Is Abdel Nader too good for the NBA D-League?
By the time the Celtics selected Abdel Nader with the 58th overall pick of the 60-player NBA draft, many Boston fans had mostly given up on the night. And getting a little-known forward who had been Iowa State’s third-leading scorer as a senior did not exactly rouse those who had begun to fade.
But Nader is accustomed to being overlooked. He was not a recognizable name or face in college basketball, he was not invited to the NBA Combine, and he was not listed on mock drafts.
All along, though, he knew there was one place where his draft position and lack of one shining moment would not matter.
“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life, and I feel very comfortable anytime I’m out there on the court,” Nader said in a telephone interview. “I was excited to play in summer league. It was a great opportunity and it was a blast. I prepared for it, and when you know you’re prepared, it brings a little extra swagger.”
On a summer roster that included nine players who had been drafted higher than him, Nader was something of a revelation for the Celtics. After averaging 10.3 minutes in three games in Utah, he seized a larger role in the more competitive Las Vegas summer league and thrived.
The forward scored 64 points over five games there, second only to No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown. His ability to slice through the lane was complemented by his smooth 3-point stroke: Over the last three summer league games, he drilled 8 of 14 attempts from long range.
By the end, Nader had gone from a somewhat anonymous draft pick to a kind of cult hero among Celtics fans, spawning nicknames such as “Naderade” and “Darth Nader.” He even noticed — and appreciated — how some fans were sending tweets to the Celtics, urging them to find a place for him on the regular-season roster.
“I just try to control what I can control,” Nader said. “I started off getting limited minutes, and my mind-set was just to control what I can. I took advantage of those and kind of forced the hand, and I go from there.”
The Celtics recently signed rookie point guard Demetrius Jackson, the 45th overall pick, to a four-year, $5.5 million deal that is fully guaranteed this season, and they signed No. 51 pick Ben Bentil to a three-year deal that is partially guaranteed this season. Nader outplayed both of them during the summer, albeit in a small sample size, prompting the question: But what about Nader?
The prevailing belief, particularly given the crowded Boston roster, was that Nader would be a “domestic draft-and-stash” player, meaning he would sign with Boston’s NBA Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. The Celtics currently have 18 players under contract for next season — Nader is not one of them — and that number must be pared to 15.
Last season, six second-round picks signed D-League deals as NBA draft-rights players, meaning their rights are still exclusively held by the team that drafted them even though they are under contract with D-League teams.
Often, teams and players reach a verbal agreement on this option, and several league sources said this was the case with the Celtics and Nader. But it is clear that Nader’s strong summer has given his camp at least some reluctance about taking the domestic draft-and-stash route.
“He’s an NBA player, that’s my belief,” said Nader’s agent, Cervando Tejeda. “Right now, we have to decide what the next move is.”
The Celtics could bring as many as 20 players to training camp, so Nader would seem to be a logical candidate to take that route and try to earn a spot on the roster more organically. But there is one hitch: If Nader came to camp, he would need to be signed by the Celtics in some capacity, and if he did not make the team, he would have to be released, meaning Boston would then lose its rights to him.
Since the odds of Nader making the final roster are long, that is certainly not a preferred option this season.
To retain a second-round pick’s rights, teams must extend a required tender by Sept. 10. That is typically a one-year, nonguaranteed contract offer for the rookie minimum salary. Many teams have good-faith agreements with second-round picks that the player will not accept the tender, because if it is accepted, it can force a team’s hand a bit.
In many cases, it would essentially lead a team to waive the player because there is not enough room on the roster, making him a free agent. But in the case of someone like Nader, a few strong weeks of summer league play hardly means that other teams would be clamoring to sign him to a multiyear deal. After all, 57 picks were made before Nader was drafted, and the Celtics were the team that ultimately believed in him and used a valuable draft pick on him.
“Boston gave Abdel an opportunity by drafting him, and it was a big opportunity,” Tejeda said. “They gave him a chance and have done good by him. It’s not that Abdel is averse to going to the D-League. It’s just tough because he had such a good summer.”
In the end, the most likely option is still that Nader will join the Red Claws. Whatever detours or delays he faces, however, he is hopeful that his path eventually leads him to Boston.
“I spent a lifetime preparing for this moment,” he said. “I believe in rising to the occasion.”