Jared Sullinger told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast he’d “love to come back” next season to the Boston Celtics, but he understands there are a lot of variables.
“We'll see. I understand there's a lot of free agents out there. I understand there's a lot of draft picks they have. There might be a lot of movement,” Sullinger said. “They gave me a chance when nobody else was going to give me a chance and just for that I feel like I owe them. I would love to come back.”
Sullinger sounds like he knows there are no promises. The Celtics have a heap of draft picks and cap space, so they can and will aim high. Bringing back their own players may only become a priority if they fail to make a splash.
However, Sullinger didn’t exactly make the decision easy for the Celtics front office this past season. While he improved as a rebounder and defender, his offensive efficiency dipped significantly. And though he got in better conditioning, he appeared fatigued towards the end of the season.
“I feel like there’s another level that I have to find,” Sullinger said, admitting playing over 80 games was “an eye opener” in regards to the work a player must go to maintain a high level of success. “I have to go above and beyond to find it. I think this summer will be the perfect summer to go find that wind that I need.”
Sullinger wants to be able to play more minutes while maintaining his success and getting in better shape would enable him to do that. But the Celtics also want him to be a more reliable three-point shooter. Mannix asked about his devolution as a floor spacer and Sullinger admitted the long two simply feels more comfortable.
“I spaced behind the three, but I stepped into my shot instead of taking a side-step into a three-point shot. From there I just kept shooting long twos," Sullinger said. "With Brad [Stevens] being an analytics guy, he wanted me to shoot the three because it’s worth more. But I just feel comfortable shooting a long two and I was making them at a high rate.”
Sullinger shot 42.2 percent on long twos compared to 27.7 percent from three over the last three years, so they’re worth about the same (0.84 points per shot for twos to 0.83 points per shot for threes).
Even though Sullinger is one of the better long two shooters in the NBA, he needs to improve only marginally from three to make it a more valuable shot. Shooting threes provides increased floor spacing and driving lanes for the entire team, and it'd increase Sullinger's scoring upside.
Regardless of where the Nets pick ends up in Tuesday’s lottery, signing Sullinger long-term probably isn’t in the best interest of the franchise until he proves that he can stay in shape and extend his range.