LAS VEGAS – When the Celtics signed Al Horford and let the deadline to waive Amir Johnson’s $12 million contract pass, which guarantees Johnson will remain on the Celtics books and on the roster, there was a sense that would mean bye-bye to restricted free agent Jared Sullinger.
Not so fast!
Multiple league sources told CSNNE.com at summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas that the market for big men free agents has dried up significantly and that Sullinger’s best course of action at this point may be to come to terms on a one-year deal with the Celtics.
That would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer when the salary cap will exceed more than $100 million for the first time ever.
But there’s a potential pitfall in this plan.
“How much is he going to play next year?” a league executive told CSNNE.com, adding that his franchise has inquired about Sullinger in the past. “He played what, 20, 25 minutes when they didn’t really have a great rebounding frontline. You add Horford to the mix, how much is Sullinger really going to play? And how will that help his stock if he hits free agency next summer?”
And with him being a restricted free agent (the Celtics made a $4.4 million qualifying offer, which gives them the right to match any offer Sullinger receives), teams know the Celtics can keep him in the fold while tying up their cap space for three days in the process.
Often teams will structure the contract for restricted free agents in a way that will significantly impact the player’s current team and thus make them less likely to match the offer. In addition, they tend to pursue players that appear to be more likely to not be re-signed.
But Sullinger's restricted free agent status is only part of the reason why teams have been relatively lukewarm in their interest.
For as long as he has been a Celtic, his conditioning has been a topic of discussion.
Because of that and his restricted free agent status, it has made teams hesitant to try and sign him.
But one league executive pointed out how Sullinger is one of those players where you have to get past the public perception of him being this out-of-shape player with talent and pay attention to what really matters, which is his play.
“With him, the issue isn’t whether he can help your team and be productive. He can do that, easily,” the Eastern Conference executive said. “It’s whether he can do it long enough. Jared is a player that a lot of teams like. But if you’re going after a restricted free agent, he’s gotta be a guy that you love.”
Last season, Sullinger appeared in a career-high 81 games, with 73 starts. He averaged a team-leading 8.3 rebounds in 23.6 minutes.
The 6-9 forward also chipped in 10.3 points on 43.5 percent shooting from the field.
Those numbers are comparable to what he has done in each of his four seasons with the Celtics.
The only real issue at this point is whether he’ll continue to deliver, as he has in Boston, or will his talents take up shop in another NBA city?