So the Celtics are going to enter Friday’s game with the Utah Jazz missing two starters, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, as they try to edge the Toronto Raptors for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with 21 games left.
The buyout market has already been set, with players such as Allen Crabbe on the market and free agents such as J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford waiting for calls while the Celtics continue to endure myriad injuries and roster issues.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe he isn’t pressed to add a player from the buyout market and add depth. But something has to be done. The Celtics were able to respond Wednesday with a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers after Tuesday’s disastrous loss against the Brooklyn Nets.
In that Brooklyn game, however, coach Brad Stevens was forced to use a lineup filled with backups and rookies in overtime because Brown and Hayward were lost to injury, Jayson Tatum was home sick and Kemba Walker had reached his minutes limit.
That’s not to say Crawford, Smith or Crabbe would have won the Celtics the game, but they obviously need experience off the bench, and the Celtics are watching their competitors maneuver rosters to accommodate players who may help them win one or two games.
The Denver Nuggets just added Troy Daniels. The Los Angeles Lakers signed Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters. The Los Angeles Clippers added former BC standout Reggie Jackson. The Houston Rockets signed Jeff Green for the rest of the season.
Yet, the Celtics have figured there are no good players on the market who can help them this season. That’s debatable at best, and while there is no current roster spot open, the Celtics know who would have to go if they decided to add a veteran.
Overshadowed in that Brooklyn debacle was that backup center Vincent Poirier was inactive along with the ill Tatum. The Celtics opted to give Robert Williams minutes and decided they didn’t need Poirier.
And on the next night in Cleveland, Poirier was on the active roster but didn’t play. Roster decisions like these aren’t easy. The Memphis Grizzlies, chasing a playoff spot, had to cut promising forward Jordan Bell to make room for stretch 4 Anthony Tolliver.
The Lakers waived Daniels to make room for Waiters. They cut the popular DeMarcus Cousins from injury rehab to sign Morris. But the NBA is indeed a business and if the Celtics don’t see a future with Poirier or he hasn’t met expectations and there’s a player out there who could help, then it’s time to make a move.
Poirier hasn’t learned Stevens’s system or met expectations. The club has used undersized Grant Williams at center and his development has essentially made Poirier a cheerleader. And now that Robert Williams is back, the Celtics feel they have enough depth at center.
So they need shooting. The bench scored 4 points in the overtime loss to Houston. And while Semi Ojeleye delivered majorly in the win over Cleveland with a career-high 22 points, he can’t be relied upon to score that way consistently.
Stevens said Carsen Edwards may develop into that bench shooter the Celtics need but he didn’t play Wednesday against Cleveland and at this point, when he’s endured rookie ups and downs, it would be unrealistic to believe he could become that difference maker with the second unit.
The Celtics’ goal should be signing a player who can help win a game or two. Waiters is not going to win the Lakers a playoff series, but he could come off the bench and make a key bucket in the fourth quarter or be part of a second-period win that provides an insurmountable lead.
It seems Ainge is sometimes too picky when it comes to mid-season free agents. And if the Celtics don’t think Poirier can help them, he shouldn’t be on the roster, not when there’s so much at stake. Last season, the Toronto Raptors made a trade-deadline deal for an aging Marc Gasol, even though he had another year on his contract at $25 million. It meant giving up two rotation players (CJ Miles and Jonas Valanciunas) but the result was a championship.
There aren’t Gasol-type impact players on the free-agent market now, but if there is a Crabbe or another player who could win a game, make a big shot or even stretch a defense to make second-unit scoring easier, then you go for it. Every Celtic this season has served a purpose from one to 14. Poirier, who could perhaps improve with a full offseason of work, has been the only one without a role.
So if you’re the Celtics, and a trip to the Finals could be at stake, then make the move and deal with the consequences in the offseason. The bench has been an issue all season and it’s time Ainge tried to do something about it.
Marcus Smart was fined $35,000 for his post-game tirade directed at lead official John Goble following Tuesday’s game against the Nets. The good news for Smart and the Celtics is that he avoided suspension. The bad news is that he’s accrued more than $318,000 in fines during his six-year career.