With the news that Kyrie Irving will miss the rest of the season, the next logical question is: What do the Boston Celtics do about their roster? To answer that, there are some simple, yet unfulfilling answers.
The Celtics are reportedly signing Jonathan Gibson for the remainder of the season. Gibson will replace Xavier Silas on the roster. Whether that happens before Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls or after the game, when Silas 10 Day Contract expires, remains to be seen.
Gibson is being signed via the same Hardship Exemption that Silas was signed under. This means that Gibson, like Silas, will be ineligible for to play for the Celtics in the playoffs. So, why sign Gibson at all then? Quite simply, to add some point guard depth for the end of the regular season. Boston is down to just Terry Rozier, who is still coming back from his recent ankle injury, Shane Larkin, who is recovering from a nasty bout with flu, and Kadeem Allen, who is doing the best he can, but remains a limited rookie. With Gibson in the fold, Brad Stevens can spot Rozier and Larkin some rest over the final days of season.
Speaking of Allen, and fellow Two-Way player Jabari Bird, at least they can add some depth for the postseason, right? Not so fast. Two-Way players are ineligible to play in the playoffs. In order for either Allen or Bird, or even Gibson, to be eligible for the playoffs, Boston would have to waive another player to open up a roster spot. They would then have to convert or sign Allen or Bird to a standard NBA contract.
Considering the only expiring contracts the Celtics have are Aron Baynes (starting center), Greg Monroe (primary backup big) and Shane Larkin (backup point guard), to free up a roster spot, Boston would have to eat some dead money on next year’s cap. Daniel Theis is also fully non-guaranteed for 2018-19, but Boston isn’t waiving one of next season’s best bargains for short-term depth in the playoffs.
That leaves Abdel Nader or Semi Ojeleye, both of whom have played regular rotation minutes over the last month or so. Nader is guaranteed $450,000 for 2018-19 and Ojeleye is guaranteed just over $900,000. Given the guaranteed money and the rotation roles, neither is going anywhere. And it would mean swapping one healthy body for another, which doesn’t really do all that much.
Where does that leave the Celtics then? It is likely that what you see, is what you get. They’ll hit the playoffs with group that looks something like (in Brad Stevens position designations):
Ballhandlers: Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin
Wings: Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye, Abdel Nader
Bigs: Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Greg Monroe, Guerschon Yabusele
If Boston can advance past the first round, maybe Marcus Smart joins that group. Beyond that, the Celtics are what they are. As Stevens says, “You dream of coaching teams where people aren’t worried about how much they’re going to play or what their role is. These guys just all do whatever they need to do to help the team win, and that’s where we are right now.”
Since arriving in Boston, Stevens has regularly talked about his players strengths and rarely their weaknesses. He regularly talks about the importance of a coach putting players in the best position to “Soar with their strengths.” That approach will never be more tested than throughout the Celtics upcoming playoff run.