Boston Celtics: Fab Melo
Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the Mavericks have struck a training camp deal with Melo, who was traded from Boston to Memphis after his rookie season with the Celtics and then waived by the Grizzlies in August two weeks after they acquired him.
The Mavericks spent much of July chasing Greg Oden as a minimum-salary backup to new starting center Samuel Dalembert, but Oden opted to sign with the two-time champs from Miami instead. Yet the sudden availability of Melo gave Dallas an opportunity to roll the dice on the No. 22 overall pick from the 2012 NBA Draft, who wound up spending much of his rookie season in the D-League.
Melo averaged 9.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and a league-best 3.1 blocks in 26.2 minutes per game for the D-League's Maine Red Claws last season. The fact that the 7-footer from Brazil went unclaimed on waivers after Memphis let him go late last month, as a former first-round pick barely one year removed from the draft, nonetheless makes it clear that questions about Melo's on-court development and work ethic persist.
The Grizzlies took on Melo in an early August trade with Boston with no real intent to keep him. The payoff for Memphis was creating a trade exception by sending Donte Greene to the Celtics in the deal and receiving nearly $1.7 million in cash from Boston to cover Melo's $1.3 million salary in 2013-14.
Some will wonder why the Grizzlies, straddling the luxury tax line themselves, would do a trade in which they gave away a nonguaranteed contract, only to waive the guaranteed contract they got in return. For Memphis there is two incentives: a small trade exception generated and those cash considerations.
As Hoops World's Eric Pincus pointed out, the Grizzlies received $1.66 million in cash from Boston. That's more than enough to cover the cost of Melo's 2013-14 salary ($1.31 million). The Grizzlies must believe they will be able to stay below the tax line and this was a way to get a future asset and a little extra cash in exchange for a player that wasn't going to make their roster anyhow.
The lingering question for Boston is whether Green will stick around through training camp and get a chance to make the roster. Boston currently has 14 guaranteed contracts and, by releasing Green, would save $1 million and dip below the luxury tax line.
Despite being jettisoned by two teams, this isn't such a bad deal for Melo, who seemingly referenced that by Tweeting, "2 checks!" soon after his Memphis release. Indeed, if he goes unclaimed on waivers and signs with another team (whether in the NBA or overseas) this season, he'll essentially be paid by two teams (the money Boston sent Memphis, and his new squad).
The Fab Melo era is over (before it really even began). A handful of lingering thoughts after the Boston Celtics traded the second-year center to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday in exchange for the nonguaranteed contract of Donte Green:
* Fab Mania: Despite the painfully obvious fact that he wasn’t quite NBA ready, at least not on a veteran team, fans genuinely wanted a glimpse of Melo (even if it was just a trash-time celebration). After a few big D-League performances created some over-caffeinated buzz, including a ridiculous triple-double, the Celtics recalled Melo on Jan. 2, eliciting a new year hysteria (which ignored the fact that he had just concussed himself on a South Dakota door frame). It turned out he was just recalled to be examined by team doctors and never suited up. When Rajon Rondo hollered from across the locker room that night to inquire if Melo would be sitting with his teammates on the bench, Melo hollered back in his booming, accented voice, "If I fit!"
* C's rolled dice with Melo: This is not to absolve the Celtics from misfiring on Melo with the 22nd pick last year -- even if late-round picks can be a crapshoot at best -- but after the team watched Jared Sullinger plunge into their lap at No. 21, members of the front office felt like they could take a risk with the very next pick (one secured from Oklahoma City as part of the Jeff Green deal). Boston simply badly misjudged how raw Melo was and it became painfully obvious a year later at summer league that this was going to be a long-term process (and one that might never bear fruit). But when a team in transition and one thin of pure size at the center spot isn't willing to commit to you, it's a bit telling about what the team thinks of your development thus far.
Player: Fab Melo
2012-13 averages: (D-League stats) 9.8 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.1 bpg, 26.2 mpg, 51.5 FG%
2012-13 salary: $1.3 million
Teacher's notes: After landing NBA-ready Jared Sullinger at No. 21, the Celtics had the luxury of rolling the dice with Melo. Even when their depth was depleted up front this season, they made sure to keep him in the D-League and nurture his development. The Celtics were hoping Melo would be able to dominate the D-League with his size, but his rebounding numbers suggest he's still working on the fundamentals after a late immersion into the sport.
What's next?: Summer league will provide a nice gauge of just how much Melo has progressed. Unlike his cameos with the big-league team, he'll get extended floor time and a chance to compete with other young players. It seems likely that the 2013-14 season could be another development year if the Celtics remain committed to bringing him along slowly.
Player: D.J. White
2012-13 averages: 2.4 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 7.2 mpg, 52.2 FG%
2012-13 salary: $256,000
Teacher's notes: White had some serviceable years in Charlotte and Oklahoma City, but didn't get much of a chance with Boston. What he did get is a head start on a chance to compete for a job for next season and summer league will provide a chance to show what all that time on the practice court and in the weight room did for him. His most noteworthy moment of the season might have been intercepting Jordan Crawford as he barked at Carmelo Anthony following Boston's Game 5 win in New York.
What's next?: It's a big summer for the 26-year-old White, who won't just be auditioning for a spot with Boston, but also for the rest of the league if he can't stick here. With 14 of 15 players from last season under contract -- four nonguaranteed deals -- White faces long odds to stick, but can make a case this summer. His contract becomes guaranteed on Aug. 1, which means the Celtics can waive him with no costs before that point. They can also use his $1 million salary next season as part of any offseason moves, with the inheriting team able to cut him before that date at no cost as well. In that regards alone, he's a valuable asset (think Boston's creative sign-and-trade swap last year involving end-of-the-bench players that reeled in Courtney Lee).
Honor roll: Click HERE to read past report cards.
Don't agree with teacher? Just want to sound off on the 2012-13 season for Melo or White? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Having added NBA-tested frontcourt depth by signing D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph to 10-day contracts over the past 24 hours, the Celtics could afford to send Melo back to the D-League for much-needed game reps to help his development.
The Celtics formally announced the signing of Randolph on Friday morning. He will wear No. 42 and be available for Friday's visit from the Golden State Warriors. White officially signed on Thursday and is expected to make his debut Friday as well.
With Fab Melo as the bait, Celtics looking to add perimeter scoring. Wizards' Jordan Crawford available @ on their radar— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) February 21, 2013
A few thoughts on this potential swap, which makes a lot of sense for Boston to consider:
* CRAWFORD AVAILABLE: From Wednesday's Washington Post: "If the Wizards make a trade before the deadline, reserve shooting guard Jordan Crawford is the most likely candidate to be dealt but they might not get much in return. When asked what the Wizards could possibly get for Crawford, one rival Eastern Conference executive replied, “very little.” According to the league source with knowledge of the team’s plans, the Wizards have been making and fielding calls to possibly deal Crawford, who has fallen out of Coach Randy Wittman’s rotation and doesn’t appear to be a part of the franchise’s future plans."
* WILD CARD REPLACED: Celtics coach Doc Rivers lamented how the loss of Leandro Barbosa earlier this month took away Boston's "wild card," a guy with big scoring potential who could come off the bench and provide a much-needed spark. Crawford, so long as he's accepting of a bench role with somewhat inconsistent minutes, becomes Boston's new relief pitcher.
* LUXURY TAX IN FOCUS: If the Celtics were to bundle Barbosa and Fab Melo as part of a package for Crawford (see the trade HERE), it would save them roughly $1 million on the books and move them that much closer to dipping below the $70.3 million tax line (our inexact numbers have Boston hovering around $71.5 million committed so far this season). That could make the odds of adding more depth difficult -- for instance, Boston would have to be leery about extending Terrence Williams from a 10-day pact to a season-long deal, unless it could find another way to trim a bit of salary and get below that line. With stiff luxury tax repeater penalties looming, Boston could save a boatload of money down the road by getting below that line.
If the Celtics end up content to stand pat with their current core and are seeking roster upgrades for a stretch run, a potential Crawford deal makes a lot of sense and his 2013-14 salary ($2.2 million) isn't terribly prohibitive.
Much to the delight of the TD Garden faithful, Melo logged just under five minutes of fourth-quarter garbage time and, after missing on a wild hook shot minutes into his second career appearance, he came through with a reverse layup on the right side off of a feed from Avery Bradley.
"It felt good. It felt good to get the ball in," Melo said of his first career basket. "My teammates were trying to get me involved on the play, so it felt really good."
The Celtics have stressed patience with Melo's development ever since they selected him with the 22nd overall pick in last June's draft. He's spent most of the season playing with Boston's D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, where he's enjoyed some considerable success, and admitted after Thursday's win that he was suffering from some big-league jitters when he checked into the game.
"It was [nerve wracking]," said Melo. "When I just got in there it was really fast. I got the ball, tried to shoot really fast, and KG told me just to slow down and play [my] game. And that's the thing I need to get the experience in and I'll be good."
Sullinger left Wednesday's game against the Sacramento Kings after just four minutes when the spasms left him unable to stay on the floor. Brandon Bass would be the most likely candidate to rejoin the starting lineup in Sullinger's absence.
Concerns about Sullinger's back forced him to slide to Boston with the No. 21 pick in last year's draft. Celtics coach Doc Rivers downplayed his concern about Sullinger's back on Thursday.
"No, I’m not that concerned," said Rivers. "Could he miss games? Like I said [Wednesday], here and there he may. But it’s not anything career-threatening or anything like that."
The Celtics are expected to activate their other rookie first-round pick, Fab Melo, to add an available body. With two open roster spots and Rajon Rondo lost for the season with an ACL tear, there's an open active spot for Melo to occupy, even as he recovers from a quadriceps injury that led to his recall from the D-League earlier this week.
Melo remains behind veterans Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins on the frontcourt depth chart.
Melo had been with Boston for nearly two weeks after suffering a concussion while walking through a low-hanging doorway while on assignment with the Claws in South Dakota last month. With all the necessary tests passed, the Celtics immediately sent him back to Maine, which had back-to-back games scheduled starting Friday night.
"He needs to get back to playing," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He’s got to watch the doorways and all that kind of stuff, [but] he just needs to get back to play. I think it’s important for him. It was good having him around. You could see he was antsy and really wanted to get back to playing."
Melo, a 7-footer center and the 22nd overall pick in June's draft, has appeared in 12 contests for Maine this season, averaging 10.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. Melo put up some eyebrow-raising numbers before his freak off-court injury, but the Celtics remain committed to nurturing his development in the D-League, even with available active roster spots to carry him with the parent club.
[Update: Melo produced a winning layup with 1.2 seconds remaining in Maine's 102-100 triumph over Springfield on Friday night. He finished with six points, six rebounds, and two blocks in 29 minutes during his first game back from the concussion.]
"I’m going to go out here and see what I’m comfortable with," Wilcox said before Boston's afternoon session. "That’s not saying if I go out here, I’m going to play tomorrow. I want to go out here and see what I can do and what I feel comfortable with...
"I’m going to definitely get out there and get up and down with the team, just try to get some plays -- we put in a couple new plays -- run through that stuff and see how I am. Catching the ball, getting the feel of shooting a little bit, and we’ll go from there."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested Wilcox would be out as much as a month when initially detailing the injury in late December, which would suggest his projected return is still a ways out, even if he accelerated that time table.
"He’s ahead," said Rivers. "I don’t know what that means, because I don’t really know what the schedule was. But it’s funny, [team trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] told me yesterday that he’s ahead of schedule, and I said, ‘Well, I never knew what the schedule was.’ I guess that’s good news. That’s all I can tell you."
Wilcox sported a thick tape wrap around the injured thumb and wrist to stabilize it. His return to the practice floor alone added some much-needed depth up front for a Boston team cobbling its way through some injury woes.
Rivers said veteran center Jason Collins is battling minor hamstring and ankle ailments and the Celtics have tried to limit his game action while he heals. Collins has played a total of just nine minutes over the last three games, but a need for pure height pressed him into minor action against both the Hawks and Suns.
"Jason is still injured, so we’re still trying to get through this stretch without using him much," said Rivers.
Rookie Fab Melo, sidelined since late December after sustaining a concussion while hitting his head on a doorway while on assignment with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, was on the floor before Boston's practice on Thursday. But team officials said Melo has not been cleared for contact and remains unable to participate in team activities as he attempts to pass the league-mandated requirements to return from the head injury.
Once healthy, Melo will almost certainly be returned to the D-League in order to resume his development. He had a couple of breakout games before the accident in South Dakota forced him to push the pause button on his time with the Claws.
"What did you have, Manny being Manny?" said Rivers, referencing the often mindless antics of former Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez. "I think in five years, when Fab is playing terrific for us here, we’re going to have some Fab being Fab moments. He just got a head start."
Initially coy on the details of his head injury, Melo later divulged that he sustained the concussion while banging the top of his head on a middle-hanging metal door hinge that typically seals a double doorway at the team hotel in South Dakota. The 7-foot Melo, tabbed by Boston with the 22nd overall pick in June's draft, sheepishly admitted that he's often cognizant of low-hanging objects, but his awareness escaped him for a fleeting moment in Sioux Falls last week.
"I still have a little headache sometimes," said Melo. "I can't really focus on something for a long time. But that's it."
Melo's lore is growing and he has yet to play in a regular-season game for the Celtics.
Back at rookie orientation, Melo demolished a metal folding chair in a humorous moment preserved on YouTube. After a slow start up in Maine, he started to come on late last month, registering a monster triple-double that included a D-League record 14 blocks against Erie, then following it up with a 32-point, 9-rebound, 9-block effort against Idaho.
The only thing that could slow his development: a door hinge.
On the positive side, the mishap afforded him a brief stint back with the parent club. Melo was all smiles as he huddled with teammates inside the Celtics' locker room before Wednesday's game. He was expected to be examined by the team's medical staff during the game and was officially recalled Wednesday in order to see the training staff. He hopes to be back on the court with Maine later this week.
Melo at least seems to have a sense of humor. When Rajon Rondo shouted across the room asking if he'd be sitting on the bench tonight, Melo shouted back, "If there's room," then playfully noted how he sometimes takes up two chairs with his size.
Just Fab being Fab.
If you stand under 7feet don't ask me how I did it.— Fab Melo (@Fabpmelo) January 3, 2013
The move is likely procedural as Melo sustained a mild concussion and sat out Maine's last game on Monday. In order to be treated by the team's training staff, Melo must be formally recalled to the parent club.
In need of big-man depth after Chris Wilcox suffered a thumb injury last month, the team elected to sign Jarvis Varnado out of the D-League. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has said he doesn't want to stunt Melo's development by bringing him up too soon.
Melo, a 7-foot center tabbed with the 22nd pick in June's draft, has appeared in 12 games for the Red Claws this season and is averaging 10.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. Melo came on strong at the end of December, posting a triple-double against Erie with 15 points, 16 rebounds and a D-League record 14 blocks on Dec. 22. He followed that up with a 32-point, 9-rebound, 9-block effort against Idaho.
The Celtics recalled Melo in December to treat him for a quadriceps issue. He was quickly returned to Maine.
Update: Melo later confirmed the reason for his call-up via Twitter:
Getting called up to check on my concussion. I will probably be back with the #Redclaws this Friday.— Fab Melo (@Fabpmelo) January 2, 2013
Fab Melo has a mild concussion and is listed day-to-day— Kevin Thomas (@KevinThomasPPH) December 31, 2012
Hop HERE to check out Melo's D-League stats and game log.
Over his past two games with the Maine Red Claws, Melo is averaging 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.5 blocks per game, and suddenly there's a lot of attention on Boston's 22nd overall pick in June's draft. Melo's recent outburst included a 32-point, nine-rebound, nine-block outburst last time out in Idaho, which came after Melo posted a triple-double that included a D-League record 14 blocks.
"Well, we are excited about what Fab is doing, excited about the development that he’s made since the beginning of the season until now," Ainge said Thursday during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio WEEI. "Where he is, I don’t really want to disrupt his development right now. There aren’t a lot of minutes or opportunities for Fab right now on our squad. Our team is traveling so much and we don't have a lot of time to practice and so I think that, right where he’s at, where he’s playing his minutes, and he’s getting all that attention and producing, getting some confidence is a good place for him to be right now."
The 22-year-old Melo is still incredibly raw, and what's easy to forget now is that he struggled early on at the D-League level. When Celtics coach Doc Rivers announced on Sunday that Chris Wilcox would miss about a month with a thumb issue, he was asked whether Melo would be an option to add big-man depth.
"I haven’t talked to anyone that thinks he’s ready to come up yet," said Rivers. "There might be your answer."
Sure enough, mere hours later, the Celtics inked forward Jarvis Varnado from Sioux Falls of the D-League to add an extra big man for this road trip. Varnado is not the long-term solution; Melo might just be. But for young players, confidence is such a huge part of being able to compete at the next level, and the Celtics clearly see as much of a benefit in building that aspect of Melo's game as anything physically they'll install in Maine.
"Fab is a talented player, and I think that he’s just fitting in and learning our terminology; he’s coming from a different culture, Fab has gone through tough times in the preseason," Ainge said while detailing an emotional loss for Melo off the court. "Along with just the transition from college to the NBA, the language barrier -- I think there’s a lot of things that Fab has to overcome, and we’re just trying to be patient as we can with him and do his development, and just look at the big picture."
Fellow rookie and former Syracuse teammate Kris Joseph, whom the Celtics have assigned to the Red Claws and recalled numerous times already, was on the court for Melo's eye-opening night, which spoke to the potential the Celtics saw when they drafted Melo 22nd overall in June.
"That was great, man. I know that's what he's capable of," said Joseph, who was recalled to the parent club for Sunday's practice. "He had a few games like that where he blocked a lot of shots at Syracuse, so I knew that he was capable of it. It was just a matter of him getting the rhythm and getting it under his belt and being able to do it.
"I'm sure he knows he's 7 feet, but when you're 7 feet, you have such a great impact on the game, and I think that he really realized that yesterday. I've been telling him, 'Just effort.' All you need sometimes is effort when you're that big. Grab a rebound, offensive rebounds. You know, your height and your size will take you a long way, and with that extra effort, you'll be able to do great things."