This season, the Celtics decided to recruit more seasoned players who were confident in their roles rather than holding a protracted audition process throughout training camp. Due to the bench players’ minor fluctuations in rotation minutes, which won’t have a significant playoff impact on a top-heavy squad, the fourth quarters became less exciting as a result. On Wednesday’s opening night, all eyes will be on Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, with any further contributions from the newcomers being a bonus.
However, this week before the Celtics play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, contract guarantees, extension deadlines, and roster management at the bottom of the depth chart loomed large. None was more pressing than Derrick White’s extension deadline, which passes at 11:59 EST tonight, after which Boston and White won’t be able to reach a long-term agreement until the completion of the league season in the summer of 2019. White will make $18.4 million in the first year of a two-year agreement with the Celtics, along with possible incentives, and $19.6 million the following year before becoming an unrestricted free agency in 2025. Barring a last-minute agreement on a day when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Onyeka Okongwu, and Cole Anthony signed rookie and veteran deals, it doesn’t seem like a deal will be completed.
No sense of urgency Despite White’s comfort, significance, and intent on remaining with the club long-term, two years from free agency always made a White contract a toss-up. He nearly seemed to be prepping the supporters for no deal when he said last week at practice that it didn’t represent his desire to continue with the club.
If a deal were made now, Boston would run the risk of adding four years to a two-year contract in terms of health, while White would profit from waiting until free agency or Boston’s maximum offer of four years and $123 million beginning at around $27.4 million in 2025–26. Next summer, that cap will still apply. In 2025, White will turn 31. When Jrue Holiday becomes available for an extension in April, Boston and Holiday are prepared to discuss a large deal considering that Holiday currently earns close to $40 million per year.
“I love it here. It’s been great being here, being a Celtic,” White said. “That’ll never change, whether I sign before the season or not. If it happens, great. If not, I’m still excited for the season.”
The non-guaranteed players Dalano Banton, Luke Kornet, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Lamar Stevens all seem secure after staying on the roster despite this weekend’s reduction of the majority of the league to 15 players on the regular roster. The Knicks unexpectedly released F/C Nathan Knight from his two-way deal with the Celtics, forcing them to release Jay Scrubb, who tore his ACL earlier this month. Scrubb, who has been seen at the facility this week, intends to rehab around the team and should still be eligible for two-way play in 2024–25. As he slowly adjusts to his new club, Knight has spent the previous two sessions stepping up with assistant Jermaine Buckner. In his eight preseason minutes with New York, he scored four points.
After the disappointment of being released by New York, Knight, a 26-year-old, 6-8 big man, shone against the Celtics with the Timberwolves in a 2021-22 Minnesota beatdown victory over Boston. He just dimly recalled the game, however. He said that he would comply with the Celtics’ requests to remain with the organization, which would mostly include playing the big man position in Maine. However, given his versatility to play the four like Al Horford next to the team’s bench bigs, he may be called up in an emergency. Neemias Queta, a fellow two-way big man who excelled in the preseason and is now expected to spend more time with Boston than Maine, is also being seen differently by the club as a result of his success.
“It feels great,” Queta told CLNS Media on Friday. “But that means it’s just the beginning of the work. I’m really happy to be around here and I’m really happy that it’s going well for now, but it’s a really, really, really long season and we’ve just gotta stay locked in. We know what we’re fighting for … keep building on these preseason wins.”
The Celtics will ultimately have to think about changing Queta’s two-way contract to a normal one if he improves on his individual preseason performance of 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game on 86.7% shooting. This would ensure both his playoff and long-term availability in Boston. However, there is no urgency since the Celtics do not suffer a cap charge or injury risk by playing him for the permitted 50 games that two-way players are permitted to play with their NBA clubs. The Celtics want to begin the season with 14 players and one available space on the normal roster, as they often do, so keeping him on the two-way also preserves the roster flexibility that was made possible by dismissing Wenyen Gabriel last week. The three two-way positions are now filled by Knight, Queta, and J.D. Davison.
Queta will also have to keep up with Kornet, a fan favorite who had trouble adjusting to new defensive alignments and a new group of second unit players during the preseason. Of his $2.4 million (guaranteed Jan. 10) salary, Kornet has earned $1.1 million heading into the season. Wednesday will see similar guarantees for Banton ($1M out of $2M) and Mykhailiuk ($1.2M out of $2.4M), while Stevens’ attendance at practice this week suggests he made the team after signing a training camp agreement last month. Stevens’ salary under a one-year minimum deal will be little over $2 million.
In especially from clubs like the Thunder with crowded rosters at the back end, roster cutbacks throughout the league didn’t attract as many players as they may have. When they reached 15 players, Oklahoma City pushed beyond Jack White by dealing Victor Oladipo and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl for the contract of Kevin Porter Jr., whom they later dismissed.
Given Boston’s front court depth concerns and Robinson-Earl’s departure from Houston, the Celtics may decide to move on from additional cuts like Taj Gibson, Keon Johnson, and Rudy Gay for the time being. As a second apron club, Boston is not permitted to sign buyout players later in the season. It is still worthwhile to hang onto that position due to the ability to execute one-for-two transactions or make use of the team’s Grant Williams trade exemption.
The squad continues to have faith in its backup wings and center position for the time being.
“(Training camp) was really competitive,” Kornet said on Monday. “A lot of competition, figuring things out and getting better playing with new guys. We have some great guys on our team and great guys to compete against.”