BOSTON – When it comes to stockpiling talent, few in the NBA have done it better in the past couple of years than the Golden State Warriors, as evidenced by them winning two of the past three NBA championships.
In 2015, Andre Iguodala was the NBA Finals MVP but it was the play another reserve, Festus Ezeli, who in the third quarter of the decisive Game 6, scored eight of his 10 points and helped extend a two-point halftime edge into a 12-point lead going into the fourth in what eventually was an eight-point series-clinching victory.
We have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers make deep playoff runs led by their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the contributions of youngsters such as Matt Dellavedova (now in Milwaukee) also helped.
Indeed, often lost in the success of title-contending teams is how they manage to have enough max-salaried talent on the roster, while also augmenting the lineup with contributions from younger players or inexpensive veterans on team-friendly contracts.
Balancing the best of those two worlds is among the many reasons why the Celtics are considered a legit contender to get to the NBA Finals this season out of the East.
A lot has been made of the team’s signing of Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $127.8 million contract.
But what really makes the Celtics so special is how they have been able to add a max-salaried player each of the past two seasons (Al Horford and Hayward) at a time when the contributions of Isaiah Thomas ($6.26 million this year) and Jae Crowder ($6.8 million this season) are significant not only in terms of what they do on the floor but even more so in how little they make salary-wise relative to those contributions.
Boston getting the most out of talent playing on low-salary deals will be instrumental in their ability to build off the success of last season when the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2012.
And while the Warriors have achieved this by adding veterans on the cheap (David West), Boston has been more traditional from the standpoint of getting as much bang as they can from players on their rookie deals.
Boston currently has 16 players with guaranteed contracts.
Of that total, nine (Marcus Smart; Terry Rozier; Jaylen Brown; Ante Zizic; Abdel Nader; Jayson Tatum; Semi Ojeleye; Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele) are on their rookie contracts.
“You always need young guys,” Austin Ainge, the Celtics' director of player personnel, told CSNNE.com. “Your veteran guys make a lot of money and so you need some guys on rookie contracts to fill out your roster.”
This is especially true for teams that are in the hunt to win an NBA title.
Ainge recalled how the use of players on rookie deals was instrumental in Boston bringing home Banner 17 in 2008.
“We had [Rajon] Rondo and Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe and Big Baby [Glen Davis] in 2008,” Ainge said. “You need guys like that. You look at the teams in the finals the past few years, they’ve got some young guys on lower money contracts contributing. That’s important.”
BOSTON – If there’s one thing Brad Stevens has been consistent about since coming to Boston, it's that players aren’t given minutes – they earn them.
But there have been times when players have seemingly done enough to warrant more time on the court, but matchups for a particular game or Stevens’ gut/instincts/spidey sense - whatever you want to call it – tell him to go in a different direction.
Getting minutes on the court will always be a battle, but the fight for floor time will be unlike anything we’ve seen in the Brad Stevens Era.
And while on the surface that sounds like a good thing, right?
It will be, depending on whether the individuals who constitute this roster come in with a similar mindset compared to previous Stevens-coached teams with players who know that their role, much like their minutes, will fluctuate as the season progresses.
Aron Baynes is one of those players whose minutes may depend heavily on the opponent.
At 6-foot-10, 260 pounds, Baynes is a physical player who you know is on the floor to provide defense and rebounding – two things the Celtics wanted to add in the offseason in their frontcourt.
But if teams go uber-small, as they tend to do more of these days, it’ll cut back on the opportunities Baynes gets to play, which is why he opted out of his final year in Detroit to become a free agent and ultimately signed with the Celtics for about $2 million less.
“I definitely think being in the NBA, everybody always wants to play more,” Baynes said. “I think if you don’t want to play more, well then you’re not in the right spot. So yeah, excited for the opportunity and hopefully I can go out there and earn some minutes and yeah, we’ll see if what I bring is what Brad wants. So yeah, I’m hoping it is and looking forward to it.”
Similar challenges will arise for just about every Celtic, knowing only three players – Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and newcomer Gordon Hayward – are pretty much locked into playing major minutes.
The Celtics have two open starting jobs after shooting guard Avery Bradley was traded to Detroit and forward/center Amir Johnson signed a one-year, $11 million deal with Philadelphia.
Not even close.
The Celtics could slide Thomas over to the off-guard position and start Marcus Smart (who plays starter-like minutes anyway coming off the bench) at the point, or potentially have Terry Rozier or newcomer Shane Larkin whose agent told CSNNE.com that the Celtics had signed him to a one-year deal, join Thomas in the starting backcourt.
Boston’s options in the frontcourt seem endless when you consider they can go big with Baynes or rookie Ante Zizic at center to pair with Horford, or they can go down the big man spectrum with a first five that up front may include Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown or Marcus Morris.
And we're not even talking about the bench, which will give Stevens more options and flexibility - in terms of how he wants to play stylistically - than he has ever had before in Boston.
“They’re going to be interesting to watch this season,” an Eastern Conference scout texted CSNNE.com. “We know they have some really good players, but how will it all come together? Forget Cleveland. Chemistry is going to be their biggest challenger this season because they have so many different players with different skills that they can turn to.”
BOSTON – The Celtics have had legit drama in their past two training camps, each involving a fight for 15 – as in the 15th roster spot.
Two years ago, it was Perry Jones III winding up on the outside looking in.
Last season, it was R.J. Hunter being edged out for the final roster spot by James Young.
Who will it be this year?
Because for the third season in a row, the Celtics are on the verge of heading into camp having at least one too many guaranteed contracts.
The agent for Shane Larkin told CSNNE.com that his client will be joining the Celtics for this upcoming season, which would bring Boston’s total number of guaranteed contracts to 16. That includes the announced signings Thursday of German forward Daniel Theis and the team’s first-round pick in 2016 and 16th selection overall, French big man Guerschon Yabusele.
Making their deals official gives the Celtics one more guaranteed contract than the NBA-maximum a team can take heading into the season. That figure does not include the recent addition of Kadeem Allen, who agreed to a two-way contract and does not count against the team’s total.
The past two training camps have produced some hotly contested battles, which has seemingly brought out the best in those competing for roster spots as well as the team’s more established players.
This camp should be more of the same, especially when you consider the talent assembled thus far has a foundation that has a high level of interchangeability.
Coach Brad Stevens, slowly but surely, is getting closer to having the kind of roster that can compete at the highest levels regardless of their opponent’s preferred style of play.
“We’ve become more versatile as the years have gone on,” Stevens said. “We entered the playoffs a couple years ago [against Cleveland], we only had a couple guys who could really swing that 3 [small forward] and 4 [power forward] spot. Being able to slowly add the right guys … you look at guys like Jaylen [Brown], you look at a guy like Jayson [Tatum], you look at Semi Ojeleye, those guys have the body to do it.”
Fortunately for the Celtics, they are not the only players on the roster with an element of versatility to their game.
Here’s a look at the team’s current roster broken down into the four primary positions – guards, wings, perimeter bigs and bigs.
WINGS (bigger point guards, shooting guards, small forwards)
BIGS (Power forwards and centers)