R.J. Hunter motivated by competition for last Celtics roster spot
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When the Celtics open training camp next month, the competition for the final roster spot will begin. As it stands, the team has 18 players under contract, not including a pair of camp invitees, and it will need to trim that to 15 before the start of the season.
Several league sources have indicated that second-year guard R.J. Hunter, third-year forward James Young, 27-year-old wing John Holland, and rookie forward Ben Bentil will compete for the last roster spot. Young and Hunter have guaranteed deals, Bentil has a partial guarantee, and Holland is nonguaranteed.
Although Hunter certainly appears to be the favorite to emerge from this group, it is unusual for a player who is just one year removed from being a first-round draft pick to find himself in a slightly precarious position. But that is what happens when a team amasses draft picks the way the Celtics have.
Nevertheless, the reality that this season is not promised to him is not lost on Hunter, the sweet-shooting guard whose shot simply was not that sweet during his uneven rookie season. So he has approached this summer with added urgency.
"I'm a competitor, so it's just absolutely motivation for me," Hunter said in a telephone interview. "I think it just adds an extra competitive spirit to training camp, which is a great way to get the year started.
"So I'd rather have it that way, because now I have no reason not to be on my toes on every possession and at every practice. So I'll try to use it to my advantage."
If Hunter and Young both explode during training camp and veteran wing Gerald Green struggles, it is possible — though quite unlikely — that both could make the team. Or, another roster spot could open through a trade.
No matter what happens around him, though, Hunter understands he has something to prove.
Last season he played 316 minutes over 36 regular-season games. He should be most valuable as a knockdown shooter — perhaps Boston's most pressing need — but he made just 19 of 63 3-pointers (30.2 percent). His numbers were actually slightly worse with the D-League's Maine Red Claws, as he made 16 of 54 3-pointers (29.6 percent).
"I was rushing sometimes," Hunter said. "Sometimes I wasn't comfortable with the shots and didn't know where my shots were coming from, but that's just being young and learning your niche."
Hunter remains quite confident in his shooting ability. At times last season he struggled with the game's pace, and understanding how critical it was for each movement to be condensed to its most efficient form. So he has spent much of this summer focused on footwork.
"College isn't scrub-level, but you can get away with mistakes sometimes," Hunter said. "In the NBA, you have to consistently be sharp with your footwork. And our system is made so if you do it right, it works.
"So if I take care of the tactical things and the details, that'll only just increase every movement I'm making on the defensive end.
"I know how the game goes now. I haven't been this ready for a season in a while."
Hunter has spent most of the offseason working out at home in Atlanta, and has had several sessions with Celtics teammates Al Horford, Jae Crowder, and Amir Johnson, and assistant coach Jay Larranaga. He also traveled to Chicago to train with assistant coach Brandon Bailey and rookie forward Abdel Nader.
Hunter has gravitated toward Horford, who became the jewel of the summer for Boston by signing a four-year, $113 million deal.
Although Hunter is actually more familiar with the Celtics' scheme than Horford is, he has been soaking up advice rather than sharing it.
"I'm not giving Al any pointers," Hunter said with a chuckle. "If anything, I'm just listening to everything he has to say. He's been really cool, especially with how successful he's been."
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The Celtics have signed former Georgia Tech standout Marcus Georges-Hunt to a training camp deal, according to a league source. The 6-foot-5-inch wing, an undrafted free agent, averaged 16.7 points per game for the Yellow Jackets as a senior last season.