A partially recognizable Boston Celtics team limped to a series loss in Game 5 of their 2021 first round series against the Brooklyn Nets last May. A banged up and shallow Celtics team started Romeo Langford and the four bench players featured Aaron Nesmith, Jabari Parker, Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams. There were no more proven veterans to call upon for minutes on an injury-ravaged team.
It’s no wonder Brad Stevens sought to improve Boston’s depth when he took over as President of Basketball Operations.
Mission accomplished, at least on paper, for Stevens on that front. All of the players mentioned above are still with the team, but none have locked-in rotation roles and Parker may be fighting for a roster spot.
That’s a good place for the Celtics to be in. One or two of the kids will break through and earn a rotation role, but the key word there is “earn”. Instead of being handed minutes due to injuries or, quite simply, lack of better options, they’ll have to earn their time this year.
That competition will extend all the way to the bottom of the roster. As it stands right now, Boston has seven players in competition for roster spots. And everyone else is fighting for a spot in Ime Udoka’s rotation. That’s led to a competitive training camp to this point. That’s great for the first-year head coach and his staff. They get to evaluate players who are fighting for roles and jobs, as opposed to sleepwalking through the preseason.
The Celtics have 13 players who can be considered “locks” to make the opening night roster, barring something unexpected. This group includes:
· Jaylen Brown
· Juancho Hernangomez
· Al Horford
· Enes Kanter
· Romeo Langford
· Aaron Nesmith
· Payton Pritchard
· Josh Richardson
· Dennis Schroder
· Marcus Smart
· Jayson Tatum
· Grant Williams
· Robert Williams
Yes, Grant Williams is a lock to make the roster. Despite the clamoring of many across social media for the team to “Cut Grant!”, it’s not going to happen. Boston views him as a valuable swing big that remains worthy of continued development. Williams’ weight loss gives him a chance to play different positions and roles. That only increases his value to the Celtics.
That leaves the following players fighting for roster spots:
· Ryan Arcidiacono
· Bruno Fernando
· Sam Hauser
· Garrison Mathews
· Juwan Morgan
· Jabari Parker
· Theo Pinson
If we consider Boston to have 13 roster locks, then the seven players listed above are fighting for one of two standard spots and for the two Two-Way spots. Here’s how we rank them in order of making the team:
1. Sam Hauser – As it stands right now, Hauser is signed to one of Boston’s Two-Way spots. He’s a shooter with decent size. He was a targeted signing as a Two-Way player immediately following the 2021 NBA Draft. The only thing that could have kept Hauser off the roster was if two Two-Way-eligible players outplayed him in camp. That hasn’t happened.
2. Bruno Fernando – This one is really close to a lock. Fernando has shown enough to be worthy of a roster spot as a deep bench big. He’s arguably the most athletic big the team has outside of Robert Williams. That’s a valuable skill, especially for a change-of-pace, energy type of player. Working against him is that his salary is small and easily movable. Fernando is also 23 years old, and not exactly a young prospect anymore.
3. Jabari Parker – Parker is probably landing the final standard roster spot. In his brief time with Boston, he’s shown he can still score. In a long regular season, that’s something Ime Udoka can call upon on nights when the Celtics just don’t have it going. Yes, he’s a terrible defender, but the Celtics should be good enough to hide him in most lineups. Reminder: Boston guaranteed Parker $100,000 over the summer. That’s a small amount, but the team isn’t throwing away money when they’re in the luxury tax.
4. Garrison Mathews – Mathews was a surprise as a late addition to camp. But he can play beyond the level of most camp invites. As a Two-Way player for the Washington Wizards the last two seasons, Mathews has played extensively. He even earned a starting spot last season. Boston is still short on shooting, giving Mathews a chance to stick. If he’s open to a Two-Way spot again, his chances of sticking around go way up.
5. Theo Pinson – Working for Pinson is that he has one year of Two-Way-eligibility left. He’s probably competing with Mathews and Juwan Morgan for that second Two-Way spot alongside Hauser. Working against Pinson is that he doesn’t fill a specific need. He’s a “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” player. Boston already has a better and much-younger version of that in Romeo Langford on the roster.
6. Juwan Morgan – Morgan probably had the inside track on the second Two-Way spot, but he’s been out with an injury since camp starter. As the old saying goes “You can’t make the club from the tub”. Morgan is going to have to show quite a bit over the next week to beat out Mathews or Pinson.
7. Ryan Arcidiacono – Arcidiacono is tough, solid against opposing guards on defense and he can shoot. The problem for him is that describes Payton Pritchard too, and Pritchard is younger and signed long-term. Also working against Arcidiacono is that he’s not eligible for a Two-Way contract. His hope is likely tied to Boston deciding they’d rather keep an extra guard than an extra big. As odd as it sounds, Arcidiacono is really competing against Bruno Fernando and Jabari Parker. Those are the guys he needs to prove he should stick over.
It’s somewhat fair to consider Luke Kornet as part of this competition, at least in theory. Kornet hasn’t re-signed with Boston, but the latest word from team sources is that transaction remains on the table. Boston may have a little roster churn at the end of their bench as preseason comes to an end, and Kornet could be a part of that. However, if Kornet had a real chance of making the team, he’d be there in camp learning Udoka’s systems and working with a new set of teammates.
As it stands, look for Fernando and Parker to land spots 14 and 15 on the standard roster. Hauser and Mathews are the favorites for the Two-Way spots, due to their shooting abilities. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mathews eventually converted back to a standard spot, if one opens up.
That’ll mean that Arcidiacono, Pinson and Morgan (and possibly Kornet) will head off to the Maine Celtics as Affiliate Players. They’ll get a nice bonus if they stick with Maine, and they’ll remain in the team’s system. That could lead to a callup later this season, either with Boston or elsewhere.