- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The original plan for the Boston Celtics summer league squad was to leave third-year guard Phil Pressey at home in order to increase point guard reps for younger players like Marcus Smart and rookie Terry Rozier. But with a guarantee date looming on his contract and the Celtics' roster rapidly crowding, Pressey was a surprise late addition to the summer squad this week.
The 24-year-old Pressey, who joined the summer team for workouts on Friday, is well aware of his tenuous situation. After the league's moratorium lifts next week, Boston will have 14 guaranteed contracts for next season and face a tough decision on whether to keep Pressey, whose bargain $947,276 contract becomes guaranteed if not waived by July 15.
So rather than sit at home and wait to find out his fate, Pressey appears to be pressing the issue by muscling his way onto the Celtics' summer squad for a chance to give Boston -- and the rest of the NBA -- an on-court reminder of his abilities.
"I've been working on my game," said Pressey. "My minutes last year were kind of up and down. It's just an opportunity to play. Guys play in [summer league] all the time in their third year. It's just a good opportunity for me to showcase what I can do again and continue to play. For the past couple of months I've been really working on my game, and this is a good opportunity for me to kind of test some things out and play some 5-on-5. I love playing."
After drafting three guards last month, the Celtics have a logjam in their backcourt. Pressey, despite being maybe the team's purest ball-handler/playmaker, finds himself deep on a depth chart topped by Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Rozier (all with the likes of James Young and R.J. Hunter competing for minutes at shooting guard). Boston also has another ball-handler on the current roster in Evan Turner, which means the team must decide if it's worthwhile to carry Pressey for additional guard depth when his roster spot might be better utilized to carry a player at another position.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens offered high praise for Pressey despite his situation.
"I think we all feel this way -- we love Phil," said Stevens. "We all appreciate the way he works. We like what he does. We've watched him for two years. And to evaluate him on a five-day basis [at summer league] doesn't make sense [after] the two years we've been together. We know everything about him.
"We'll see how the next 10 days or whatever it is play themselves out, and we'll go from there. You have to be able to manage your roster appropriately, obviously, in all these decisions, but he is the kind of guy you want to have around here. So we'll see how it all plays out, but I'm a big Phil Pressey guy."
Stevens hinted that the Celtics will mix and match playing time at summer league. There's an ability to rest returning players like Smart and Pressey a bit more with Boston competing in both the Utah Jazz and Las Vegas summer leagues this year.
"We want everybody to get the most beneficial experience possible," said Stevens. "Obviously, most of these guys will probably dress and play almost every game, but we may decide to sit Smart once, and then play Terry and Phil together. Or play Phil for an extended 30-minute period and then sit him the next day. Those types of things. We've got a little bit of flexibility and playing in two summer leagues I think helps you do that a little bit."
Pressey seems to understand that, unless the Celtics make some additional roster moves later this summer, it could be tough for him to stick. But don't count him out. He survived last season despite perpetual roster turnover, including when Boston had to make tough decisions and cut loose end-of-the-roster players to create necessary space. Most observers simply assume both Pressey and Chris Babb -- another summer leaguer and nonguaranteed player from last year's roster -- will be cut (or potentially used as trade fodder) because of the roster crunch.
The Celtics can carry more than 15 players through the summer. The question is merely are they willing to let Pressey's contract become guaranteed and risk not having the room to carry him come October?
Pressey appeared in 50 games last season and averaged 3.5 points and 2.3 assists over 12 minutes per game. The undersized guard has proven to be a serviceable ball-handler who gives his team a spark when he's on the floor. He brings speed and solid decision-making on offense and tends to be a pest on the defensive end. The knock on Pressey has been his shooting. He connected on a mere 24.6 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and shot only 36.8 percent from the floor overall.
Pressey was asked if he's auditioning for Boston or the rest of the league at summer league.
"Everybody," said Pressey. "It doesn't matter who you are. Whether you're the first guy or 12th guy, you can be playing on the Celtics one year, and you can get traded midseason. It's just a good opportunity for me to continue to play. Like I said, I love playing. So whether it's right now, summer league, preseason, or regular season, it doesn't matter to me."
366dBrian Robb, Special to ESPNBoston.com