It looks like the french Draymond Green will be half a world away in 2016-17. Over a week after news came that 23rd overall pick Ante Zizic is staying overseas in Croatia for this upcoming season, Adam Himmelsbach reports that Guerschon Yabusele will be stashed as well, joining the Chinese Basketball League's Shanghai Sharks on a $1.5 million deal.
The CBA has a long history coinciding with the NBA since it began in 1995, hosting seasons that last from late October through mid-March. It hosted Emmanuel Mudiay, who opted to join the league for a year instead of going to college before the Denver Nuggets drafted him. Upcoming hall-of-famer Yao Ming began his career in Shanghai and now owns the team. More recently, former NBA players such as Stephon Marbury, J.R. Smith, Gilbert Arenas, Michael Beasley, and even former Celtic Jordan Crawford—who had a 72-point game there in January—have spent time there trying to rebuild their value or cash in.
The move doesn't come as a massive surprise, as part of the Celtics' plan with all the NBA bodies already on their roster and four young projects still present from last year was to find players with upside that could be held back for years either overseas or with the D-League's Maine Red Claws. In the end, the 2016 draft yielded Jaylen Brown, Yabusele, Zizic, Demetrius Jackson, Ben Bentil, and Abdel Nader. Of those six, Brown looks like a relative lock to make the NBA team after an explosive summer, while the latter three are poised for stints in Maine.
This is not a new approach for Danny Ainge either. Since the 2012 draft, Fab Melo played 33 games in Maine, Kris Joseph played 12, and James Young has seen 31 games on the farm. Among last season's group, Terry Rozier was sent down for 14 games and R.J. Hunter for 8, while Jordan Mickey saw 23 appearances. Meanwhile fellow second-round pick Marcus Thornton spent the season stashed in Australia.
Ainge's ability to keep players within the Celtics' reach while off the active roster hasn't paid many dividends yet, but with the draft growing younger, more internationally-based, and uncertain with every passing year, maintaining that kind of flexibility is an excellent strategy. The move to stash Yabusele probably has several components to it, starting with the fact that it pushes back his NBA rookie contract a year.
With that, there isn't much room for another body in the Celtics' front court, particularly one with an uncertain ability to impact professional games. Al Horford enters the fold as a surefire starter. Jonas Jerebko will likely receive a brunt of minutes with the departure of Jared Sullinger. Amir Johnson may remain the team's best interior defender. Kelly Olynyk is likely their best perimeter shooter, while Mickey remains with a need for more reps at the pro level. While Mickey is likely to see more time in Maine ahead after another up-and-down display of optimistic raw talent in the summer league, he brings more immediate NBA experience to the table at the moment than Yabusele, and he comes with more flexibility.
Most importantly, Yabusele's absence frees up a roster spot and cap money for this season. Even if he was slated to make just $1.5 million this year, every million counts when lining up a potential trade as the Celtics seem intent on doing. With him and Zizic out of the picture, the Celtics stand with about 12 bodies between Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jerebko, Johnson, Rozier, Hunter, Horford, Brown, Marcus Smart, Olynyk, and Mickey. There also remains the possibility that Tyler Zeller could enter the fold again as well at excellent value, since his market as a restricted free agent remains dead.
Then there's the fact that Yabusele will benefit from minutes. He averaged 8.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game while floating in and out of the rotation this year in the summer league, and he shot at a 48% clip in 25 minutes. It was great to get a first-hand look at his game that wasn't given with Zizic. Everything presumably known was on full display, from his massive 260-pound body to his energy and versatility at both ends of the court. Summer league also displayed how far he has to go, especially given his measly 12.5% three-point percentage on 14 attempts. The fact remains above all though that the future is what the Celtics are aiming for with Yabusele. Many fans hated the reach, but at 20 years old there's plenty of chances for his game to expand. For now, that will begin far away in Shanghai.