LAS VEGAS — The Celtics will play in the summer league championship on Tuesday night, culminating a successful session in terms of clarifying roster issues.
With the acquisition of Dennis Schröder and the emergence of former second-round pick Yam Madar, the Celtics backcourt is suddenly getting crowded and roster spots are not necessarily guaranteed for players such as Carsen Edwards, who has played well during the first four games.
The Celtics roster is at 15 — with two-way guard Sam Hauser at the 16th — if all of the acquired players, such as Bruno Fernando and Kris Dunn, are on the roster opening night. That’s the situation if the Celtics don’t make another roster move and allow Madar to stay overseas.
Madar could make one final impression in the final game but he’s uncertain after missing Saturday’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers with a groin issue.
Dunn has been often injured throughout his career and it’s uncertain whether the Celtics need him as a third point guard. Marcus Smart and Schröder will share point guard duties and Dunn would serve as a capable reserve if healthy.
Dunn has an expiring $5 million contract and it’s unlikely the Celtics would choose to just eat that money and waive Dunn. If they don’t have any interest in keeping him, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens would seek a trade partner.
The Celtics also have to find more of a role for second-year guard Payton Pritchard, who dropped 92 points in a Portland pro-am game on Saturday. The club has been trying to get Pritchard more work at point guard but he’ll definitely have a role after a strong rookie season.
So many names in the backcourt make players such as Edwards expendable. Edwards is in the final year of a three-year deal he signed as a second-round pick and he’s set to earn just $1.7 million this season, a salary the Celtics would not have much of an issue eating.
Celtics summer league coach Joe Mazzulla has tried tutoring Edwards in playing point guard and shooting guard. The Celtics could have used shooting off the bench but Edwards has been unable to consistently hit shots during his first two years, so he’s been relegated to the bench.
It’s unlikely the Celtics keep Dunn and Edwards on the roster. And if they feel strongly that the 20-year-old Madar could contribute, both could be gone.
The Celtics’ frontcourt is crowded with the additions of Al Horford and Enes Kanter, which leaves the team with an issue when it comes to Fernando, the bull of a big man who turned 23 on Sunday. He’s a ferocious rebounder, picking off 11 boards in 16 minutes Saturday.
Young, hungry rebounders cannot be dismissed. In his first two years with Atlanta, Fernando, who left Maryland after his sophomore season, did not get much of an opportunity. But his type of skill set —rebounding, aggression and hustle — are not to be dismissed. He may not play much but Fernando deserves a roster spot.
The good news for the Celtics is the players they wanted to flourish with the summer opportunity have done just that. Pritchard looks like he’s taking the next step. Aaron Nesmith has been knocking down jumpers and looks more comfortable offensively while Romeo Langford is staying healthy and showing he’s one of the best players on the floor among summer league competition.
“Regardless if its summer league or a regular game, he’s going to be in the right spot,” Mazzulla said of Langford. “He’s going to be a physical defender on and off the ball. It’s just something he has to continue to work on. If they want to get to where they want to go, they’re going to have to get through the mental and physical fatigue. The guys have responded to that very well.”
It’s not all that critical for the Celtics to win the summer league title, but for the club to put themselves in this position without a first-round pick from this year’s draft — that was traded to Oklahoma City in the Kemba Walker deal — is impressive. That means the players they wanted to take advantage of this opportunity have, including Hauser, who has shot 45.5 percent from the 3-point line.
The Celtics have not been useful with their two-way contracts over the past two years, with Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall never gaining enough traction to make an impact on the roster. Hauser could be different and the Celtics are also monitoring the rest of summer league for that second two-way contract to solidify the end of the roster.
The one weakness for the Celtics for the past few years is a weak bench that was too young to consistently contribute. The club could use another veteran shooter and there are capable free agents remaining who will be forced to take the league minimum.
But Stevens and coach Ime Udoka will have some roster decisions to make over the next several weeks. The good news is the players who needed to make a positive impact this summer have done precisely that, making the decisions even more intriguing.