There was a time 20 years ago, when the Celtics missed the playoffs for the first time since Larry Bird began playing, that they gave out shirts to all the fans for being “the best fans in the world.” That motto was repeated a lot as the Celtics closed out a losing season on Wednesday. In those 20 years, the Celtics have now gone through three of these “rebuild and hope for a good draft pick” seasons. It’s fair to say that fans know how it goes now. We’ve been ranking players all season at The Improper based upon their salary and on-court value. In a season in which the main goal was about collecting and improving assets, we looked at each player and his salary to come up with the season-ending player ranking:
1. Rajon Rondo – The Celtics guard returned nearly one year to the day after tearing his ACL (an injury that he played through in the fourth quarter of a game last year). The results were up-and-down. By the end of the season, he looked more explosive to the hoop and he did have double-digit assist totals in 8 of his final 10 games. It’s hard to overlook, however, that the team was 6-24 in games he played this season and that a lot of the problems with closing out games stemmed from Rondo having to direct end-of-game situations, as opposed to just giving the ball to Paul Pierce and clearing out. His only public off-court transgression came from skipping the flight to Sacramento, a move that marred what was by all accounts a step-forward season from Rondo as a leader. He’s got one season left on a submarket deal, so the Celtics will need to make a decision whether to put veteran talent around their point-guard leader, or trade him away before he hit free agency. With a salary-cap hit of only $11 million, this offseason is the best time to pair a high-priced veteran with him and fit under the cap. Soon, he’ll be making nearly $20 million a year.
2. Jared Sullinger – The second-year player was asked to shoulder a lot of the load for this Celtics season and he flashed plenty of promise. As is befitting of a player who had logged only half a season of play, he was at times inconsistent. Asked to develop a 3-point shot, he put up 208 tries from behind the arc, making 27 percent of them. It’s not a “don’t ever shoot” percentage, but more of a “work on this more” mandate. After a January stretch of seven straight games in double-digit points, he only had 16 points in the next three games. Sullinger, who showed up looking physically fit in October, was a little rounder by the end of the season as well. Effort, weight and consistency seem to be the three things that could push Sullinger to an All-Star level. With plenty of quality power forwards in the league, Sullinger could also be easily replaced or upgraded—perhaps as part of a larger offseason trade. There’s no denying he has plenty of value.
3. Kelly Olynyk – If you look up “late-season improvement,” you might find Olynyk’s picture. Or you might find it next to “garbage-time improvement.” It’s hard to figure whether Olynyk’s average of 26 points in the final three games of the season represented true improvement or was a matter of getting extended minutes with a lineup that had few scoring options. It’s likely a little bit of both, with a lot of “small sample size.” Still, he consistently improved, and while he will never be a plus-defender, he showed a deft passing touch. Coming from a rookie class with little All-Star potential, he might be one of the few standouts three years from now.
4. Jeff Green – A scorer by trade, Green scored in double-digits in 68 games this year, but it’s those 14 games when he didn’t that has left many fans scratching their heads. Making $9 million a year, but with an opt-out after next season, he’s likely paid the exact salary he should be. The salary of someone who is a fourth or fifth best player on championship team. As the most consistent offensive threat this season, however, he struggled. It remains to be seen what Green’s worth is across the NBA, but he is a candidate to be dealt this offseason.
5. Avery Bradley (RFA) – The Celtics get the right to match any offer on Bradley this offseason. Based upon the tepid restricted free-agent market last season, he likely will re-sign with Boston. The oft-injured guard was exactly as advertised this year. He was streaky offensively, coming into his own later in the year, while being the best defensive player on the team. And he missed 22 games. He is a legitimate NBA starter and coming back on a 4-year, $24 million salary would make sense for the Celtics.
6. Brandon Bass – The Red Auerbach Award winner played every game this season and gave the Celtics consistent two-way production. Another free agent after next season, he’s due to make $7 million in 2014-15. That’s an overpay for a rebuilding team, but for a contender looking for a third or fourth big man, he could be worth it in return for some dead salary.
7. Phil Pressey – The Celtics have had a fair share of undrafted/late second-round point guards during Danny Ainge’s tenure (Lester Hudson, Orien Greene), but Pressey stood out during his rookie campaign as a solid passer and defender. Part of it was being given the backup PG role all season, but if you close your eyes you can see Pressey as a longtime backup PG in this league. And the Celtics have him for two more nonguaranteed years.
8. Keith Bogans – A veteran who was upset at being kept on the bench, he was sent home midseason. So why is he high up on this list? His $5 million nonguaranteed deal. To make salaries match, he can be paired in a trade with someone like Brandon Bass or Jeff Green and be cut to offer salary relief for the receiving team. He could be the final part to a trade for Omer Asik or restricted free agent Gordon Hayward.
9. Kris Humphries (UFA) – Humphries will likely bolt in free agency to play for a contending team, but a shout out goes to a guy who seemed not only like a throw-in to the Brooklyn Nets trade, but also somebody who might not be a great fit in the locker room. That storyline was wrong, as Humphries consistently brought the energy of a guy who was hungry to prove critics wrong. Depending upon how quickly the Celtics plan to rebuild, he might be worth bringing back at a lesser salary.
10. Chris Johnson – The 23-year-old swingman was chucking up 3-pointers for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers when the Celtics signed him to a 10-day contract in January. His energy and sporadic bursts of offense helped him avoid DNPs, while his long-distance accuracy proved useful. Johnson is signed for three more nonguaranteed years, so he could be packaged in a trade to offer the same type of relief as Bogans.
11. Vitor Faverani – Do you realize that “Skinny Sinbad” started the season opener? And had a double-double in the home opener? There’s no doubt that Danny Ainge went through hoops to get the 25-year-old Brazilian on the roster, but he showed an inconsistent effort and poor defense before he was sidelined by injury. He will be paid $2 million a year for the next two years.
12. Chris Babb – Babb, by all accounts, provided a nice energy and spark to the Celtics’ practices. He got very little playing time, however, and he was one of those nonguaranteed deals that Johnson and Bogans have. If he’s not traded, he will have to earn his way onto the team in training camp.
13. Jerry Bayless (UFA) – Bayless provided that offensive spark that the Celtics have been missing since Nate Robinson was traded. While he was a better locker-room influence than Robinson, he also had the same inconsistency. And when the shots weren’t falling, he was a liability on the court. He will likely be playing elsewhere next season, but he did provide some excitement in his short stint here.
14. Joel Anthony – Why the Celtics picked up Anthony in return for Jordan Crawford (and some paltry second-round picks) remains a bit of a puzzler since Anthony will likely opt-into his contract next year and pick up a salary near $4 million. He only played 18 games, and at one point, you could argue the Celtics might’ve been trying to freeze him out so he didn’t want to play here next year, even if it meant giving up guaranteed money. But recent news reports indicate he’s returning.
15. Gerald Wallace – It was a rough off-court start for Wallace, who was M.I.A. in the offseason after being traded from Brooklyn. He then proceeded to chew out his teammates to the media on multiple occasions until he was told to shut his trap. He provided effort on every occasion, but he also provided signs that he’s a long way from his days as an All-Star. Two years, $20 million for the guy whose season was ended by injuries. Swallow hard Celtics’ fans. The first of three first-rounders from the Nets comes this season.