James Young has made the Celtics’ roster. He described the feeling as better than being drafted.
A season ago, R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey, and Young toiled away with the reality of being young players in the Celtics’ system. The organization shuttled them between Maine and Boston, but their jobs were reasonably secure.
This season, expectations are higher, and roster spots were harder to come by. A better roster pushes the back end of the lineup further to the edge of a cliff.
Suddenly, as if watching his NBA career flash before his eyes, James Young surged into high gear during the preseason. He secured the 15th roster spot by beating out R.J. Hunter, but by all accounts the decision was a tough one. Danny Ainge credited the selection to six weeks of consistency, hard work, and professionalism from Young. But Ainge also had some stinging words that seemingly leave the door open on Young’s status.
"I told him this morning that I think this is the first time he’s earned anything in his life”
The Celtics play real basketball tonight for the first time since April, and so much has changed since then. There’s a next-level atmosphere of competitiveness that already has sent packing two players that were drafted within the last calendar year. Young has received the benefit of the doubt largely due to his age and the situation into which he was drafted. Now the team doesn’t have minutes for development—it’s pushing to contend in the East.
Whether Young can help them do that or not will likely dictate how much he’ll play. Then there’s Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. Both could be watching from the sideline into November, and once they return to their firmly established rotation roles two players will be moved to the inactive list (teams can have only 13 active players out of a maximum roster of 15 players).
That squeeze will likely come down to the younger portion of the roster again, particularly Young, Jordan Mickey, Demetrius Jackson, and Jaylen Brown. They all received active roster spots (a difficult decision made easier by a shoulder and ankle injury), but all it did was delay a subsequent one.
All those players except Young have unilateral paths to Maine should they need some seasoning. While Young may have survived to live through his third opening night, beyond that, nothing is promised.
Who will be pushed backward or even dumped when the time comes? For Young to stay active, he’ll need to do the same things that kept him here this preseason: play big (especially on the boards), shoot 30-40% from three, and most of all make the most of short spurts of minutes. That’ll be the key to surviving on the Boston bench.