The Boston Celtics begin their 2015-16 season exactly one week from now. Given the state of the roster, it doesn’t exactly feel like it.
Boston is a deep, young squad that lacks a bona fide star but boasts plenty of players with high upside. That bodes well for the future but also creates quite the conundrum in the present for head coach Brad Stevens, who must sift through a crowded lineup to find the combinations that give his team the best chance to win.
The Celtics — who waived three practice-squad players Tuesday to bring the roster down to 17 — must whittle that number down to 15 before their Oct. 28 opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, and Stevens has expressed his desire to use a 10-man rotation this season.
That means several players will be on the outside looking in. But who? Let’s break it down by position group and project where everyone stands to date.
Rotation players: David Lee, Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk
Non-rotation players: Jared Sullinger, Jordan Mickey
Stevens has admitted he wants his 10-man rotation to consist of four big men. As of now, Sullinger doesn’t look like one of them.
Johnson has impressed so far this preseason and both Lee and Zeller have seen significant minutes, suggesting some combination of the three should start in Boston’s frontcourt. Olynyk has outplayed Sullinger to this point, meaning he’s the most likely candidate for that fourth spot.
Sullinger will need to make big strides quickly if he wants to earn meaningful minutes this season. Mickey has shown promise, but he’s still a rookie and likely won’t play a heavy role in the crowded frontcourt.
Rotation players: Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko
Non-rotation players: Perry Jones
At the moment, Crowder projects to be in Boston’s starting five. He won’t score a ton of points, but his defensive prowess is a valuable commodity, as he’ll likely be tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Jerebko is a solid shooter who can provide a spark off the bench, which slots him into the back end of the Celtics’ rotation. Jones is one of a handful of players in danger of not making the 15-man roster and will need to impress Stevens and Co. over the next week if he wants to stay in Boston.
Rotation players: Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner
Non-rotation players: R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier, James Young
It’s a full house in the Celtics’ backcourt. Smart and Bradley are the projected starters, with Thomas coming off the bench as a sixth man (whether he likes it or not) and Turner also seeing regular minutes.
Boston’s two first-round draft picks — Hunter and Rozier — could force their way into the rotation, as Hunter has done a little bit of everything this preseason and Rozier dazzled the TD Garden crowd Monday night. Still, we’d expect Stevens to ease the rookies into their minutes given the logjam that’s in front of them.
BATTLE FOR 15TH MAN
Potential cut candidates: Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger, James Young, Jordan Mickey
The Celtics have to drop one player before Oct. 28, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has quite the decision to make.
Jones appears to be the front-runner to get the ax, as he’s played sparingly this preseason. If he truly is the fifth man in a four-man frontcourt, though, Sullinger could find himself on the outside looking in. Young showed improvement Monday night but still has a long line of guards ahead of him.
It seems unlikely the Celtics would part ways with Mickey after drafting him this spring, but we’re not putting anything past Ainge. In that vein, there’s also the possibility that “Trader Danny” pulls off some crazy two-for-one trade before opening night to get the roster down to 15.
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