I think we can all agree the Celtics won’t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’s pieces in a series we’ll call Asset Management. Next up: Jared Sullinger.
Sullinger’s No. 1 goal this summer was to work himself into better shape, an objective both Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens publicly supported, and then he showed up to training camp looking an awful lot like the guy who finished last season in need of improved conditioning.
“I’m not where I want to be, but really, really close,” said Sullinger. “Getting up and down in practice has really been helpful. Especially because of the pace that we’re playing, there’s no choice but for me to get in shape.
“So, as long as practices stay like this — and with the competition we have with Brandon [Bass] and Tyler [Zeller] and Erik Murphy and Dwight [Powell] and Kelly [Olynyk] — you have no choice but to play as hard as you can.”
That competition could further cut into his minutes, especially since Stevens has adopted the annual league-wide preseason mantra of pushing the pace and has other frontcourt contributors on the roster more suited to do so. After Wednesday’s practice, Stevens said of Olynyk, “I think our best bet is to make him a big part of what we’re doing,” and then added of Zeller, “He runs hard to the rim. … I think we’ll see a lot of that this year” — both of which could mean more time on the bench for Sullinger this season.
An argument could be made Sullinger was the C’s most productive player during his time on the floor last year, averaging 17.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, and yet his playing time hovered around 25 minutes per game for much of the winter. It’s hard to imagine his conditioning wasn’t a contributing factor.
With the possible exception of Zeller, Sullinger remains their best interior scoring option, but the undersized big man attempted nearly a quarter of his shots last season from beyond the 3-point line despite almost two-thirds of his successful field goals coming within 8 feet of the basket. Both Ainge and Stevens encouraged him to continue shooting 3-pointers and Sullinger cited nagging hand injuries as the reason for his 26.9 percent shooting from distance — the third-worst among those who attempted 200 triples in 2013-14 (only Michael Carter-Williams and Josh Smith were worse) — but it’s becoming increasingly evident that he’s a player without a discernible NBA role.
“Positions don’t really matter in this crazy media craze that y’all try to put a position on me, so it really doesn’t matter to me,” countered the 22-year-old Sullinger. “Whatever helps the team win, that’s my main goal.”
That’s an admirable approach, but for a Celtics squad not expected to win a whole lot of games, it’s not as practical as Ainge might like. Sullinger’s name arose on Boston’s side in just about every Kevin Love trade scenario, and there’s little doubt the Celtics would part ways with him for the right player, but he’s not nearly the trade bait a more traditional big like Al Jefferson was in 2007. Sullinger still has value, particularly with another year left on his rookie contract, but he hasn’t proven to be quite the big fish the C’s had hoped for when he fell to them at No. 21 in 2012.
Asset Rating: B-
This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.
Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Kelly Olynyk’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Marcus Smart’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Avery Bradley’s Celtics future