Bol Bol appeared at Celtics practice on Wednesday with a boot on his right foot and crutches. He’s quietly appeared in meetings with Boston, getting to know his teammates, including fellow former Oregon Duck Payton Pritchard.
“Bol has a chance to come back later in the year,” Ime Udoka said. “Just acclimate him to the group, get him comfortable with guys, and just have him around for the most part until he’s ready to start doing some activity on the court.”
This month’s Juancho Hernángomez for the injured P.J. Dozier and Bol trade set the table for luxury tax-shedding that’s among Boston’s reported priorities this deadline. The ancillary benefit of adding Bol, a former five-star recruit who fell in the 2019 NBA Draft due to injury concerns, and his restricted free agent status this offseason could begin an underrated deadline and roster-building approach for the Celtics. Some are buyers, some sellers. Both can participate in the second draft.
Danny Ainge capped his Celtics tenure with that line of thinking by waiving Moe Wagner and signing Jabari Parker, the former No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, just under one year ago. Parker remained with Boston until earlier this month, flashing scoring bursts off the bench, though never able to carve out a full role.
The ceiling on these type of additions are low. There’s a reason those players like Bol become available for minimal cost. That also means minimal risk. Given the Celtics’ aversion for spending into the tax this season, a report that they could be clearing out veterans to usher in minutes for their younger players and may shop Aaron Nesmith, it might be an ideal time to allow various prospects to play in Boston.
One of the best second draft success stories occurred in Detroit in recent seasons. Josh Jackson, the Suns’ former No. 4 overall pick, shined with Memphis’ G-League team after being dealt by Phoenix during the 2019 offseason. The Pistons added him before the 2020-21 season and immediately funneled him opportunity that he turned into results. He averaged 13.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on 42% shooting last season on a $4.8-million contract.
The Pistons, of course, began a rebuild and had extra minutes for Jackson. The Celtics have struggled to find roles for their former first-round picks, never mind others. Romeo Langford, Payton Pritchard and Nesmith should take priority over any projects. Though the Carsen Edwards tenure should serve as a lesson. Give these players every chance you can, until you decide that it’s not working out. At that point, the second draft should serve as an outlet to shake up the bottom of the roster and not string out these rookie deals to no end.
Atlanta and New York swapped former first-round picks earlier this month when the Hawks sent 2019 No. 10 pick Cam Reddish to the Knicks for Kevin Knox and draft compensation. The Celtics weren’t originally reported among the interested teams in a Reddish flier, until Bleacher Report indicated this week that Atlanta and Boston mulled a larger deal including Marcus Smart for the Hawks’ Kevin Heurter and Reddish. It’s unclear how close the two sides came to a deal, Jake Fischer wrote.
A Reddish trade had the bigger implication of taking on his extension eligibility this offseason in exchange for higher upside than most second draftees. Others like Jarrett Culver (Minnesota’s 2019 No. 6 selection, 4.0 PPG in 22 games with Memphis) and Sekou Doumbouya (Detroit’s 2019 No. 15 selection, 2 games played with Lakers) have shown little success from Reddish’s class in new locations.
Kevin Porter Jr. — who the Cavaliers picked No. 30 in 2019 — got traded to Houston last January, where he’s shown the promise that Cleveland originally bet on and off-court concerns that made the team pass on his potential. Still, at the cost of a top-55 protected second round pick, it was more than worth it for the Rockets.
While second-round and undrafted players bouncing around is more normal, the growing talent pool in draft classes can make second or third chances for less-heralded prospects worthwhile too.
Bruno Fernando showed flashes with the Celtics in Summer League as part of the Tristan Thompson trade last offseason before rarely playing this regular season. Former University of Virginia national champion Kyle Guy (2019 No. 55 pick) failed to latch on with the Kings, Cleveland’s G-League affiliate and Warriors before becoming one of the largest COVID-19 hardship exemption success stories with the Miami Heat (41.4% from 3 in 10 games). Jarred Vanderbilt has become part of Minnesota’s analytic darling starting unit after a 2020 trade from Denver.
Other recent second draft success stories include: Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton in Milwaukee, Larry Nance Jr. in Cleveland, Timothé Luwawu in Brooklyn, the Ivica Zubac heist the Clippers pulled off on the Lakers.
Former Celtic Abdel Nader found a bench role in Phoenix, Markelle Fultz reestablished himself in Orlando, as did Kelly Oubre Jr. in Charlotte and Malik Monk in LA. Isaiah Hartenstein has had excellent Clippers season, Grayson Allen emerged in Memphis before Milwaukee, Bruce Brown did last year in Brooklyn, as did Keita Bates-Diop in San Antonio, Cam Payne in Phoenix and Daniel Gafford in Washington before Chimezie Metu did this year in Sacramento.
Stanley Johnson, with the Lakers, is headed in that direction too. As was Dozier, coincidentally coming from Boston to Denver before his injury that sent him back to the Celtics.
Others like Jarrett Allen in Cleveland and Jakob Poetl in San Antonio don’t qualify, as part of larger deals for James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, though both panned out into both being excellent, borderline all-star players after fledgling seasons with their original franchises.
This all happened within the past six drafts. None of these players turned their new franchises upside down. The moves simply represented due diligence, creativity or in some cases fliers as part of deals that had other motives.
Despite Brad Stevens and Udoka’s optimistic tone regarding Bol, he could be on the move in short order, or gone due to larger transactions this offseason. Especially since he underwent foot surgery that could potentially end his season.
The Pistons nixed a deal with Denver for the 21-year-old, since they gave up more in their deal (Rodney McGruder, draft capital) than Boston did. That showed Bol had some value, but not enough to overlook his physical exam.
Who else could the Celtics target in this realm? A report earlier this month connected them to Suns center Jalen Smith, the No. 10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Phoenix declined Smith’s team option for 2022-23, making him one of the more complicated trade targets this offseason. He makes $4.5-million this season and any team that acquires him will be limited to offering him roughly that figure ($4.7-million) when he enters unrestricted free agency this summer.
That defeats the purpose of Smith as a second draftee for now, unless Boston or someone else assumes he’ll have little market his offseason. That appears unlikely, so it would make more sense to pursue Smith as an outside team in the offseason over trading for him now and limiting his staying power. Unless you view him as a rental, which a team like the Bucks could. Smith is averaged 6.6 PPG and 5.5 RPG through center injuries and COVID cases in Phoenix, making the Suns’ declining of his option all the more curious.
The straightest path to one of these acquisitions would be the Celtics and another team trading their young players hoping each work out in a new situation. That makes Nesmith’s reported availability intriguing, given his lack of involvement after a late spark last season.
Overall, Boston’s development or talent evaluation needs improvement, as they’re currently suffering from their own stagnating selections, aside from strides Robert Williams III achieved and Grant Williams carved out by focusing on a role. It’s getting close to make-or-break time for Langford in particular.
The note about the Celtics’ lack of two-way involvement from an ESPN feature about issues in Boston remains pertinent, extending through Tremont Waters, Tacko Fall, Sam Hauser and Brodric Thomas’ sparsely-utilized services:
Even the team’s two-way slots — which teams around the league have turned into high-end rotation players such as Alex Caruso, Duncan Robinson and Luguentz Dort — have been wasted. For the past two seasons, Boston used theirs on guard Tremont Waters and center Tacko Fall, neither of whom came close to becoming rotation players before being replaced this summer.
Swapping out two-way players, a move with negligible cap implications, could be an outlet for Boston to attempt some second drafting, given the four young players, plus Bol, now on the active roster. That’s how Memphis added 2020 Mavericks selection Tyrell Terry.
Other second draftees to keep an eye on into the future? Tyus Jones, Malachi Flynn, Marvin Bagley III, Mo Bamba, Jerome Robinson, Bruce Brown (again), Harry Giles and Denver’s Monte Morris — who our Trevor Hass recently wrote about as a future point guard option.
The NBA trade deadline is on Feb. 10.