Have we seen the last of Tyler Zeller in a Boston Celtics uniform? His sporadic role throughout this season would suggest that we likely have.
The seven-footer was a key cog in the rotation last season, appearing in all 82 games and getting the start in 59 of them, while averaging 21.2 minutes per game. We all praised the crafty Danny Ainge for stealing Zeller away from Cleveland for virtually nothing by playing the facilitator role in a three-team deal. There was even talk of the Celtics potentially extending Zeller prior to this season to prevent him from becoming a restricted free agent this summer.
The extension never came, which turns out was for the best, given how his role was marginalized this season. While Zeller began the season as the starting center for the Celtics, coach Brad Stevens quickly abandoned his opening-night lineup. The shuffled rotation didn't have much room for the former starter, who by the third game of the season had already seen his minutes plummet into the single-digits. Before long, we were seeing DNP next to his name in the box score on a routine basis as Zeller struggled to find the court outside of garbage time.
It wasn't until March that Zeller started seeing meaningful minutes again, starting the month on a stretch of nine straight games where he was given at least 10 minutes of playing time. His resurgence wouldn't last though, as he saw double-figure minutes only three other times the rest of the regular season.
Zeller's averages of 6.1 points and 3.0 rebounds may appear disappointing on the surface, but his per-minute numbers were in line with what he produced the previous season. The difference was that his playing time was cut in half.
Part of the reason for Zeller's role change was the addition of Amir Johnson, who soaked up a large percentage of the minutes Zeller used to get. Johnson ended up becoming the starting center, and when he wasn't on the court it was often when the Celtics were playing small-ball. That didn't leave a lot of playing time for the bigs on the bench to fight over, which coincided with Zeller sliding down the depth chart.
The Celtics enter this offseason with plenty of flexibility, which they intend to use to improve the roster. Zeller may be one of the players the team moves on from if they find an upgrade, whether it be in the draft, free agent or via trade.
There is bound to be a team willing to pay a seven-footer with a solid mid-range game, but don't expect the Celtics to match if they don't have a clear role available for him. Even if they strike out in every avenue to find an upgrade, they would be better off giving his minutes to a young player like Jordan Mickey.
Zeller had a decent run as the team's starter last season, but after seeing him phased out this year, it's time to say good-bye.