Sadly, the 2015-2016 NBA season is now over for the Boston Celtics. However, preparations for 2016-2017 are about to begin! Over the next few months, Celtics brass will need to make decisions about who will stay with the team, who will leave the team, and what new pieces to pursue in the next phase of the rebuild.
Danny Ainge has some important decisions to make in the near future about which players he wants to keep and which he should let go. There were five players on this past year's roster who will now be free agents (two restricted and one unrestricted) or who have team options on their contracts. We humble writers here at CelticsBlog will debate what Danny Ainge should do with each of these five players.
Today, we discuss what should be done with Jared Sullinger:
Jeff Clark: Let him walk. Sorry to be so blunt, but I can't imagine that he'll be worth whatever he'll get on his next contract. He's skilled, no doubt. The guy can rebound, and at times he can score and defend bigger guys in the post. But he hasn't improved his outside shot enough, he's not versatile enough for today's game, and yes, I'm concerned about his conditioning. I would have preferred getting some kind of asset in a trade for him, but given the choice between giving him a market-rate contract and letting him go, I'd pick the latter.
Lachlan Marr: Yeah, Sully’s going to be looking for a big payday, and there’s probably a team silly enough to give it to him. But I hope that whoever that team is, it’s not the Boston Celtics. To me his commitment is even more troubling than his conditioning, and one can certainly be said to be indicative of the other. At times he looks unfocused, and his comments often seem non-committal. Plus he hasn’t shown significant improvements this season in a number of areas. Maybe he’ll find his form somewhere else and finally shed those pounds that everyone thinks are holding him back, but to me, unless there is a serious shift, Sully’s attitude will plague him for the rest of his career, no matter who he ends up playing for.
Wes Howard: I don't think that Boston should spend what the market likely dictates it will cost to keep Sully around. However, I do want to point out that he brings a skill that no one else on our roster has been able to duplicate consistently over the past couple of years. Sully has repeatedly demonstrated that he is able to handle large, strong, bruising centers down low. He always seems to do well against Dwight Howard, against Andre Drummond, and against Pau Gasol, to name a few. In short, he does well against more "traditional" centers, on both ends of the court. This isn't necessarily enough reason to keep him around, but it does highlight the need to replace that specific skill, provided he's not back in Boston next year. If Sully walks and Boston doesn't bring in someone with the size and strength to handle those big guys, we may find ourselves getting pushed around down low next year more than we would like.
Kevin O’Connor: Jared Sullinger is better than he gets credit for. But he should also be better than he actually is. He obviously needs to get in better conditioning. He knows that. But once he does that, he also needs to extend his range to the NBA three-point shot. I'm not sure he's interested in that based on his recent appearance on The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix. And it's too bad because I think Sullinger has All-Star-level talent that will ultimately go unrealized unless he makes strides soon. So I wouldn't take a risk on re-signing him unless it's a stinker of an offseason and it's a one-year "prove it" contract. Nothing long-term.
Bill Sy: I'm not opposed to a 1+1 deal with Sully. Part of this is asset management. He's talented (but flawed), so somebody is going to overpay for him and potentially get him to play to his potential. Maybe this is pride talking a little bit because we drafted him, and I don't want to see one of our own flourish with another team without at least some compensation. Offer him a qualifying offer and tell his agent that we won't match anything over two years. If he wants to stay in Boston, he has to prove it.
Jared Weiss: A big variable, of course, will be what happens on draft night. If the Celtics take someone who can fill his role with one of their first-round picks, then his value to this team drops. But if they were to take Bender at No. 3, then you can offer Sullinger something like 2 years/$24m with a player option next year and see if he bites. It gives Sullinger the option to build up his market value more and hit the market again during the peak of the cap spike.
Bender probably will need a few years before his skill set is refined enough to play 30-plus minutes, so you can keep Sullinger and Olynyk together for another year or two before clearing the path for Bender to start and letting one or both of those guys move on. Bender fits into Olynyk's role pretty well, so he could be a replacement for Olynyk as they decide whether to trade him or let him hit restricted free agency.
Sullinger would be wise to let the market for him set itself rather than biting at the Celtics' offer if it comes in on day one. But after his playoff performance, few teams are going to give him an early offer at the value he is looking for. He will probably be one of the main consolation prizes for teams making a run at guys like Al Horford or Ryan Anderson in the early days of free agency. Sullinger was solid during the regular season and just turned 24 a few months ago. He is still at an age where his body can hold up throughout this contract—he only missed one game this year—and he is effective in the low post on both ends. But they still haven't figured out where he is most effective on the floor on offense.
Lineups with him on the block and Olynyk/Jerebko behind the arc at the four make sense in theory, but they haven't yielded consistent results. The starting lineup that was projected early on last year of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Olynyk and Sullinger had the second-highest net rating at 2.1 of the fifteen most-used lineups by Stevens this year, per NBA.com. But it was only used in short spurts at 4.3 minutes per game.
That lineup gives Sullinger the freedom to play near the basket and pop out to the perimeter when he needs to do so. Olynyk's length and ability to rotate through the pivot makes up for Sullinger's shortcomings as a defender [pun intended] and allows Sullinger to serve as a brute on the block for post-ups and powerful wing drivers. But it can easily be exposed by motion offenses that force heavy big switching and can get to the rim.
Marr: Yeah, I definitely agree there's some good reasons, and a certain logic, to re-signing Sully. But I feel like the price will be too high for what he delivers overall. Ultimately, I just think Boston's frontcourt troubles remain with or without Sully. With a fairly deep free agency class, there are other options that may prove better value.
Bobby Manning: I'm sorry I was a strong Sullinger supporter in the past, but my take remains the same from the second game of the playoffs—he has overstayed his welcome with this team. For all the work he put in over the offseason and his early-year dominance in the 2015 portion of the season, he disappeared when the team needed him most. I'll acknowledge his improvements. The jump shot helped his scoring, he even hit threes, and when he was locked in, he played solid defense in the system. But the bad outweighs the good. Over the last month of the season and the playoffs as the Cs fell from the No. 3 seed and into a first-round exit, Sullinger was a no-show on the boards, where you can usually count on him if not for anything else. Jonas Jerebko made him irrelevant, the lack of engagement by the end was showcased on Sully's face like a billboard, and whether it was injuries or just a lack of gas left in the tank he deteriorated as the season went on. On a team that has become noted around the basketball world for its hustle, Sully doesn't fit the bill. No more offseason running pics, no more uncertainty about what you'll get from him on a given night, certainly no long-term security. Especially considering the fact that I doubt it'll shake up the chemistry on the team, I want Sully gone this offseason.
Weiss: Does anyone else have a compromise idea for Sullinger? I know most of Boston is ready to let him walk away, but obviously it is a more nuanced situation than that. For all the disappointment in Sullinger's tapering progress, he is still a good player and a good teammate. One terrible playoff series doesn't erase everything else he has done.
If his market value collapses and he is worth single digits per year, it would make a lot of sense to re-sign him. The major turn-off for most people is the idea of paying him money akin to what a good starter would make or committing four years to him. So would anyone else like to float a scenario where you would re-sign him?
The idea of offering him the same contract they gave to Amir Johnson last summer makes sense, although I think Sullinger still has enough leverage to make that second year a player option rather than a non-guaranteed year. That seems like the most mutually beneficial scenario as it gives Sullinger another year to up his value. It also gives the Celtics another year to make a decision on him while still retaining the advantage of his bird rights once he hits unrestricted free agency.
The other side to that question would be: What is the cut-off point for an offer sheet where you wouldn't match it? I would probably set the line somewhere around 3 years/$36m, but of course the market could set the baseline so high that Sullinger at $15m a year would be a good deal. If a player like Ryan Anderson gets $20m AAV, it's hard to argue that he is nearly twice as valuable as Sullinger.
Sy: If it goes three years at that price, I want Year #3 as a team option. I agree that he's shown enough progress and value to warrant another year in Boston, and a second year seems like a gift, but the third has to be in Ainge's control.
Weiss: In the end, Sullinger may find himself taking the qualifying offer and trying to hit the market again next summer with a higher cap. Worked out nicely for Greg Monroe. May work for him.
He's given us some memorable moments and played some good basketball for Boston throughout his rookie contract. What do you think? Should the Celtics be looking to make or match offers on Sully, and if so, how much is too much? Let us know in the comments below.