The Boston Celtics’ roster is nearly full. The offseason isn’t completely over, but 16 out of the 17 spots available heading into next season are occupied. There’s one two-way contract available after the completed Tristan Thompson trade finally brought Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando to Boston and the team can carry twenty players through the offseason and into training camp, but the newest Celtic has every intention of making the cut.
Despite the roster crunch, Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin burst into The Auerbach Center last week confident anyway. They wanted to show they belong now, and Madar in particular ruled out returning to Israel.
“I worked really hard,” Madar said. “I prepared myself for this moment to come. I know it’s going to be this year.” Celtics Summer League Coach Joe Mazzulla and Boston’s staff are now using the Las Vegas event, in part, to find out where the 20-year-old fits.
Madar played with that enthusiasm in his long-awaited debut against NBA competition, picking up Sharife Cooper full-court and barreling into the paint before passing and repositioning himself to attack on secondary dribble drives. Minutes into his stint, Madar appeared worn out by his own burst of energy. His debut continued, culminating in a 16-minute effort that exceeded Mazzulla’s expectations.
Previously, Mazzulla watched Madar play a central role in turnover-filled practices last week. In Sunday’s game, second-year guard Payton Pritchard was the floor general; Mazulla asked Madar to simply show poise.
The eleven turnovers Boston committed proved acceptable; Pritchard and Madar combined to commit just one. Madar’s risk-taking paid off more often than not, and some bounces went his way in an afternoon aimed less at results and more on instilling confidence. Everyone has different goals in Summer League and Madar met his in his first day.
“I think it’s on all of us to help him find a role,” Mazzulla said. “What his role would be at this level, and how he can be better at it. It starts with ball pressure and it starts with making great decisions...we did a great job taking care of the ball and his decision-making and his poise was a reason for that.”
Could Madar join the Celtics as a defensive energizer and depth ball mover with more size than Tremont Waters brought to that position? Madar got the ball popping, to use a Stevens phrase, in ways last year’s Celtics rarely did on Sunday.
Yam, which translates to “sea” in Hebrew, saw open waters inside the three-point arc while hitting all four shots. Atlanta left him wide open on his first make from mid-range. He hit a difficult floater from the right wing later in the game and spun into a leaning jumper over tight Skylar Mays defense. It’s unlikely Madar flashes that level of efficiency in the NBA.
He may not take a veteran point guard full-court on defense either. But on Sunday, he did, with some success.
“He turned it around for us,” Pritchard said. “His energy. He hit some tough shots, but also his defense. Getting hands on balls. We started off the game down...so he came in and brought that energy...being active and it just kind of carried over for all of us.”
The Celtics trailed 10-0 when Madar entered the game, having missed six spot-up threes in a row. After a risky pass into an open layup to begin Madar’s stint, Boston’s offense flowed into two more buckets — one came off a pretty Madar pocket pass to Zach Auguste. Auguste quickly found Sam Hauser in the corner for three. On the next possession, Madar’s fadeaway got the Celtics within 10-9 after a brief stoppage.
“He’s great in pick-and-roll when he’s aggressive,” Mazzulla said. “Just trigger-happy with making the right read. That was one of the points of emphasis for him was can he make the right read over-and-over again in pick-and-rolls. After Wednesday’s practice, he did a tremendous job the rest of the week just making good reads and tonight I thought he did the same thing.”
No amount of pocket passes and twitchy highlights may overrule dry ink though. An Israeli report last month stated Mader is bound to his Hapoel Tel Aviv contract unless the Celtics buy him out. The NBA allows buyouts up to $750,000, with amounts paid over that count against Boston’s salary cap.
With Boston out of roster spots for now — reportedly eyeing Dennis Schroder on a full mid-level exception at only $5.7-million below a potential hard cap and already projecting to court a relatively young, inexperienced roster without him — the niche Mazzulla describes for Madar may arrive through a two-way contract.
The Celtics have one slot open after signing Hauser and declining to offer qualifying deals to Tacko Fall and Waters. It would only guarantee Madar $462,629 before factoring in NBA games played and does not affect the cap. That’s half of what Madar would make as a fully rostered player and potentially not worth forgoing an Israeli contract next season, but it would keep him close to the Celtics with playing and development opportunities between Boston and Maine.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can,” Madar said on Sunday. “Mostly defense today...to bring energy to the floor.”