Despite having 14 players with guaranteed roster spots (I include Delonte West — he’s going nowhere) and another with a partial guarantee (Von Wafer, $150,000), the Boston Celtics and Danny Ainge have repeatedly maintained that they would keep the roster’s best 15 players. Money be damned, they say they are going to field the best team their training camp roster could possibly yield.
Which brings me to my point: why have I, and everyone else, assumed that only the team’s 15th spot remains open for debate? If Ainge speaks the truth with his public decry of roster openmindedness, couldn’t at least one more spot be open?
I point you immediately in the direction of Luke Harangody. After a standout summer league showing, Harangody inked a deal guaranteed for two years. The signing was fine at the time; Harangody showed a little potential. He had learned to shoot three-pointers out of the blue, and his utter lack of athleticism and length haunted him little against the Patrick O’Bryants and Connor Atchleys of the NBA summer league universe. Just like he had been in college, summer league Harangody was his team’s most productive player on the court, just about every single night. He looked like a draft steal.
The problem was, in the words of someone else (I forget who it was), summer league play is good for one thing: pointing out scrubs. Summer league production doesn’t necessarily translate to NBA stardom, or even anywhere close to it. When Patrick O’Bryant and Connor Atchley become Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal, things become a little tougher. Now that we’re in preseason, Harangody’s flaws stand out. His newly minted jumper won’t fall. He can’t seem to create his own shot inside the arc, or really anywhere. He can’t score like he used to, and defense was never his forte. I find myself watching Harangody and wondering, “What on earth will he ever contribute to an NBA roster?”
At the other end of the spectrum lies Stephane Lasme. The UMass product entered preseason with nothing more than a training camp invite and a chance to make the C’s roster that was slimmer than Calista Flockhart’s pinky finger. A couple weeks later, Doc Rivers said Lasme has a great chance to make the regular season roster. How has Lasme progressed so quickly, so fast? With pogo stick athleticism and a knack for making positive things happen each time he steps onto a basketball court. Think Chris “Birdman” Anderson, except with black skin and without spiked hair, a “Free Bird” tattoo or a former coke habit.
There are a couple problems in Lasme’s bid for a roster spot, though. 1) He’s naturally a power forward. The Celtics need help on the wing, where Lasme has yet to show he can contribute. And 2) without a guaranteed contract (or, in Lasme’s case, any contract) cutting Lasme would be easy. The Celtics wouldn’t have to pay him a guaranteed dime if they let him go.
Which brings me to my plan. The Celtics need a wing more than anything else, but Lasme has been the fringe player who has been most impressive, most worthy of a roster spot. So here’s what Ainge should do, and if he’s serious about taking the best 15 players, here’s what he will do:
Keep one of the wings, either Mario West or Von Wafer. Neither has been at all impressive, but they fill a need. With Delonte West due to miss the season’s first ten games with a suspension, the Celtics need a player who can fill in as backup shooting guard. Marquis Daniels, the C’s only reserve small forward, is injury prone, so Boston could use a 15th man who could play spot minutes at small forward throughout the season, too. Both Wafer and West fit that description. Ainge should give Wafer the spot, earned by default. With the Rockets a couple years ago, he was a double-digit scoring threat every night. We at least know Wafer can contribute, even though he looks like the last bobsled run in Cool Runnings so far this preseason. Very shaky.
Next, cut Harangody. Throw his guaranteed money straight into the nearest garbage can. Granted, that’s a move that won’t be very popular with Wyc Grousbeck and the Celtics’ owners. Burning more than $1.26 million never is. But let’s think about things rationally and without money on the mind. Harangody has shown, oh, approximately nothing. Lasme looks like a keeper. So keep Wafer, keep Lasme, cut Harangody. Bing. Bang. Boom. The best team the Celtics can field, money be damned.
Of course, if I’m Wyc Grousbeck I keep Harangody around, cut Lasme and play Eeny Meeny Miney Mo between Wafer and Mario West. There’s no way I’d eat $1.26 million just to keep Stephane Lasme around. Sorry, Steph.