WALTHAM — Rather obscure on the Celtics roster is a player who was considered a can’t-miss lottery pick following his freshman season at Baylor. He returned for his sophomore season and dropped to the bottom of the first round.
His draft late in the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 was considered another general manager Sam Presti coup, but it never quite worked out that way.
Perry Jones played in 143 games over three seasons for Oklahoma City, averaging at best 14.7 minutes and 4.3 points per game.
The Thunder traded the 6-foot-11-inch Jones to the Celtics for a conditional 2019 pick in a roster-clearing move in July. What’s more, the 2018 second-round pick the Celtics sent to Oklahoma City in return is protected from 31 to 55, meaning that if it falls in that range, the Celtics keep the pick.
So essentially, the Celtics get a fresh look at a player with considerable skills for a cash exchange. Nothing more. Jones has another opportunity to make an impression on a new team, a 24-year-old capable of playing multiple positions and adding to the team’s wealth of talented youngsters.
There is no guarantee Jones will make the roster. His situation will emerge as one of the more intriguing topics in training camp. Can coach Brad Stevens bring the best out of a player who has yet to show his best?
“One of the things about Perry, and this is for the short term and long term, which position will he play?” Stevens said. “But the biggest benefit is he’s a positionless player in a positionless league. And so to me, Perry needs to soar with the strengths at the position he’s at.”
The Celtics are loaded at power forward with Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, David Lee, Amir Johnson, and rookie Jordan Mickey. Jones’s best opportunity is likely at small forward, where Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, James Young, and Evan Turner return.
Jones realizes his long-term NBA future is in doubt. The league doesn’t hold the patience for younger prospects as it did in previous generations. Anthony Bennett was bought out. Dion Waiters was traded in his third season. Out of Jones’s 2012 first-round draft class, five players are already out of the NBA and 10 have been traded, including Jones and former Connecticut standout Jeremy Lamb.
Lamb spent three years next to Jones on the Thunder bench, waiting for an opportunity that never arrived. He is now with the Charlotte Hornets with the hopes, like Jones, of realizing his potential.
“There’s excitement, like last year when I had good games,” Jones said. “I’m ready to get back to that type of basketball with my new teammates. It’s going to be good, man. I’m excited about this year. I’m excited about my new teammates. I just want to match that intensity and effort on the court.”
Jones averaged 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds in his sophomore season at Baylor, and he displayed versatility at three positions with his size and athleticism. But scouts have said Jones’s issue isn’t physical, it’s his lack of confidence and passion. He needed those in Oklahoma City, which was competing for NBA titles during his three seasons there.
“I’m just happy to be in the league,” he said. “I can bring versatility, the skills that God gave me, and do my best to help the team get some wins.”
Jones said he and Lamb talk often about their quests to make an NBA impact. Not every first-round pick gets an opportunity to crack the rotation. Both were supposed to be a part of the Thunder’s future, but both are now gone.
“We’re like best friends now, we built a relationship over the last couple of years and I hope for the best for him and I’m sure he’s doing the same for me,” Jones said. “I’m going to keep [what we talked about over the years] between me and him, but we are in the same situation. Like I said, some things you can control. As long as you give a full effort, you won’t feel bad about anything. You’ve got to think positive the whole way and trust what you do is going to pay off.”
Every practice and exhibition game will be important in the evaluation of Jones. Stevens is quite familiar with recent college players because of his time at Baylor, and Jones is no different.
“The toughest part for Perry right now is coming into a new situation with a whole new team and a whole new system, and having to guard two positions,” Stevens said. “He’s more of a swing player who can play both [positions].
“He’s a great guy. I have had a chance to spend time with him and I really enjoy him. He’s a worker. He’s got a great way about him. He’s the kind of guy you want to have around.”