Friday, August 27, 2010
Who'll fill the final roster spot?
By Chris Forsberg
When free agency began July 1, the Celtics boasted a mere five players under contract for the 2010-11 season (one of whom planned to retire and another was set to undergo major knee surgery). It seemed almost impossible that the team could max out its roster before training camp arrived.
But in a dizzying offseason that has featured 10 signings, that's exactly what happened. And after inking second-round draft choice Luke Harnagody this month, Boston temporarily filled its roster with 15 players under contract for next season.
A space opened quickly when the team waived Rasheed Wallace, facilitating what will lead to his retirement from basketball. All of which leads to the biggest remaining question of Boston's offseason: Who will occupy that 15th roster spot?
We put that question to our panel of 18 writers from eight of our favorite Celtics blogs and got a diverse response about how Boston will proceed. The "slim pickings" (captain Paul Pierce's words) on the free-agent market left most of our experts suggesting a wait-and-see approach, while others are hopeful Danny Ainge can work some of his trade magic and land the type of shooter he covets, like Portland's Rudy Fernandez.
A handful of our experts believe the team will settle on Tony Gaffney, the University of Massachusetts product without any NBA game experience, while one panelist was willing to (re-)roll the dice with Delonte West and his off-court troubles.
2010-11 Celtics Summer Forecast: Final Roster Spot
Here's a snapshot of opinions from our panelists:
It's long been our opinion that the Celtics can benefit from heading into training camp next month with one open roster spot, promoting competition between Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette -- two players with non-guaranteed contracts -- and any other camp invites (a group that's already seen players like DeShawn Sims and Matt Janning seek greener pastures, in part due to limited available roster spots). From there, Boston could identify a player to sign heading into the season, or, if no player emerges as worthy of that final roster spot, the team could simply keep an open spot for when a desirable chip becomes available (somewhat risky considering Kendrick Perkins' injury and the lack of depth at the wing). Ultimately, I believe the team will make some sort of low-cost addition before the regular season, adding depth at the wing, but there's certainly no rush. Boston shouldn't worry about maxing out its roster after camp, as room can always be found to maneuver. Remember this team cut rookie Lester Hudson last year to create roster wiggle room, then ended up with a surplus of open locker stalls after what amounted to a 3-for-1 trade for Nate Robinson (it was actually a 3-for-2 deal with the Knicks, but rookie Marcus Landry spent nearly all his time with the Red Claws before being waived).
And the final Celtics roster spot goes to ... no one. It would behoove the Celtics to keep this roster spot open rather than fill it with a player who is not going to get any meaningful minutes. Danny Ainge has said publicly that the Celtics are looking to add one more shooter to the squad, but the Celtics' biggest weakness is on the defensive end. The Celtics have yet to replace Tony Allen with someone capable of matching up against the league's elite wings. This could come back to haunt Boston when it faces the Heat, Magic and Lakers. If I had to choose a player without orchestrating a trade, I would give the nod to Tony Gaffney -- a young kid who played solid defense in summer league against NBA rotation players like James Harden. With his athleticism, versatility and instincts, Gaffney has the potential to become an above-average wing defender (and/or Chris Andersen). The basketball logician in me says Gaffney, but the fan in me says Brian Scalabrine. A 15th roster spot is what it is, and the Celtics cannot go wrong with either.
Unless Danny Ainge can pull off a deal for Rudy Fernandez, I think this spot remains open for now. Larry Hughes would be a decent addition as well, but Ainge might opt to keep it open heading into the season.
It looks as though the roster as constituted is the one we'll see entering camp. There are not enough attractive free-agent options at this point for Danny Ainge to sign anyone else to a veteran's-minimum deal, unless the Celtics can assure themselves that Delonte West has his personal life in order. I see the C's entering camp with the 14 guys who have guaranteed deals, along with the likes of Oliver Lafayette, Tony Gaffney (both working with non-guaranteed deals for the 2010-11 season) and other camp invites. Leaving that 15th roster spot open should create some competition among these final three players. While I like Lafayette's game (he definitely has a future in the league), the C's already have Rajon Rondo, Nate Robinson and Avery Bradley as potential point guard options. Meanwhile, the Celtics have only two legitimate candidates at the small-forward spot in Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels, and given Daniels' injury history, it might be wise to add some extra support at that spot.
In a perfect world, the Celtics would pick up another wing to add insurance in case 1) anyone gets injured, 2) Marquis Daniels spends another year earning a spot in Doc Rivers' doghouse, or 3) Von Wafer snaps on Doc and goes all Latrell Sprewell. If the C's don't make an acquisition, though, I wouldn't be surprised to see Tony Gaffney occupy the final spot. The wing is where the Celtics are most thin, and while Gaffney isn't ideal (or anywhere close), he at least fits a need.
I may be going out on a limb by saying this, but I truly believe Danny Ainge will leave this spot open for possible acquisitions during the month of February. Right now, with what's left on the market, there really isn't anybody out there who can come in and make a huge impact. At best, I can see the spot being filled with Tony Gaffney or Oliver Lafayette, so that if someone good comes along they can easily buy out that player's contract.
How about Brian Scalabrine? Seriously, though, not Scal. Tony Gaffney would be my choice to fill out that roster spot as a backup for Marquis Daniels, who quickly fell out of favor with Doc Rivers last year while Tony Allen became the first option off the bench. Daniels needs to be able to play the swingman role that TA did such a good job with last season and be able to spell both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce if need be. Gaffney is a 6-foot-8 small forward who can play the 2 if need be, and I think he will develop into a Rashard Lewis-type player for the Celtics in the long run (without the 3-point numbers). That, plus he will have a built-in fan base growing up in the area and playing ball at UMass.
The 15th spot will remain unfilled despite the obvious need for a wing. With the pending lockout, I suspect there will be more contract buyouts than ever this season and a solid wing player will be available by the end of February.
Nobody fills out the roster, necessarily. Unless the C's are enamored with a free-agent prospect, the 15th roster spot might not be given to anyone just yet. Expect Danny Ainge to cut non-guaranteed hopefuls Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette at some point, while keeping an open spot to play with for a few months before he finalizes the postseason roster. This seems to be Danny's strategy over the past few years (see: P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, Michael Finley, Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore).
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.