,” coach Jeff Horncek said. “We’re just all glad it’s done with and now he can get back and focus on basketball.”
While the stigma of the situation wears off and the Knicks can refocus on basketball, Rose will take his time with his return and miss the next Knicks game Thursday.
“The only thing is if he says, ‘I’m going to be there in the morning, and I want to play, and I want to get out there,’” Hornacek said. “Then we’ll consider it, but I don’t see that being the case tomorrow. We do have those three days to practice after that, so more than likely he’s not going to be there tomorrow night.”
Hornacek is relieved to have Rose back, who will slowly but surely develop his fit with his new squad.
“I think he’s obviously relieved it’s over with. His focus has been basketball, that’s what he keeps telling us. So we think he’ll be back and in there training with the guys. (We) will have to get him up to speed on some of the things that we put in. So we think he can do that. Obviously when Phil and Steve and these guys put the team together, it was with Derrick at that one and Jo at the five,” Hornacek said. “Jo’s now starting to play. Now we’re going to get Derrick. And all of these guys, even though they’re veteran guys, Jo and Derrick could play together, but how much has Melo played with them? In All-Star games, that kind of stuff. There’s always chemistry things to work on. So now when we get them all back we have three days before we have to play Cleveland. So we’ll see what we can do.”
Hornacek has not yet spoken with Rose since the trial ended, but things may go back to normal soon for the former Suns coach in his first ride on the Knicks train.