Sullinger still developing in hopes of breakout year

Sullinger still developing in hopes of breakout year
July 24, 2014, 12:15 pm
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BOSTON — There's still plenty of time for Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics to slim down this bursting-at-the-seams roster.

But even after a few contracts are shed from the payroll, there will still be a growing need for a Hunger Games-like emergence of someone from a young but talented cast of players that includes third-year big man Jared Sullinger.

The 6-foot-9 forward returned this past season following lower back surgery to lead the team in rebounds (8.1 per game) in addition to averaging 13.3 points per game.

And like the Celtics roster, the burly forward wouldn't mind being a little leaner this season as well.

While dropping a few pounds is certainly something that Sullinger and the Celtics know can only help him, all agree that improving his game and not just his girth, should be the focus.

"Not really focusing on weight," Sullinger said earlier this month. "It's more shape, how long can I run, how fast can I run. Pretty much how long I can stay on the court without passing out. I'm working on that every day."

Going into this third season, he has gone back and forth this summer between Boston and Columbus, Ohio for workouts. Recently he participated in the Columbus Pro-Am along with his brothers.

While Sullinger's conditioning is indeed worth monitoring and trying to improve, it's only part of what will ultimately define him as a basketball player.

"This is the NBA, not the Olympic decathlon," his agent David Falk, told "I don't think Larry Bird was a great athlete, but he was one of the greatest basketball players of our time. Jared has a chance to be an outstanding basketball player in the NBA."

But Falk knew as his client's stock slipped in the days and weeks leading up to the 2012 NBA draft because of concerns about his back (he underwent season-ending back surgery after appearing in 45 games as a rookie), it became imperative that he land with the right organization.

And as team after team passed on him, Falk knew Sullinger would not slip past the Celtics at No. 21.

"For Boston, we thought it was a good place for him to go," Falk said.

Sullinger has indeed proven himself a player who in hindsight, should have been a lottery-pick (top-14) in that draft.

But as much as he's done in his first two seasons, he'll have to continue to improve if he wants to continue to play significant minutes.

In addition to returning Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Favorani, the Celtics have also added 7-foot center Tyler Zeller (from Cleveland).

And the signing of 6-7 wing Evan Turner gives the Celtics increased flexibility to go with smaller lineups that may impact Sullinger's playing time as well.

It's too soon to say for sure what role Sullinger will play for Boston this season. But among the positives he has going for him, is the confidence of head coach Brad Stevens.

"He's accomplished a lot in his first two years as far as what he's been able to do, from a scoring standpoint," Stevens said of Sullinger. "He's shown the ability to rebound. I think that he's in that group of guys that could be a great player. It's a bigger group than actually are great players, just because it takes age, it takes experience, it takes opportunities to become that."

Stevens added, "He knows what it takes. He's smart. He can continue to grow. I think he will get better. He has some abilities that are hard to deny."