The Celtics waived Jabari Parker on Friday to open up a roster spot and allow president of basketball operations Brad Stevens more options to improve the team.
The open spot means Stevens can sign a player to a 10-day contract or for the rest of the season without the hardship constraint. Early in his tenure, Stevens has shown a combination of patience and urgency with the roster — evidenced by his trade of Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Moses Brown and Al Horford a week after taking over as president of basketball operations.
This time, Stevens needs to show some urgency.
Coach Ime Udoka admitted following Thursday night’s painful 108-105 loss to the Knicks that the team lacked consistent shooters. And he’s right. All the Celtics primary players — besides Josh Richardson and Grant Williams — are below their career average in long-range shooting.
To facilitate matters for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics desperately need outside shooting. They have to prepare for fourth-quarter situations where opposing defenses are going to blitz Tatum and Brown and the Celtics have to stretch the floor with shooters and scorers.
Stevens has signed five players to hardship 10-day contracts but none of the five have been given a chance to make an impact. Justin Jackson and CJ Miles barely played before entering the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol and weren’t re-signed. Joe Johnson got some brief moment of glory in his first game but didn’t play and was allowed to leave. Al-Farouq Aminu and Norvel Pelle didn’t play at all.
The 10-day contract can be used as a real asset for teams such as the Celtics. The Indiana Pacers struck gold by adding journeyman Lance Stephenson and are expected to sign him for the remainder of the season. The Lakers are re-signing Stanley Johnson after he made a positive impression during his first 10-day stint.
The move to waive Parker was not unexpected because he wasn’t playing and didn’t add a skill set the Celtics truly needed. But the Celtics don’t need to wait to make use of the spot. Taking the 10-day route for another more useful player would be an astute move.
Isaiah Thomas is out there and available. Thomas returning to the Celtics has been a simmering topic since Danny Ainge traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2017. Thomas was a fan favorite and for a team that’s becoming more unlikeable, bringing Thomas back on a 10-day would be a popular move.
Also, guard Marcus Smart said last month he had lobbied for the Celtics to sign Thomas after his Team USA experience. Thomas eventually signed with the Lakers, where he scored 32 points and made five 3-pointers in his first two games before scoring 5 points on 2-for-16 shooting in his final two games.
The Lakers went 0-4 in his four appearances and they decided not to bring him back, opting for more defense in Johnson. Thomas signed with the Dallas Mavericks a day later, but then was placed into COVID-19 protocol after scoring 6 points in 13 minutes in his debut.
A 10-day contract wouldn’t be much of a commitment and if it doesn’t work out, the Celtics can just move forward. Stevens had enough guts to bring Johnson back, make some headlines and then let him go after his contract expired, even though he was a favorite of the younger players on the team who recalled his All-Star career.
Would there be a level of public relations in the Thomas move? Yes. But the Celtics are becoming more unlikeable with every blown 20-point lead and fizzled fourth quarter. Thomas would immediately make the Celtics more watchable again. And let’s be honest. If the Celtics carried Tacko Fall on their roster for two years — partially because he was so popular in New England — the Celtics can afford to bring Thomas back on a 10-day.
Of course, there are other options. The Celtics would search the G-League or free agency for shooters, a player who is immediately ready to come in and play. They added former Virginia player Sam Hauser, considered a premium 3-point shooter, to a two-way contract, but he doesn’t seem ready for any expansive role.
And while the win over the Knicks was much needed and a temporary salve for their recent woes, the Celtics need a roster boost. Udoka said the team has to rely on players to outperform their season shooting numbers to be successful.
Dennis Schröder has had his moments as a Celtic, but after a strong start, he appears to make just as many head-scratching plays as positive plays. Smart should be on the floor down the stretch, but the Celtics are in trouble if they’re depending on him to consistently knock down open threes or even stretch the floor.
The Celtics need another shooter, another big-game type of player. Stevens could try to catch lightning in a bottle by signing Thomas in a low-risk move.
The worst option is standing pat and hoping that players who haven’t performed in certain critical situations eventually do. The Celtics are who they are at this point: a talented team with some considerable weaknesses.
If Stevens can patch up holes with an immediate move, make a calculated risk like other teams have done in recent weeks, then they should act now.