It was clear during the Celtics’ narrow loss to the Lakers on Sunday that the team has a glaring weakness capable of sinking any pretensions it might have toward contending in the Eastern Conference: the bench.
Boston’s bench was led by rookie Romeo Langford, who scored five points and played 15 minutes. Brad Wanamaker played 18 minutes and scored two points. Grant Williams tallied four points in 13 minutes. And that was it.
Eleven total points on 3-for-11 shooting, with five turnovers. The Lakers bench? A total of 43 points on 16-for-31 shooting.
The Celtics could address this problem. There are buyout candidates available who would immediately give their bench an offensive focal point and while the reserve unit is going to be limited by the fact that is mostly comprised of very young players (five rookies) and those with a defense-first mindset (Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye), signing a veteran would surely boost the team’s 28.1 points per game off the bench, which ranks 28th in the NBA.
That includes two players who are very familiar to Celtics fans: Evan Turner, who was a bench stalwart for Boston in the team’s surprising 48-win 2015-16 season, and Isaiah Thomas, a two-time All-Star with the Celtics during his three seasons in Boston.
Thomas was bought out by the Clippers upon being traded from Washington earlier this month. He has said he would welcome a return to Boston.
Turner is still a member of the Timberwolves, trying to determine what’s next. Turner worked out for the Clippers last week, before L.A. signed Reggie Jackson from the Pistons. Turner is still weighing the prospect of a buyout from Minnesota, according to a source, and would also welcome a return to the Celtics.
Keeping the Young Players a Priority
But Boston general manager Danny Ainge has been reluctant to make a move on any of the players on the bottom of the roster. The Celtics like the group of rookies they’ve brought in and, with major long-term contracts either signed or looming for Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston needs to develop young, cheap talent.
That’s what it’s doing with Langford, a rookie who has struggled with injuries but has been coming into his own in the last month or so, especially as a defender. Williams, too, is a rookie who has impressed with his heady all-around game, able to man multiple positions in the frontcourt despite standing only 6-6.
The team similarly likes the offensive potential of second-round pick Carsen Edwards, who had an 18-point game back in November. The Celtics also have three players pulled off the international scrap heap, Wanamaker, Vincent Poirier and Javonte Green. Wanamaker has become part of the rotation and won’t be going anywhere.
Is Cutting Javonte Green the Answer?
Green, though, has appeared sporadically in 41 games. Poirier has been even more sporadic in his appearances, playing 5.8 minutes in 19 games. Maybe the Celtics would like to see what those two can do in the future but both are 26 years old—these are not high-ceiling developmental projects.
Cutting Poirier might make more sense, especially with a crowd at the center position when Robert Williams comes back. But he is signed for $2.5 million this year and next, and the Celtics would be responsible for that money. Green’s contract, though, is not guaranteed for next season.
That’s what the Celtics must consider. Is keeping Green/Poirier for their long-term value worth short-circuiting the potential of the team this season, when adding a veteran for the bench could help the Celtics fix what was so obvious a problem in Los Angeles?
We’ve heard from the players themselves that they feel they can contend with this group. If that means the starting five plus Smart, then yes, that is probably true. But the bench is an anchor weighing down the potential of this team. Only the buyout market can fix that.