As the NBA extension deadline came and went the Celtics stood their ground and passed on offering contract extensions on center Tyler Zeller and forward Jared Sullinger, raising some interesting thoughts on possible plans for the C's big man situation in the coming months and years. Here are a few thoughts on why this lack of action from Boston’s front office might be a precursor for things to come:
Cap Flexibility for 2016
Danny Ainge has made it a priority to maintain salary cap flexibility since the end of the “Big-3” era and this move is no different. Ainge has left the Celtics in a state of stable cap freedom and by not extending Zeller and Sullinger he has taken the “risk” in the risk/reward department of not having to extend the two big men's contracts. The move or lack there of; leaves Boston firmly in the mix for the signing of a top free-agent in the summer of 2016 (Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah or Al Horford) as well as the possibility of raiding a team in a possible big ticket trade as well.
Not extending Zeller and Sullinger also creates a variety of options in the trade market. Boston will not only have the freedom to take on additional salary via trade but they have also enhanced the market for the two big men. Without the long term commitment, potential playoff contending suitors can evaluate both Zeller and Sullinger in the stretch run as well as giving the evaluating team a variety of options come the end of 2015-16. This in itself has made the players great options for teams who need proven frontcourt depth with great upside and financial flexibility at the end of the season.
As any Celtics diehard fan will tell you, these two players still have oodles of potential for growth.
Zeller has made great strides under coach Brad Stevens in the past year and looks to be a top level back-up center or even a viable starter if potential is reached. However, Zeller is turning 25 years old in January and time is running out on him being considered a “star caliber” player in anyone’s mind. Unless a new level can be reached by Zeller this season, Ainge has played the wait-and-see game to evaluate what the market value of the fourth-year veteran will become by season's end.
Sullinger on the other hand has been the definition of an enigmatic tease. Over the last three seasons, Celtics fans have been treated to some tantalizing play by the big man as well as some maddening displays that some might consider a lack of commitment. Sullinger has proven that his ceiling is nightly double-double potential, but if he is willing to work to be that player -- that can been a different conversation entirely. Ainge has thrown down the gauntlet by not extending Sullinger, the question is simple for the fourth-year vet, are you in or out?
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