Faced with a bloated roster and the need to shed salary off their books, the Celtics decided Thursday to cut Shavlik Randolph, a rugged forward who became a fan favorite because of his rebounding and hustle.
The team had until Thursday to cut the 6-foot-10-inch Randolph, who joined the Celtics in February of last season after playing overseas in China, or else his $1.1 million contract would have been fully guaranteed for the 2013-14 season.
In 16 regular-season games with the Celtics last season, the 29-year-old Randolph averaged 4.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in 12.4 minutes.
But those numbers prorate to 17 rebounds per 48 minutes, good for the sixth-highest such output in the NBA last season.
“He earned every bit of that money he’s been getting,” said former Celtics guard Jason Terry, after Randolph grabbed a career-high-tying 13 rebounds in about 22 minutes in a 118-107 win over Atlanta on March 29.
At one point last season, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers even made Randolph the first big man off the bench to substitute for Kevin Garnett.
“Shav is playing unbelievable basketball,” Garnett said at the time. “I think he’s finding his little niche in here.”
Rivers went so far as to compare Randolph to boxer Jerry Quarry, who was known to lead with his face, after a game when Randolph was again hit in the face, causing nosebleeds.
Randolph stood to make relatively little compared with the $12 million Celtics forward Kris Humphries is owed next season.
But the Celtics were already loaded in the frontcourt, especially with Humphries, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and rookie 7-footer Kelly Olynyk all playing the same position as Randolph.
All told, the Celtics had 16 players on their roster, one more than the league allows for the regular season.
With Randolph gone, the Celtics have 15 signed players with a salary commitment of about $72.5 million.
That number is just above the $71.75 million tax line for the 2013-14 season.
Celtics’ ownership has shown a willingness to pay the luxury tax, but the team will no doubt try to get under the threshold for next season to avoid paying a penalty during what amounts to a rebuilding season.
“You don’t want to pay tax just to pay tax,” president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said last month.
Randolph had previously expected to be back with the Celtics.
“I’m pretty confident I’ll be here,” he told the Globe during Orlando Summer League in July.
Randolph was cut by the Washington Wizards during the final week of their training camp heading into last season.
Then he went overseas, where he was last playing for the Foshan Long Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. He averaged 34 points and 15 rebounds.
The Celtics, in need of bodies after injuries ravaged their roster, signed him to a 10-day contract, then another, then to a multiyear deal, though the final year wasn’t guaranteed.