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Boston Celtics: Summer League Introduces New Obstacles to Roster Trimming

Plethora of Young Talent Will Make Danny Ainge's Decisions Even Harder

Yahoo Contributor Network
Boston Celtics: Summer League Introduces New Obstacles to Roster Trimming
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Danny Ainge

COMMENTARY | With Boston Celtics Summer League action underway, the clock starts ticking for president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to trim his packed roster.

Rife with young talent on their Orlando Summer League squad, the Celtics also stand to inherit five new players from the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry trade with the Brooklyn Nets (which will process on July 12, when Nets inclusion Kris Joseph officially elapses his three-month contract).

With first-round draft selection Kelly Olynyk, Boston's roster features 13 players with guaranteed contracts and 18 players total. That's a smidgen more than the 12 active spots and 15 total spots allowed at the opening tip of a season.

Luckily, Ainge has some time. Summer leagues typically help general managers whittle down overcrowded teams, right? Anyone? Bueller?

Unfortunately, this offseason has been completely atypical, and the summer league could make roster cuts even more difficult. The Celtics assembled one of the more impressive squads in the Orlando league, with talented players just begging for the deserved attention of scouts and managers.

Here's a run-down of the standouts from Boston's Summer League squad.

Kelly Olynyk, PF/C

Of course, the most fulgurant player in the nation has been Olynyk, the sharpshooting seven-footer from Gonzaga Ainge moved up three draft picks to select. Fondly referred to as "KO" by NBA TV commentators, Olynyk dazzled against the Orlando Magic Sunday and Detroit Pistons Monday. His combination of long-range shooting and high-post domination definitely turns heads.

With his trademark long hair flying around the court, he shot a staggering 14-of-21 from the field (3-of-6 from three) in about 48 minutes combined over his first two games. He also hauled in 13 rebounds, seven steals and five assists. He seems to be making it a point to hit the glass aggressively, something detractors pointed out when Ainge revealed how much he coveted the 22-year-old.

Colton Iverson, C/PF

Speaking of rebounds, another player making an imprint has been second-round acquisition and fellow seven-footer Colton Iverson (originally drafted by the Indiana Pacers, then traded to Boston for cash moments later). Iverson has been an absolute beast, utilizing his wide 7'0", 260-pound frame to notch nine boards in a combined 29 minutes of play.

He still needs to develop his offensive game, and improve his free throw shooting, but Iverson could be a huge boost as early as next season given his physical brand of basketball. He punishes opponents who drive the lane, and sets jaw-rattling picks.

However, don't be surprised if he ends up playing overseas in Europe next year. There's plenty of time for this 24-year-old to bruise NBA bodies down low.

Phil Pressey, PG

Then there's Phil Pressey, the undrafted Missouri point guard Ainge reportedly called minutes after the second round ended because he liked him so much. Pressey, who played high school hoops in Waltham, Mass., has shown that whatever contract he signed could be extended well past the summer league.

The 5'11", 177-pound speedster has averaged 11.5 points and four assists in 21.8 minutes per game. He also displayed brilliant man defense Monday, shutting down his counterpart, Louisville product Peyton Siva. Maybe there was a little gamesmanship attributed to the fact that Siva was drafted in the second round, because Pressey limited him to only four points and two assists.

Pressey oozes self-assurance, so nobody should be surprised by his confidence that he'll make the final roster heading into the fall. Let's just hope he works on his turnover issues (nine total in the first two games) and continues to improve on his shooting touch.

Darius Johnson-Odom, SG

Pressey clearly has some competition for a roster spot in shooting guard Darius Johnson-Odom. His name may not be NBA-ready, but his game could very well have what it takes. After a relatively lackluster 23 minutes in the first game against Orlando, Johnson-Odom broke out against Detroit Monday. He scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting (2-of-3 from deep), while tallying five boards and two assists. Oh, and he only committed two fouls in 25 minutes of play.

DJO (improvised nickname) played 1.5 whole minutes with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, his rookie year out of Marquette. He clearly took his rough debut as negative motivation, because the 6'2.5", 215-pound two-guard seems to be in great shape. A lefty, he showed a nice combination of strength, speed, athleticism and shooting range.

His handle remains sloppy, but Johnson-Odom could land a reserve role if he keeps scoring well and playing tough defense (his 6'6" wingspan helps in that department). He has good instincts--a characteristic Ainge loves--so don't count him out anytime soon. Who knows, he could be a poor man's Ray Allen.

Tony Mitchell, SF

Now let's talk about Tony Mitchell. No, not the tough-guy Tony Mitchell from North Texas who the Detroit Pistons just drafted--we're talking about the Tony Mitchell on the other side of the floor Monday, the guy starting at small forward for the Celts.

Last year's Developmental League Rookie of the Year, Boston's Mitchell has been well worth the flyer. He turned it on Sunday against the Magic, with 16 points, four rebounds and three steals in 25 minutes. Then, on Monday, he scored nine points and grabbed three boards in 17 minutes.

After finishing last season as the D-League's second-highest scorer (and setting a single-game record with 47 points), this guy doesn't particularly want to play for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants again. But he will be hard-pressed to find a spot with the C's.

It's not that the high-leaping Alabama product lacks talent. He's had maturity issues in the past, and might be a poor fit for a young team led by enigmatic Rajon Rondo and analytic Brad Stevens. Plus, as previously mentioned, the Celtics only have 15 spots. He'll make a team-it just probably won't be Boston's.

Fab Melo, C

Let's round out summer league discussions with the "old unreliable," second-year center Fab Melo. After spending most of his rookie season with the Celtics' D-League affiliate Maine Red Claws, the Syracuse big man aims to alleviate Boston's post-Garnett voids down low.

He won't be filling any voids just yet (if ever). Despite registering over 28 minutes in Game 1 against Orlando, Melo topped out at nine points and eight rebounds. Game 2 versus Detroit got worse: six points and three boards in 19 minutes of play.

Melo showed hustle in both games, and occasionally made a nice defensive stand. He even had a nice dunk Monday. But the negatives still outweigh the positives with this 23-year-old.

He's 7'0", 245 pounds, people often protest. Give him a shot.

After witnessing a failed first year, it seems baffling to imagine he merits such hope. Besides, Celtics summer coach Jay Larranaga has given him plenty of shots already this first two games--many of which have been rejected by either the rim or a defender. He got posterized a couple times on the other end, too. He moves slow and exhibits abysmal basketball IQ. Those types of things don't get resolved on an NBA floor--they get worse.

Non-Guaranteed Contracts: Shavlik Randolph, C, PF

As for Celtics without guaranteed 2013-14 contracts, expect center Shavlik Randolph to get the nod. "Shav" posted a ridiculous 22.4 percent rebounding rate in 16 games with the Celtics last year (26.3% defensively, 18.3% offensively). He also shot 58.3 percent from the field, and worked as hard as anyone on the squad in the 198 minutes he played.

If Boston picks up the second year of Randolph's contract ( $1,106,942), last year's leading scorer of the Chinese Basketball Association can spread his wings as one of the elder members of the Celtics' interior.

D.J. White, PF and Kris Joseph, SF

The Celtics' other two non-guaranteed contracts belong to D.J. White and Kris Joseph.

Signed around the same time as Randolph in the second half of last season, White failed to impress. For starters, he never seemed comfortable with the offense. It didn't help that he struggled mightily on the glass in comparison to Shav.

For Joseph, Boston is far from unchartered territory. The Celtics' 2012 second-round pick made the team after camp last October, then bounced between Boston and Maine twice in a matter of two months. By mid-January, the Celtics decided to waive him. The Nets signed him to a 10-day contract on April 2, then to his current three-month deal 10 days later.

Once that three-month period ends on Friday, the trade will go through and the Celtics can decide what they want to do with Joseph. Bet on them releasing him before August 1, the date in which his $788,872 contract becomes guaranteed. If not, he could spend more time with familiar faces at the Red Claws' facility.

The Lone Free Agent: Chris Wilcox, PF

Last but not least, veteran power forward Chris Wilcox has stated he would like to return for a third-straight season in green. A strong reserve presence in the second half of 2012-13, Wilcox became a free agent on July 1.

He might be worth another veteran's minimum contract just for his intelligence and experience. He spaces the floor well, and knows what to do with an alley-oop or rebound near the offensive rim.

But that's highly unlikely. Wilcox turns 31 in September, he's had cardiac surgery and he possesses a limited offensive skill set. Boston tried to trade him away as part of the package for Jordan Crawford in February, but he vetoed the deal (Jason Collins went instead). Wilcox has no say this time around--he's most likely out.

The Big Picture (Maybe)

Wrapping things up, here's a very early prediction of what the Celtics' depth chart will look like by the first round of cuts (or before Ainge decides to make another trade):

PG: Rajon Rondo, Phil Pressey

SG: Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford, MarShon Brooks

SF: Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans

PF: Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries

C: Kelly Olynyk, Shavlik Randolph, Colton Iverson (overseas), Fab Melo (D-League)

Of course, many things still depend on the clock ticking in Ainge's head. He could trim the roster multiple ways between now and October. He probably hopes to grab another point guard, and could benefit from exploring better options at center (preferably while dumping Bass and Lee's contracts).

"As a matter of fact, we have too many players," Ainge said recently, per ESPN's Chris Forsberg. "We have logjams at power forward, and center and shooting guard. We have a lot of guys, potentially, if things continue as they are. I think that our job is to try to clean that up through the summer."

Who knows what kind of summer cleaning he has in store. It's DA's world, and Celtics Nation is just living in it.

Sloan Piva has lived in New England for 28 years, and covers the Boston Celtics. He can be found on Twitter @SloanPiva.

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