The Celtics won’t be signing Tyler Zeller or Jared Sullinger to extensions before tonight’s 11pm Central deadline for them to do so, a league source tells Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe (Twitter link). That allows the big men to become restricted free agents in July. The news is no shock, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported late Sunday that extensions seemed unlikely for the pair, and the team only envisioned an extension for either if they were to give the team discounts, according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.
Zeller, a Sam Goldfeder client, appeared over the summer to have the better chance of the two to end up with an extension, as A. Sherrod Blakely reported in August, and Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders pegged those chances at 50-50 soon thereafter. Speculation indicated that the Celtics would be on board with salaries anywhere beneath $12MM a year, a high number for the 25-year-old who averaged only 21.1 minutes per game last season that demonstrates the effect of the expected rises in the salary cap. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge confirmed in late August that preliminary talks had begun with both Zeller and Sullinger.
Ainge had “great interest” in a new deal with Sullinger as of this spring, but any such deal with the 23-year-old David Falk client was likely to have come with a weight clause, as Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com wrote at the time. The C’s reportedly discussed Sullinger in trade talks with the Knicks around the time of the draft, but the general feeling is that the team would be pleased to re-sign both Sullinger and Zeller in restricted free agency next summer, Bulpett wrote recently.
Both are part of a crowded Celtics frontcourt that also includes Amir Johnson, David Lee, Kelly Olynyk and second-round draft pick Jordan Mickey, though only Mickey and Olynyk have guaranteed salaries for next season. Boston has a wealth of flexibility, with less than $34MM committed for 2016/17 against a salary cap that some around the league reportedly think will surge as high as $95MM.