For the second straight season, Payton Pritchard is facing an uphill battle for any meaningful playing time. Last year, it was Dennis Schroder. This season, Malcolm Brogdon. As a third-year guard in the NBA, Pritchard has clawed for every minute of playing time and proven capable of being a second-string point guard on a highly competitive team when given the chance.
Right now, though, the Boston Celtics' guard rotation does not give such opportunities, and Pritchard suffers because of that. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a significant section of the fanbase that would be willing to see Pritchard packaged in a trade, not because he doesn’t possess the talent to be an impactful player for the Celtics, but rather because he’s too good for the role he currently occupies.
After all, we’re talking about a career 40.6% three-point shooter with a high-level handle and uncanny ability to inject pace into a rotation when checking into games. Put simply, Pritchard is a baller. It’s just the Celtics have plenty of ballers at his position. Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, and Derrick White are all ahead of Pritchard in the rotation, and they all have multiple years left on their current contracts, so it’s clear there’s no room for Pritchard to find gaps in the rotation to plug.
Perhaps the fairest thing to do is to set Pritchard free via a trade, allowing him to land on a roster that has a genuine need for his skillset, giving him the additional game time he deserves and needs to continue developing as a player. However, what is fair for Pritchard is probably not what’s best for the Celtics, at least this season.
Having a reliable guard as your “break glass in case of emergency” option is a luxury few teams can boast. We’re talking about a player who’s only seeing minutes when it’s garbage time or when someone in the rotation is out for whatever reason. This is the same guard who averaged 12.9 minutes per game over 24 post-season contests en route to the NBA Finals.
Clearly, there are pros and cons to potentially allowing Pritchard to move on before the February trade deadline, and there isn’t a clear-cut answer as to what the correct move is both from a team and player standpoint. So, let’s make a quick list of all the good and bad that could come from waving farewell to Pritchard.
- Any trade involving Pritchard would likely be to add depth elsewhere on the roster, meaning the Celtics would be resolving a weakness on either the wing or by upgrading their backup center position.
- You can slide JD Davison into Pritchard’s current role and allow a young, athletically talented guard to have some legitimate development minutes at the NBA level when games are out of reach or when someone is sitting out.
- There’s less pressure on the coaching staff to try and find enough reps for Pritchard to remain comfortable enough to produce when called upon.
- It’s better to get something in return for Pritchard than hold him on the bench until his contract expires and lose him for nothing.
- From a team standpoint, having a player of Pritchard’s caliber as the primary backup guard in the rotation is an incredible sign of depth.
- Joe Mazzulla clearly favors a high-volume three-point shooting team, which feels perfectly suited to Pritchard’s skillset and playing style. If he’s ever needed for a prolonged stretch in the rotation, there’s a good chance he excels once he finds his rhythm.
- Pritchard is earning $2.2 million this season, which is an insignificant amount in NBA terms, especially when looking to add depth via trade. The best Boston could hope for is using a TPE to acquire a role player or depth piece while sending Pritchard out as a sweetener in the deal. Quite frankly, Pritchard is better than that, and unlike any potential incoming player, has proven his ability to step into the rotation and perform for the Celtics.
- You can never have too many ball-handling shooters off the bench, especially ones on low-cost contracts. But most importantly, how often do you get a young guard with NBA Finals experience on a contract below $3 million?
There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether Pritchard should remain with the Celtics for the remainder of the season or even the remainder of his contract — it all depends on your current outlook on Boston’s roster and its needs. For some, the depth and experience Pritchard provides will be seen as invaluable, while others will believe his age and scoring ability make him a desirable trade chip to aid Boston’s cause in rounding out their front-court rotation and/or depth.
Personally, I’m of the belief that doing what’s best for a player's career is always the right move, especially when you have the talent to cover any gap their potential departure could cause. Pritchard has proven himself in the NBA, as is clearly capable of being the primary guard off the bench for almost any team in the league, so he should be afforded that opportunity. After all, players work incredibly hard to make it into the NBA in the first place, so if the talent is there, and they’ve proven themselves at every turn, keeping them buried on the bench is unfair when you look at it from a human standpoint.
I’m not saying I want the Celtics to trade Pritchard. I am saying that if an opportunity arises that would strengthen a front court position for the Celtics and give Pritchard a bigger role elsewhere, then I would like to see Brad Stevens explore that possibility, not only for the team, but for Pritchard’s career prospects, too.