It’s trade deadline season. We’ve already seen two pretty big deals go down. Both of them came after the Toronto Raptors suffered a loss to the Boston Celtics. Ok, those losses had nothing to do with Masai Ujiri’s decision-making, but it sure is fun to point out.
Around this time of year, it’s always fun to look at the trade market and envision a new player heading to your team. Sometimes, that player is a star-level talent. Other times, they’re a reliable role player that adds strength in depth for the second stretch of the season and into the playoffs.
The Celtics have an open roster spot and a $6.2 million traded player exception (TPE) via the Grant Williams sign-and-trade. They also sit at the top of the Eastern Conference, have the best record in the NBA, and, most importantly, are a second-tax apron team. Dreaming of potential new difference-makers isn’t exactly necessary this year, no matter how fun it can be.
Instead, the Celtics need a body — someone who can come in, be a net positive member of the locker room, and potentially absorb some minutes during development time at the end of games, or be elevated into the rotation due to absence or injury. Most veterans capable of making an impact on the court won’t be enthusiastic with such a limited role. Furthermore, most players willing to accept that role probably aren’t capable of making an impact if they’re needed to — at least, not in any form of significant minutes.
That’s where Neemias Queta comes in. He’s played that role. He’s thrived in that role. Operating on a two-way contract, Queta has split his time between Boston and Maine this season. He’s had stretches of games where he’s not part of the rotation. He’s had stretches where a couple of minutes has been all Joe Mazzulla could spare. And then, he’s had stretches of playing legitimate minutes within the rotation and making an imprint on the game.
Queta has played in 15 of Boston’s 41 games this season. His current season high for minutes is 22:55 against the LA Clippers on December 23. He also had 20 minutes against the Golden State Warriors on December 19. Luke Kornet was out for both of those games.
On the other end of the spectrum, Queta has played 3:35 against the Utah Jazz, 5:17 against the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies, and 6:43 against the Los Angeles Lakers. You get my point. He has taken the variance in playing time in his stride.
Isn’t that what the Celtics are looking for? Someone to accept games where they don’t see the court, potentially offer future upside, and have the talent and drive to still be impactful when called upon?
Queta also offers something different to the Celtics rotation off the bench. Unlike Kornet, Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford, he is more of a physical threat around the rim. He has an endless motor. And his ability to command his space makes him a reliable rebounder. Here is a breakdown of his finishing around the rim courtesy of Basketball Index.
Here are his rebounding numbers, too.
I feel like this goes without saying, but those numbers are based on a small sample size and should be treated as such.
Having a big body that can absorb some emergency minutes during the playoffs would be useful. However, as things currently stand, Queta is ineligible to participate in the postseason. Let me preface this. I am not saying he should be part of the playoff rotation. I am saying that in a pinch, he could fulfill a role and give you something different.
I also get that there’s a legitimate case to find another wing or even another guard. I can see the value in both of those arguments, especially in the case of a backup ball handler. However, Oshae Brissett is emerging as a potential backup wing, which has negated the urgency in finding an upgrade for that position. I’m neither sold on Dalano Banton as Payton Pritchard’s backup.
However, Mazzulla has had to shuffle the center rotation the most. Queta has grasped his opportunities with both hands. He’s earned the chance to sign a full-scale NBA contract for the remainder of the season.
It wasn’t that long ago Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet were earning their opportunities in Maine while on a two-way contract. Both impressed, and both got full-time deals midway through the season. They’re both core parts of the Celtics rotation now. Having a direct pipeline from a two-way contract to a full-time gig as part of the 15-man rotation will make the Celtics an enticing landing spot for future prospects.
Not everybody will pop. However, the opportunity to earn your place and prove you belong is all anybody really wants. Queta got those chances. He took those chances. And now, with a hefty tax bill looming and future restrictions hanging over their heads, Boston would be better served to fill their final spot with a project big man who’s already accustomed to his teammates and the system he’s being asked to play.
If Stevens still wants to tweak the roster slightly, perhaps with a backup for Pritchard, then using the TPE and packaging some players together wouldn’t be the worst idea. That, however, shouldn’t come at the expense of solidifying the center rotation and recognizing the work Queta has put in over the first few months of the season.