The Boston Celtics have what coaches like to call a good problem: too many capable players. As training camp approaches, they have 18 players under contract, plus two camp invitees, and a pair of recent first-round picks are going to have to battle for a spot on the team. Shooting guards R.J. Hunter and James Young, who are on their rookie contracts, will be competing against John Holland and Ben Bentil for the 15th roster spot, according to the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach.
“I’m a competitor, so it’s just absolutely motivation for me,” Hunter said in a telephone interview. “I think it just adds an extra competitive spirit to training camp, which is a great way to get the year started.
“So I’d rather have it that way, because now I have no reason not to be on my toes on every possession and at every practice. So I’ll try to use it to my advantage.”
Here are the 14 players who appear to have roster spots locked up, with the caveat that there is reportedly an outside chance that Gerald Green could be released if he has a bad training camp:
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson
SG: Avery Bradley, Gerald Green
SF: Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown
PF: Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey
C: Al Horford, Tyler Zeller
Boston isn’t full of All-Stars, but it might be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. There is depth at every position, and, just like last year, there are a bunch of similarly skilled players on the bench who will be vying for minutes. They should be able to withstand injuries, and they should get better over the next few years as their young guys develop.
The issue is that Hunter and Young were supposed to be two of those guys. Most playoff teams have two or three players on their bench who are a part of their development program; the Celtics have Rozier, Jackson, Brown, Mickey, Hunter and Young, plus a few players stashed overseas. Oh, and Smart is still just 22 years old.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has been accumulating assets since the day that he traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. This has worked out extremely well — they have made the playoffs the last two seasons, and they convinced Horford to sign in free agency this summer. There is a hidden cost to this type of team-building, though — all those future picks eventually become players if you don’t trade them, and unless the NBA changes its rules, it is impossible for good teams to groom more than a few of them at the same time.
Hunter, 22, had great upside coming out of college as not just an excellent shooter, but a solid defender and, eventually, a playmaker. He struggled with inconsistent minutes as a rookie, though, and his biggest strength didn’t even shine through — he only made 30 percent of his 3-pointers. He is reportedly the favorite to remain on the roster.
Young, 21, is heading into his third season but has only appeared in 60 NBA games. He was only 18 years old when he was drafted, so he was seen as a long-term project. Still, Boston hoped to see more production from him at this point, and his relative lack of improvement as a defender is just as worrying as the fact that he is a career 25 percent 3-point shooter. However, he was lights-out in summer league in Utah and no one knows what he could do if given extended playing time.
No front-office person likes giving up on young players with potential. Ideally, Ainge can swing a trade so the Celtics don’t have to do that. He has been trying to package multiple players in exchange for proven talent for a long time, and it has become clear that those trades are not easy to make. If nothing changes in the next month, then Hunter and Young will be under a lot of pressure.
Courtesy: CBS Sports