Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.
We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the Cavs. Click here to see all of the previous editions of this series.
Hoops Rumors: Where does the David Lee trade fit in with Danny Ainge‘s larger strategy of roster building? For as much as the rebuilding process has been about draft picks and young players, why bring in a 32-year-old whose production doesn’t match his outsized salary?
Adam Himmelsbach: Well you have to remember, to acquire Lee and his $15.494MM expiring contract, the Celtics unloaded Gerald Wallace and his also significant $10.106MM expiring deal, and Wallace had essentially been reduced to little more than an extra assistant coach.
The Celtics are hopeful that Lee can flash the form he showed as a two-time All-Star. He is a reliable passer, a post-up threat and a good rebounder. But there is no long-term commitment by the Celtics here, either. They could let his deal expire at season’s end or even use it as a trade chip depending on how the season unfolds.
Hoops Rumors: On top of the Lee trade, the addition of Amir Johnson and retention of Jonas Jerebko seem to signal that the Celtics are serious about supplementing their young players with veterans and making the playoffs this year. What are the team’s expectations for this season?
Adam Himmelsbach: After the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green and stumbled to a 13-26 start last year, there was a perception that they were in full rebuild mode. But both trades seemed to help team chemistry and Boston was energized by the February arrival of Isaiah Thomas. And thanks to a dismal Eastern Conference, the Celtics were able to secure the No. 7 seed despite a 40-42 record. And, it’s worth noting, the final two wins came against a Cavaliers team that was mostly resting its regulars.
But the playoffs happened, and now the Celtics — and their fan base — will not want to see regression. Boston has absolutely improved its roster since last season, but not to the point where it is likely to leapfrog any of the six teams that finished ahead of it in the Eastern Conference last season. And the Heat appear primed to move past the Celtics, too. So the reality is that this team might have to scuffle for a playoff berth, just like last season.
Adam Himmelsbach: Right now it’s nothing more than talk. I spoke to Danny Ainge two weeks ago and he indicated that there would be discussions about extending Zeller and Jared Sullinger. That doesn’t mean either will happen. Having said that, the Celtics like Zeller. He averaged career highs across the board last year and actually had the highest win-share rate on the team. He is a consistent finisher and he is solid in the pick-and-roll, and 7-footers do not grow on trees. And with the salary cap set to balloon after this season when the league’s massive new TV deal kicks in, a deal around $10MM a year for Zeller would probably end up being a bargain. But for the Celtics, the price will have to be right.
Hoops Rumors: What’s the most likely scenario for resolving the team’s roster logjam? With 16 fully guaranteed contracts and only 15 regular season roster spots to go around, do you see the Celtics unloading the extra contract via trade, or will they have to waive somebody and eat one of those salaries?
Adam Himmelsbach: With Ainge at the helm, you can rest assured that trades will be explored. The Celtics had salary cap space this summer for the first time in nearly 20 years, and that allowed them to get creative. They acquired a future second-round pick and forward Perry Jones III from the Thunder essentially just for helping OKC clean up its books. So Boston will give Jones a long look during training camp, but right now the 23-year-old forward is probably the most likely to be cut if a deal can’t be completed.
Hoops Rumors: Isaiah Thomas has said he wants to start, but Marcus Smart is in his way at point guard, and now Terry Rozier‘s there, too. Thomas has three more seasons left on his contract, including this one. Do you think he’ll still be on the Celtics by the time his contract is up?
Adam Himmelsbach: Thomas has an extremely team-friendly contract, as he’ll make less than $7MM per year over the next three seasons, with his salary actually decreasing a bit each year. While Thomas has been vocal about his desire to start, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made it clear he prefers to have Thomas be a sparkplug off the bench. If the Celtics are mired in a losing skid this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Thomas get a chance as a starter. As for his long-term future in Boston, it’s impossible to say. The Celtics are not in a position to have “untouchable” players. But the guess here is that yes, he’s here all three years.
Adam Himmelsbach: The Celtics will eventually hope to kind of flip the script a bit. With the Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Green trades, they filled Ainge’s treasure chest with assets. It’s possible Boston could have three lottery picks next year. Moving forward, though, the Celtics will look to swap some of those assets for more proven talent, or even to move up in the draft. Of course, this June showed that’s not always easy, as they were rebuffed in their many attempts to trade up and acquire Duke’s Justise Winslow.