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Breaking down the Boston Celtics free agency options to fill the roster

Cleveland Cavaliers Victory Parade And Rally
Could the Celtics target JR Smith?
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

EDIT: Well this happened fast...

Continue to read on for further options for the Celtics to fill the last roster spot...

Despite the goody bag of draft picks, the Al Horford signing and guaranteeing Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko, Danny Ainge still needs to make another signing. With Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic overseas this season, Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Mickey are the two backup bigs on the Celtics’ rotation. And unless RJ Hunter makes some sort of dramatic improvement during training camp, the Celtics are still in desperate need of a bench shooter if they want to make a serious playoff run.

Luckily for Ainge, he has a trio of second round picks that should be spending their season int he D-League and/or overseas, giving him at least two roster spots to fill with the team’s remaining cap space, the mid level exception and the veteran minimum exception.

The Celtics currently sit on $12,678,771 in cap space if they renounce Tyler Zeller’s cap hold, remove John Holland’s non-guaranteed season and Yabusele’s $1.56 million cap hold as he signs with the Shanghai Sharks. If they could find a taker for James Young in a one-way trade, they could clear an extra $1.8 million for a total of $14,503,771 in space.

Assuming the Celtics sign Jaylen Brown and send their second round picks overseas, they will have 13 players on the team with two roster spots open. While Abdel Nader looks like a candidate to sign with the team and spend most of the season in Maine, Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil may be fighting for a spot in a Euroleague lineup next year.

While the Celtics will hold on to their cap space for as long as possible to be able to trade for a marquee player into their space,

So who are the shooters and bigs left on the market that could occupy two potential roster spots?


Tyler Zeller

A month ago, it seemed logical that the Celtics and Zeller would have a mutual parting of ways. Three weeks into the free agency period, Zeller remains one of three rotation bigs left on the market. The conditions for Zeller getting playing time in Boston are the same, if not even worse than last year. Jordan Mickey has a year of development under his belt and Al Horford will play more minutes than Jared Sullinger.

Zeller has good ball skills and can dive well on the screen-and-roll. He presents a different wrinkle from Olynyk, Johnson and Mickey and proved to be a consummate professional riding the bench in a crucial contract year. Zeller would be best served taking a cheap one-year deal with a team that will showcase him ahead of unrestricted free agency. The fact that he hasn’t taken the Celtics’ qualifying offer shows that he is looking for more money and more time, as would be expected. While the league waits to see if the price on Mo Harkless and Donatas Montiejunas will come down, Zeller will have to wait until an empty-handed front office comes in with a better offer.

Kevin Seraphin

After a rough season with the Knicks in which he played just 11 minutes per game, the once promising power forward looks to already be on the down slope of his career at age 26. But he is easily young enough to turn things around. He is a defensive liability with a mediocre shot selection, but he can score in the post. While the Celtics system only puts the ball on the block on occassion, having a skilled post scorer can be a useful wrinkle at the back of the roster. Seraphin could be had for the vet minimum at this point of free agency and can give them a player who can get his own buckets for a few minutes a game.

Larry Sanders

Sanders seems to want back in and has enough talent to be worth a gamble to every team in the league. But committing a roster spot to a player who clearly does not have his heart in on his career. Sanders will probably receive camp invites from many teams and will look for a team that balances a strongly structured environment and the opportunity to crack the rotation.

The Bigger Fish

Mo Harkless and Donatas Montiejunas are attractive players, but Kelly Olynyk is both better and already under their control. Unless the latter changes, the Celtics are unlikely to be in position to make a bid.


JR Smith

Earl Joseph Smith III is the most important topless person in America. He can knock down any shot imaginable and conversely allow his opponent to get the easiest shot possible. The Celtics still need above the break shooters who can create off the dribble.

Even if Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier show more ability to create out of the pick-and-roll, they don’t project to be knockdown shooters this year like Smith can be. As crucial as JR was to the Cavaliers’ title run, he thrived in a very unique rotation that was tightly held together by LeBron James’ demigod performance.

So will he be as valuable on a team without an omnipresent leader on James’ level? As we can see with Smith and Dion Waiters, public perception of a player is almost always overhyped when they play decent basketball deep into the playoffs. There is a reason guys like Kent Bazemore, Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe got huge offers early in free agency while Smith and Waiters float in limbo weeks later asking for comparable money.

Smith is an erratic scorer who is a constant vulnerability on defense. He can be a good shot creator from the wing, but is unlikely to have nearly the role in Boston that he has in Cleveland. Unless the Cavs are only offering half of what the Celtics’ best offer can be with their potential cap space, Smith is staying in Cleveland.

Dion Waiters

See above. Waiters is just 24 while Smith is 30, but has most of the same issues. While his defense is notably better than Smiths — or in other words below average — even the desperate Brooklyn Nets came away from their meeting with him wishing him the best of luck.

The Celtics have too much potential talent overlapping with his role to let him stunt their momentum. They would be better off letting Smart, Rozier and Hunter getting the shots that Waiters would take for the sake of their long term development. But the Celtics may decide they are in position to make a serious run and prioritize optimal performance this season if it comes without a long-term commitment.

With the market for Waiters dried up, the Celtics could offer their cap space on a one-year deal to give Waiters a make-good season ahead of the last cap jump next summer before it plateaus.

Chase Budinger

The former Arizona wing had a lot of promise as an athletic three-and-D player when he was in Houston. But he has battled injury over the last four years, playing more than 1,000 minutes just once in ‘14-’15 for the Wolves. He is a career 35.2-percent three-point shooter, but shot just 27.9 percent last season when he was waived by the Pacers and then signed with the Suns.

Budinger lingers as a nice memory of a versatile rotation player, but he was cut from a Pacers team in which he was a moderate contributor and became a non-factor for the Suns. Phoenix has not shown interest in re-signing him and it is unlikely the Celtics will bring him in unless he gives them reason to believe he will be much healthier and more effective this season. He makes this list because there was reported interest from the Celtics, but it would be a surprise to see a deal happening with Hunter on the roster.

Kevin Martin

Martin could be a prime candidate for the Celtics’ mid-level exception, which would be $5.6 million if they make a signing to go over the cap and just $2.9 million if they remain below. Of course, they could just use cap space to sign him instead. In his prime, he was essentially the kind of player the Celtics hope Hunter can become. But that was several years ago, as he spent this season preparing for a buyout with the Wolves and then as a specialist off the bench for the Spurs. But he had a mediocre 50.4 true shooting percentage in 16 games with the Spurs and eventually fell out of the rotation during their playoff run.

Of the shooters on the market, Martin remains one of the most effective on offense. He makes sense from a veteran leadership standpoint and is valuable in that he can be more than a stationary spot-up shooter. But age is catching up to him quickly and his age 33 year may be the edge of the cliff for his career. Stevens’ defensive system would work better by placing a cardboard cutout of Jae Crowder on the wing. Martin can be a good value signing at the mid-level, but is not worth restricting further cap flexiblity during the trade deadline at a salary beyond that.

Jason Terry

As if the Celtics didn’t have enough players under 6’4” on the roster, why not add one more? Terry had a bit of a resurgence late last year for the Rockets when thrust into a key role, shooting 35.6-percent from deep. He is perhaps the only low-cost option on the market that improved his play late last season and comes into next season with momentum. He is another player that could cost closer to the mid level rather than the vet minimum, meaning the value of his signing is in juxtaposition to maintaining cap flexibility. Terry’s value mostly comes from being a shooter in the playoffs, so the Celtics may prefer to wait to make a move for a player like him during buyout season.

Gerald Green

Once a promising Celtics prospect, Green has had a roller coaster ride throughout the league. He had a decent season as a rotation wing for the Heat last year and can be a decent corner shooter while being a dynamic driver. He can still sky for boards and provides another athletic wing off the bench that can work in multiple lineups.

Green makes sense for the Celtics on a short-term deal for around the mid-level. But at 30, his market may be even lower than that. He could be the dark horse signing for the team.

Steve Novak

He can only do one thing, and that is shoot. Really, really well. He was a throw-in on a trade from the Thunder to the Nuggets last year before ending up playing three games with the Bucks after being waived. If the Celtics want someone to stand in the corner and hit two threes a game, he may be able to still do it.

OJ Mayo

Oh wait...nevermind.

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