Why the Boston Celtics won't sign your favorite buyout possibility

Why the Boston Celtics won't sign your favorite buyout possibility

The Boston Celtics’ bench contributed a measly 21 points over the first two games of the team's current four-game road trip out west and a particularly vocal group of fans used the anemic output to renew both their laments that Danny Ainge didn’t make a deadline deal to bolster Boston's second unit and that the team hasn’t yet landed help on the buyout market.

It’s absolutely fair to question Boston’s depth, if only because of the health woes they’ve perpetually endured this season. Kemba Walker’s absence on this trip has forced Marcus Smart to elevate to the first unit and, combine that with rough stretches for Brad Wanamaker and Enes Kanter, and suddenly Boston has had to lean even heavier on rookies like Romeo Langford and Grant Williams.

If the Celtics can get healthy by mid-April, and especially if Robert Williams can emerge as a reliable presence in the center rotation, then the Celtics can confidently trot out an 8-man playoff rotation and lean lightly on rookies in spot minutes.

But even a single injury to Boston’s top 5 puts the team in a tough spot. All of which has some Celtics fans scanning the buyout scrapheap daily and pondering whether there’s an upgrade to be found.

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Championship favorites like the Bucks (Marvin Williams) and Lakers (Markieff Morris) swooped up some of the more intriguing options while the Clippers elected to roll the dice with Reggie Jackson. The remaining buyout pile is paper thin, especially among players with size that Boston might covet to supplement its perimeter depth.

Ainge has admitted that nothing currently on the market has left the Celtics tripping over themselves to cut a player from their full 15-man roster in order to add a free agent. Any player currently on an NBA roster must be bought out by March 1 in order to be playoff-eligible for another team. Which means that Boston will pretty much know what’s available by week’s end (playoff-eligible players can be signed any time before the end of the regular season).

Let’s comb through some of the more popular names, some that have been bought out and others that Celtics fans still have their fingers crossed for, and evaluate the possibilities:

TRISTAN THOMPSON

Maybe the only player that could truly alter a top contender’s playoff chances, Thompson remains under contract in Cleveland and it’s not likely he’ll hit the open market. The Cavaliers can use Thompson’s Bird rights this summer to both pay him a more lucrative contract than he’d otherwise find on the free-agent market and then facilitate a sign-and-trade that could bring back valuable assets for a rebuilding team.

ISAIAH THOMAS

It’s the made-for-Hollywood moment, right? Beleaguered former star returns to a beloved former home and rekindles the magic. Those romanticizing what Thomas did with those 2016-17 Celtics are blinded by the limitations of both player and team. The Celtics prefer spot-up shooting and defensive versatility from any addition but Thomas needs the ball in his hands and his defensive limitations are well-documented. Yes, it’d admittedly be fascinating to see if the Celtics and IT could catch lightning in a bottle again but it’s simply not the right fit, the right circumstances to run it back again.

DEMARCUS COUSINS

The Lakers cut Cousins knowing it was unlikely he could get on the court this season (he tore his ACL back in August, this after working his way back from an Achilles tear). Yes, the Celtics could use pure size given the daunting big men in the East. No, it’s not fair to think that Cousins could get healthy quick enough to help them this year. Cousins seems content to continue rehabbing around the Lakers and explore a second chance with the team this summer.

EVAN TURNER

Speaking of beloved old friends, Turner got dealt from Atlanta to Minnesota at the trade deadline and seems to be waiting to see if a buyout is in his future. A Brad Stevens favorite, Turner would provide a steady ball-handler with playoff experience. The downsides: He doesn’t provide much-needed shooting (he hasn’t made a 3-pointer in 251 minutes of floor time this season) and , when healthy, the Celtics are well-stocked on the wings.

THE WILDCARDS

There simply isn’t a lot of intriguing names currently on the buyout market. Journeyman Tim Frazier knows the Celtics system a bit after his time in Maine but that feels like it would be an overreaction to Wanamaker’s recent hiccup. Same with Trey Burke, who has virtually no playoff experience. Nene has size; he’s also 37 year olds and couldn’t get on the floor for the Rockets this season. Dion Waiters is subtraction by addition. Maybe others will pop onto the market before Sunday. The Celtics would be especially intrigued by someone with size, especially if that person can consistently knock down 3s. But if the upgrade is marginal over what they’ve got, the Celtics will be content to roll with the current mix. Boston can also examine the G-League or overseas for a potential wildcard addition. 

Ultimately, Boston's playoff 8th man might already be in-house. Williams will get a final scan on his balky hip this week and, barring a setback, the team can start easing him back into game action. Romeo Langford has seen an uptick in minutes with Walker sidelined. Semi Ojeleye’s muscular frame could help in series against teams like Milwaukee. 

Health would be Boston’s best late-season acquisition and it’s far more important to the overall success of the team than anyone Boston could add for the final weeks of the season.

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Celtics Mailbag: Underperforming Celtics bench lets team down vs. Lakers

Celtics Mailbag: Underperforming Celtics bench lets team down vs. Lakers

The Boston Celtics traded haymakers with one of the league’s best on a national stage Sunday and nearly stole a win despite playing without their All-Star point guard.

From this vantage point, there was a lot to be encouraged by, not the least of which was 21-year-old Jayson Tatum being the best player on the floor in a game in which LeBron James was on the other sideline.

Yet, when we pulled the drawstrings on the Celtics Mailbag on Sunday night, there was a whole lot of angst. Most of the venom was directed at the officials — more on that in a bit — but poor Brad Wanamaker and his bench brethren found themselves in the crosshairs of angry fans, too. So let’s start this week’s edition there:

THE BENCH!!!! It’s a serious problem and, honestly, what does Stevens see in Wanamaker?!?!? — @ccsilva32

Danny Ainge needs to get these guys a legit bench. … You stood up for Ainge and his hoarding of picks, it's sickening you have to run starters into the ground for wins. — @nocap757

If anything frustrates me about this team, it’s a complete lack of a decent bench. Do they have potential? Sure, but that and $3 will get you a plain coffee. How far does this team go in the playoffs given 95% of their scoring is on the shoulders of the starters? — @cbrown4405

Bench scoring is a bigger weakness than size, IMO. What will the playoff rotation look like to deal with this issue? — @Tron731

Sunday wasn’t a banner day for Boston’s bench. Marcus Smart got elevated to a starting role in Kemba Walker’s absence; Enes Kanter played limited minutes given matchup troubles; Wanamaker had a rough night (0-for-4 shooting, 3 turnovers); and Boston’s five-man reserve unit ultimately went 3-for-11 with 11 points over 58 minutes of floor time.

For those who have clamored for a bench upgrade since the trade deadline, Sunday’s loss was another chance to scream, “See!” And news that the already deep Lakers were adding Markieff Morris off the buyout scrapheap only led to more consternation.

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Maybe the biggest question mark with the Celtics — beyond whether they can stay healthy when it matters — is who exactly is their 8th or 9th man in a playoff rotation? Can the Celtics lean on Wanamaker on a big stage? Can Robert Williams return and bolster the Voltron frontcourt with Daniel Theis and Kanter? Do the Celtics have to think harder about a buyout upgrade, and is there even anyone out there that can fill the team’s need for shooting in what could be a very limited role?

We’re intrigued to see more of rookie Romeo Langford, but he plays a wing position where Boston is already well-stocked. Still, his ability to create his own shot and play strong defense leaves us wondering if there’s enough time to build the trust needed for Stevens to lean on him in playoff minutes. It’s asking a lot for a rookie to contribute in the postseason, which is what’s working against guys like Langford and Grant Williams.

Ultimately, I’m not certain there’s a buyout addition currently available that would alter the trajectory of the Celtics’ season. As the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks swoop up some of the more intriguing names, the Celtics might ultimately have to roll with what they’ve got and cross their fingers on health, all while hoping their rookies don’t shrink on a big stage.

Isaiah Thomas solves a bench problem. Wanamaker is not an answer to any question anyone has. If they are afraid of a circus, it's up to management to manage it. He could have been useful tonight. — @turkued1

With all the usual qualifiers, including that Thomas and the 2016-17 Celtics were the most enjoyable bunch to chronicle in my career, I just don’t see the fit with this team. Celtics fans romanticize the notion of what Thomas was and his ability to thrive on a team centered around his offensive exploits. But that opporutnity isn’t there now, and defense would be a major concern. Thomas still has his moments, but the Celtics don’t have the minutes or touches for him to truly thrive.

DeMarcus Cousins a possibility? Could the Celtics just claim him? — @c0_nun_drum

Even if Cousins gets healthy for the postseason, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect him to be able to contribute — coming off two major injuries — with zero in-season reps with his new team. 

What happened to Javonte Green? Seems to have fallen out of favor. — @Tantamount1

When the Celtics are healthy on the wing, it’s simply harder to find minutes. Stevens leaned on Semi Ojeleye initially and Romeo Langford Sunday for those wing minutes and Green is more of a depth option when the Tatum/Brown/Hayward combo is all healthy. It could also leave him vulnerable if the Celtics ultimately elect to seek a buyout upgrade (remember that Vincent Poirier has multiple years on his deal, making it tougher to swallow). 

Danny has no plan and has no interest in making this team a championship contender. — @DattilioBilly

Yup, beyond drafting two franchise cornerstones, hooking two All-Stars in free agency, and keeping the draft-pick surplus intact to ensure a long-term run as a contender, he certainly has no interest.

We can tell y’all are angry. Go ahead and vent on the officials:

Wyc should file a grievance — @KembaWalkerCBT

I’m not sure there’s a greater waste of time — and money — than filing a protest of an NBA game. But if Mark Cuban wants to spend $10,000 to make a point, so be it. Grousbeck and Co. should probably save their money.

Three things: 1. Ball out of bounds off AD with every announcer and fan seeing it but not the refs; 2. Jaylen called out of bounds when it wasn’t even that close so ref just made that up; 3. A clear goaltending is called, then reversed, because LBJ complained. That’s 2 points and 2 possessions. — @BobbyDlight14

Counter argument: 1. I didn’t think any of the views were conclusive enough to overturn the call on the court and only the back angle seemed to suggest Davis tipped it out; 2. Referee probably figured if he was out of bounds and Brown was bumping into him, he had to be out, too, but this was a tough whistle; 3. Brown appeared to goaltend defending a layup attempt after a whistle so it might have evened out there.

That last 2 minute report will be interesting. Certainly don’t expect it will make Celtics fans happier. — @rlbyrne29

:: sigh :: Totally forgot we’re going to have to hear all this complaining again Monday if the league admits any of the late-game calls were incorrect.

Let’s see what else people are angry about … 

Can Hayward not miss game-clinching layups? Or is it too much to ask from a $30 million per year player? — @stamosd308

Hayward did make a somewhat curious decision to push the ball up the floor in transition with Boston up 2 after a stop with a minute to go. If Kyle Kuzma doesn’t two-handed shove his way through a Daniel Theis seal to contest the layup, Hayward might have locked up the game. To his credit, Hayward admitted Boston would have won if he hadn’t “smoked a couple bunnies.” Let’s remember that Hayward has been maybe the team’s second best player behind Tatum in this stretch where Boston has won 12 of 15. 

Why did Stevens sit Tatum for so long to start the fourth? He scored 35 points in the previous two quarters. Ride the Hot Hand. — @ChrisKelleyUSA

Stevens rode the hot hand in the third quarter and tried to buy some extra rest early in the fourth when Boston had the lead. Not sure it mattered all that much. The Celtics didn’t do a great job adjusting to the Lakers blitzing Tatum late and that has to be a focus if teams do it more often.

Now, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, and some readers shared our glass half-full outlook.  A few to balance this thing out: 

I’ve never felt better about a loss. We just went toe-to-toe with arguably the best team in the West and lost a close game, which we could’ve/should’ve won without our starting point guard. — @WBrown1984

(nodding)

Honestly I’m just psyched for the future of one Jayson Tatum. — @john9668

(nodding emphatically)

Beyond the obvious Tatum growth and Jaylen never shying in big moments regardless of outcome, I’m loving the defensive efforts I’m seeing from Langford. — @dangrant75

It’s easy to see why the Celtics were bullish on Langford even as he navigated all those early season injuries. He could be a big-time contributor in future seasons.

Number 0 going up in the rafters in 25 years? — @iss_a_joke

Probably more like 20 years. They don’t wait around these days. But even in 2040, Deuce Tatum will be a fourth-year veteran for the Celtics when his 41-year-old father’s jersey becomes the first since Garnett to go to the rafters.

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Celtics' title hopes hinge on Jayson Tatum's development

Celtics' title hopes hinge on Jayson Tatum's development

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.

*****

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ championship hopes, now and for the foreseeable future, hinge almost exclusively on one thing: Jayson Tatum’s development.

With only the occasional outlier (hey there, 2004 Pistons), every championship team in recent memory has featured a bonafide superstar at the top of its roster. We’re talking an All-NBA first-teamer or indisputable top player in the league. For all the obvious individual talent the Celtics currently possess, their hopes of hanging an 18th banner requires one of the team's current core pieces to elevate to rarefied air.

Enter Tatum, the 21-year-old who just made his first All-Star appearance and seems on the path to NBA superstardom.

Tatum has emerged as a rare two-way threat, mixing elite offensive skills with burgeoning defensive impact. Last we saw Tatum in a game that mattered, fellow All-Star Kemba Walker proclaimed him the “best player on the court” during a thoroughly entertaining double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers, who had Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the opposite sideline.

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Over his last 10 games, Tatum has averaged a robust 26.8 points per game while shooting 49.2 percent overall and 46.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Add in 6.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1 block over 33.6 minutes per game and Tatum might be muscling his way into the All-NBA conversation given Boston’s team success.

There’s little reason to believe that Tatum’s recent play is some sort of aberration. Still, the bigger question lingers: Just how good can Tatum be?

His teammates are admittedly a bit biased but are bullish on his chances to be truly elite.

"If he puts his mind to it, if he’s focused on what he needs to focus on, he can definitely be a Hall of Famer,” said Enes Kanter. “I think he’s a game-changer. The one thing about him, man, he just enjoys it. He’s having fun with his teammates. And he’s so young. I was in the locker room asking my teammates like, ‘How old are you?’ I asked [24-year-old rookie] Tacko [Fall] how old are you, and I asked [Tatum] how old?. He was like 21. He’s only 21! I was like, ‘Hold on, hold on, hold on. How old again? Wow, this is wild.’”

Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward have been around Tatum for his entire Boston tenure. They believe his potential is limitless when asked how good he can be.

"As good as he wants. He’s only 21,” said Smart. Informed that Tatum is a couple weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, Smart playfully added, "Nah, he’s 21. He’s a baby. He’s a BABY. He’s so young and yet he’s already accomplished so many things. And he still has a long way to go.

"That’s the uniqueness and the beauty about him and his game. No one can really say, ‘Oh yeah, he’s reached his potential, he’s reached his max.’ No one really knows the potential and how far he can go. For us, playing with him, and being able to see him grow as a player, and as an individual, has been everything.”

Echoed Hayward: "I think the sky is the limit. He’s got great size, athleticism, poise, he’s got all the skill sets — he can score at all three different levels. As long as he continues to work, I think the sky is the limit.”

Tatum’s teammates insist the next big step is simply consistency. Tatum has to play like he knows he’s the best player on the floor and maintain the killer instinct that's seemed far more present this year than in the past.

Kanter insists it didn’t take long for those around the NBA to identify that Tatum had star potential.

"I’ve been in the league for nine years, right? I remember the first time [going against Tatum],” said Kanter, whose Knicks traveled to Boston and saw Tatum’s first 20+ point game early in the 2017-18 season. "I remember playing against Boston and I’m like, ‘Who is this kid?’ He was killing everybody. He was what, 19? He just destroyed everybody and he played unbelievable and I was like, ‘This kid is going to be special.’”

Three years later, the question is just how special?

Celtics coach Brad Stevens likes to point out how, when you look at what Tatum is doing at his age, it compares to only a handful of elite players in the NBA history. Hammering home that point: The only players to reach the same statistical threshold as Tatum to this point of his career (at least 3,400 points, 1,100 rebounds, 425 assists, and 150 blocks) before age 22 were: LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady. That’s a heck of a quartet to be associated with.

Tatum might be blossoming even earlier than expected this season, an encouraging sign for Boston’s chances to compete immediately. While his postseason exploits as a rookie certainly suggested star potential, the last few weeks only confirmed his All-Star status and hinted at future potential.

The encouraging part is the way Tatum has handled his recent successes. He’s repeatedly noted that the game’s elite don’t linger on what they’ve accomplished: They score 40 points and shrug it off like it was just another night at the office.

Tatum has areas of his game to shore up, including ball-handling when he’s attacking the basket. But he’s certainly shown he can improve on the fly. Tatum struggled mightily to finish near the rim at the start of the season but has a new confidence around the basket, often utilizing his length to finish over and around opponents. What’s more, he's made the side-step 3-pointer one of his trademark weapons. Tatum makes scoring 20+ per night look routine.

Go ahead and rank the top players in the Eastern Conference. You might be surprised how quickly you land on Tatum. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is the obvious No. 1 and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is No. 2. Is Tatum already the third best player in the East? A healthy Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant might quibble with those rankings; so, too, might Pascal Siakam fans in Toronto. The fact that it’s even debatable is an encouraging sign for Tatum and the Celtics.

But Boston’s best path to legitimate title threat involves Tatum emerging as one of the surefire elite of the league. Maybe Boston’s perimeter depth is enough to compete for a title now in an NBA that’s more wide open than ever. Future seasons likely won’t be as forgiving. Teams are going to need top-line talent to truly compete.

The Celtics need Tatum to emerge as one of those players. The last few weeks suggest it can happen. Yes, everything is lining up for Tatum.

He’s got his All-Star nod. He’s got the big-time Jordan Brand shoe deal. This summer, the Celtics will likely offer a maximum-salary extension ensuring he’s the face of the Celtics franchise deep into the future.

The final step is simply proving he’s ready to be a star every night on the floor.

"Each year, he continues to grow and get better,” said Smart. "He’s maturing. He’s still a young kid but the responsibility and the roles that he’s able to take on — and, in the future, that he’s going to take on — it really shows the growth of him as a person and as a player. You gotta be proud of him.

“I believe (Tatum can be one of the NBA’s elite). I definitely believe so. Again, he’s only 21. And think about the things he’s already done in this league. He has a bright future.”

So, too, would the Celtics.