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Celtics Report Card: Buyout market hasn't helped much in recent years

Celtics Report Card: Buyout market hasn't helped much in recent years

Sunday was the final day that players already on an NBA roster could be waived and still be playoff eligible for another team this season.

The day passed with barely a whimper — the Lakers reportedly waived Troy Daniels to free up a roster spot — but the names that might have most interested Celtics fans — players like Tristan Thompson and Evan Turner — remain with their lottery-bound teams.

Which means the buyout market remains an underwhelming pool of talent and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has already said he’s in no rush to wade in those waters. The Celtics can still add a player before the postseason but only those that are currently free agents will be playoff-eligible.

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There remains a very vocal group of Celtics fans eager for the team to make any sort of move to alter a bench that has struggled to generate offensive output in recent games, most notably big-stage tilts against the Lakers and Rockets. 

Boston’s four-man bench of Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye, Brad Wanamaker, and Romeo Langford combined for nearly 52 minutes against the Rockets on Saturday night but produced just 4 points on 1-of-4 shooting.

While three of those players (Langford, Wanamaker, and Williams) had the highest offensive ratings on the team for the game, some will grumble simply about the point output, even though coach Brad Stevens is allowing his best offensive weapons to shoulder the load when paired with reserve groups.

It’s kinda humorous that, a year after Ainge caught grief for not being more proactive in eliminating some of Boston’s cluttered bench depth, there’s angst at the lack of an addition for a team that’s eager to accentuate its top players.

Yes, the Celtics would have loved if Marvin Williams had listened to Kemba Walker’s recruiting pitches and considered Boston before signing with Milwaukee. It didn’t happen.

The top names that landed on the buyout field already had deals lined up with more surefire contenders. Familiar scorers like Isaiah Thomas and Jamal Crawford remain unsigned but those are high-volume, low-defense players that don’t seem to be the right fit for this squad.

It’s prudent to remember just how hit and miss the buyout market can be. In Boston, players picked up in late February or early March have typically failed to alter the trajectory of the team’s season.

For this week’s Celtics report card, we decided to rank the veteran additions that Boston has made since the 2007-08 championship season. For this exercise, we’re ignoring signings where the Celtics focused on adding young, long-range guys like Chris Babb and Coty Clarke.

1. P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell (2008)

As Boston’s Big Three barreled towards the postseason, they stopped to pick up a pair of veterans near the finish line of the regular season. Brown had been out of basketball, while Cassel got cut free by the Los Angeles Clippers in late February.

Yes, Brown produced a big Game 7 against Cleveland in the East semifinals, hitting a big late-game jumper to help the Celtics advance. Brown and Cassell, both 38, were pieces that Doc Rivers felt more comfortable leaning on than younger players like Leon Powe, Glen Davis, and Tony Allen.

2. Ryan Hollins (2012)

During the Big Three’s last gasp, the Celtics picked up 27-year-old Hollins in late March after waiving Chris Wilcox, who was prepping for aortic surgery. Hollins came with a stamp of approval from both Paul Pierce and Garnett (summer workout buddies) but it probably didn’t impact the team’s path.

Hollins averaged 1.5 points and 1.6 rebounds over 10 minutes per game in 17 playoff appearances. He filled a need for size-deprived Boston, but the team leaned heavily on its top 6 during a playoff run that was cut short when LeBron James went supernova at the end of the conference semis.

3. Michael Finley (2010)

Amid some second-half stumbles, the Celtics picked up the 36-year-old Finley in hopes of bolstering their roster. He didn’t move the needle much, particularly in the postseason where he averaged less than a point per game while playing 6 minutes per night in 18 appearances.

There’s a case to be made that he actually took time away from Tony Allen late in that season and Allen ultimately elected to sign elsewhere that summer.

4. Greg Monroe (2018)

Boston picked up Monroe in February 2018 with hopes of adding size and an offensive punch, but his defensive limitations made it tough to keep him on the court.

He was Boston’s 10th man in the 2018 playoffs, logging 10 minutes per night in 11 appearances. Boston brought Monroe back on a 10-day in late March 2019, but ultimately didn’t bring him aboard for the postseason.

5. Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore (2009) 

The 2008-09 Celtics were even more of a wrecking ball than the 2008 title team, but Kevin Garnett’s knee injuries derailed the season.

With Garnett sidelined, the Celtics picked up 33-year-old Moore and 31-year-old Marbury in late February. Neither made much of an impact, particularly in the postseason.

Marbury averaged 3.7 points over 12 minutes per game in the playoffs while shooting 30.3 percent from the field. Moore barely played. A Garnett-less Boston got bounced in Round 2 versus the Magic.

6. Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic, Carlos Arroyo (2011)

In the aftermath of a Kendrick Perkins trade that rattled the Celtics veterans, Boston signed Murphy, Pavlovic, and Arroyo as reinforcements.

That trio combined for a whopping three minutes of playoff action during Boston’s nine-game march to elimination while trying to get through with two duct-taped O’Neals (Shaquille and Jermaine).

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Celtics Report Card: Jayson Tatum's star on the rise

Celtics Report Card: Jayson Tatum's star on the rise

Who’s the best player on the Boston Celtics?

The question, spawned from a newsroom debate during Boston’s gritty road win over Oklahoma City Thunder then lobbed at me during NBC 10’s Boston Sports Live show on Sunday night, left me considering the answer a lot harder than I previously might have.

It had to be Kemba Walker, right? The now four-time NBA All-Star and lynchpin of the Celtics’s offense. Boston’s offensive rating is a staggering 116.8 when Walker is on the floor and nosedives to 106 when he’s not. For context, the Celtics would lead the NBA in offensive rating if they could maintain that mark while Walker is on the floor, and would be tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 24th mark in the NBA without him.

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But watching  Jayson Tatum blossom over the past month, you can at least argue that Walker has competition for the best-player title — and quicker than most probably expected. With the Celtics enduring perpetual injuries (even Tatum missed three games with a groin strain), Tatum has taken his play to new heights. He’s validated his All-Star nod and looks like someone on a path to becoming one of the league’s elite two-way players.

In the bigger picture, the fact that you can even have a best-player debate is important for Boston’s title chances moving forward. The franchise’s ability to compete hinges directly on what both Tatum and Jaylen Brown become with Walker as their running mate.

What we feel a bit more comfortable about is elevating Tatum back to the top spot in our Celtics player power rankings. Tatum had the top spot early in the year, Walker muscled it away around the midpoint of the season, and now, as the Celtics motor towards the All-Star break, it’s Tatum who again takes the baton based on his recent play:

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Celtics Report Card: Power ranking Boston's roster, Part 2

Celtics Report Card: Power ranking Boston's roster, Part 2

Around the quarter pole of the 2019-20 season, we power ranked the Celtics' roster based on each player's importance to the team’s overall success.

With the midseason mark approaching — Boston will play game No. 41 on Saturday when it hosts the Phoenix Suns — it felt like a good time to re-rank the roster and see what movement has occurred since the first attempt:

1. KEMBA WALKER (Last: 2 ⬆️)

Walker’s importance to Boston’s offense was very much confirmed when he sat out three games recently due to the flu.

The Celtics own an offensive rating of 116.5 during Walker’s 1,049 minutes of court time and it plummets to a team-worst 102.5 in the 732 minutes without him. To give you context on those numbers, the Mavericks lead the NBA with an offensive rating of 115.3, while the Golden State Warriors own the NBA’s worst mark at 102.7. So, essentially, the Celtics go from the best offense in the NBA with Walker to the worst.

Walker makes things easier for his teammates and is the primary reason Boston has the fifth-best offense in the league.

2. JAYSON TATUM (Last: 1 ⬇️)

The Celtics are no longer a net negative when Tatum is off the court — but just barely, with a net rating of plus-0.3 in the 520 minutes without Tatum. It’s still jarring that the next closest player is nearly 4.5 points away (Enes Kanter, plus-4.6). Balance that with Tatum’s plus-10.3 net rating on the floor and it’s clear to see his overall value.

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Yes, he’s struggled to score efficiently and, yet, performances like his 41-point outburst Saturday against the Pelicans remind us just how good he can be. When Tatum attacks the basket and utilizes his length to finish near the rim, he’s been exceptional. And his defense has quietly been fantastic with his Team USA coach Gregg Popovich the most recent to rave about his two-way potential.

3. JAYLEN BROWN (Last: 3 ↔️)

It would be a case of recency bias to drop Brown out of the top 3. Yes, he’s struggled a bit since getting that Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. In his last four games, Brown is shooting 28.6 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent beyond the arc, and his All-Star chances have taken a small hit, but there’s still plenty of time to state a final case before coaches vote for reserves.

For as good as Brown has been, one statistical oddity has been the team’s on/off splits. Boston owns a net rating of plus-5.8 during Brown’s 1,102 minutes of court time but it actually spikes to a team-best plus-10.5 in his 679 minutes off the floor.

4. GORDON HAYWARD (Last: 5 ⬆️)

Hayward has been solid in the 10 games played since his return on Christmas. The numbers don’t leap off the page and he’s had some rough shooting nights, but he steadies the offense whenever he’s on the court and consistently makes the right plays.

Overshadowed slightly by Tatum’s big night Saturday against New Orleans was that Hayward was also uber-efficient with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and finished plus-38 in 28 minutes. Hayward’s rebounding and playmaking are huge for Boston even when he’s not scoring.

5. MARCUS SMART (Last: 4 ⬇️)

Smart hasn’t shot the ball great since his return from the eye infection that sapped most of his December, but that shouldn’t take away from the defensive tone he established early in the year.

Smart turned in his best offensive performance of the season last week in Philadelphia, putting up a season-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Alas, when this team is at full health, they really just need Smart to focus on defense and playmaking.

The offense is a nice bonus when it comes, especially if he can get back to 35+ percent beyond the 3-point arc. But he need not force those shots when there’s so much scoring talent around him.

6. ENES KANTER (Last: 8 ⬆️)

There's a case to be made that Kanter could muscle into the top 5 here. He’s produced double-digit rebounds in 10 of Boston’s last 13 games and a pure rebounder has been so rare for this team in recent years that it’s still jarring to watch him dominate the glass.

Add in efficient scoring, with Kanter content to chase putbacks or finish when passes find him near the rim, and the Turkish big man has become a vital piece on a team thin on healthy bigs. There’s going to be matchups that Kanter struggles in but, more often than not, he’s been a positive, as evidenced by his team-best net rating of plus-14.2 — the second best mark in the NBA among qualifiers with at least 15 minutes played per game.

7. DANIEL THEIS (Last: 6 ⬇️)

About the only gripe with Theis is that his 3-point shooting hasn’t been as solid as years passed, dipping from 38.8 percent a year ago to 27.9 this year. Maybe some of that is the knee tendinitis he’s been battling lately but the German big man has otherwise been solid.

Like Kanter, he’s content to play his role and take open looks when they come. He’s been excellent defensively when he’s not physically overmatched. His ability to defend opponents out to the 3-point line has helped Boston’s first unit defense.

8. BRAD WANAMAKER (Last: 7 ⬇️)

Wanamaker was alarmingly efficient early in the year, but his offense has come back to Earth a bit. Since Dec. 1, he’s shooting 34.9 percent from the field and 28 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He still has an uncanny ability to finish in transition and gives you steady playmaking with reserve groups, even if that brief 50/40/90 flirtation ended in a hurry.

Stevens clearly trusts Wanamaker and, outside of a DNP in Philadelphia when the Celtics leaned harder on Smart at the 1, he’s going to be a rotation presence.

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9. SEMI OJELEYE (Last: 11 ⬆️)

Ojeleye is the type of player who can get a DNP one night and then Stevens will leave him out there for a 15-minute stretch the next. He’s a luxury when the Celtics need a little extra size and defense guarding bigger wings and yet his offensive limitations have made it tough to generate consistent time.

Over his last 14 appearances since early December, Ojeleye is shooting 40 percent beyond the 3-point arc but just 35.5 percent overall while averaging just 2.3 points per game in that span. He had three starts in December and Boston posted three wins.

10. GRANT WILLIAMS (Last: 9 ⬇️)

Outside of games against Philadelphia, Williams has been a pretty steady rotation presence. His offense has come along since getting his first 3-pointer to fall and, in the 15 appearances since, he’s shooting 54.3 percent overall and 38.1 percent beyond the arc.

You can see the potential in Williams, with a Smart-like instinct to make the right play. He fouls a bit too much at the moment but he tries hard on defense and helps move the ball on the offensive end. This is an important stretch, especially with Boston’s big-man depth depleted, for Williams to gain coach Brad Stevens’ trust.

11. JAVONTE GREEN (Last: 12 ⬆️)

When Boston’s wings are all healthy, it’s tougher for Green to find consistent time. He’s had a couple DNPs in the new calendar year and played double digits in minutes only twice in his last eight appearances.

He still showcases his explosiveness and absurd hops every time he’s on the floor. If he can develop a 3-point shot and harness that athleticism on the defensive side, he’s a very intriguing weapon for Stevens to deploy.

12. ROMEO LANGFORD (Last: 17 ⬆️)

Poor Langford. The injury bug wouldn’t stop nibbling on him at the start of his pro career but he had an eight-game stretch in December in which he finally got a chance to showcase his potential. But just as Boston’s wings were getting healthy, Langford got sick, and missed four games with the flu.

Like Green, it’s hard to see a path to consistent time and, yet, when he’s not with Maine, it will be interesting to see if he gets NBA minutes. His defense might help his cause as he showed nice instincts during that December cameo.

13. ROBERT WILLIAMS (Last: 10 ⬇️)

Inactive since hip issues flared in early December, it’s easy to forget about Williams. He’s played only 19 games this year but was part of the Celtics’ three-center rotation with Kanter and Theis before his injury woes returned. There’s so much potential and yet injuries have routinely conspired against him.

Brad Stevens said last week the team would give him three more weeks before figuring out the next step in his return to basketball action. That seemingly means we won’t see Timelord until after the All-Star break but — if healthy — he’d be quite an in-season boost, especially the way his skill set complements that of Boston’s other bigs and gives them options when others have a tough matchup.

14. TREMONT WATERS (Last: 14 ↔️)

Only five appearances for the parent club but it’s easy to see why the organization is so high on the point guard (who has been excellent in the G-League). He’s a steady and confident ball-handler with an ability to get past defenders and create for others.

If the Celtics’ ball-handling depth was thinned, Stevens would have the confidence in Waters to run the offense. There’s still plenty of call-up days available for Waters to lend a hand to the NBA squad.

15. CARSEN EDWARDS (Last: 13 ⬇️)

Edwards has played sparingly since early December. Right now, his offense is his meal ticket but he’s shooting just 30.5 percent (both overall and beyond the arc). The Celtics recently dispatched him to the G-League for reps and, until he can consistently knock down shots, it’s hard to see a path to playing time when this team is anywhere near full health.

16. TACKO FALL (Last: 16 ↔️)

The Celtics tossed Fall out there in the second quarter against the Spurs this month, in part while looking for a jolt on a night the team was otherwise lifeless, but also because they’ve been impressed with the progress he’s made early in his pro career.

Yes, he’s only logged 21 minutes but there’s an undeniable electricity when he’s on the court. Early returns have had Fall sixth in the East in frontcourt All-Star voting and, while that’s not a reflection on his contributions, it’s a reminder that TackoMania hasn’t lost any steam.

17. VINCENT POIRIER (Last: 15  ⬇️)

Sidelined since mid-December with a pinkie fracture, Poirier has missed out on a chance to showcase what he can do, especially while Robert Williams has been sidelined.

Poirier has played sparingly in nine appearances but could get a chance here to be part of the center rotation as he preps for a return. He can climb this list in a hurry if he proves to be a potential third option behind Theis and Kanter.

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