Rookie forward Ben Bentil, who was waived this week after being taken by Boston with the 51st pick in June, will seek opportunities elsewhere, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge indicated Friday at practice.
Bentil had initially expressed his preference to stick with the Celtics organization, telling the Globe on Wednesday he was excited to continue playing alongside training camp teammates Damion Lee, Marcus Georges-Hunt, and Jalen Jones with the Maine Red Claws of the NBADL.
But with so many forwards on the Celtics’ roster, his chances of being called up this season were slim.
“I think that Ben will look for other opportunities,” Ainge said. “You know we’re just so loaded at that position with [Jalen Brown] and Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk and Al Horford. We have a lot of guys that play the 4 position. I think that he probably wants to look for somewhere that might have more of an opportunity.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens had nothing but well wishes for the former Providence standout, who averaged 3.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 12 minutes in two exhibition appearances for the Celtics.
“I think Ben’s going to be a really good player,” Stevens said Friday. “Ben worked really hard. I thought he improved quite a bit, especially on the defensive stuff with what we asked him to do. He’s a tough guy that has an NBA body that I think ultimately will be an NBA player. Our number situation is not ideal, and that’s part of having all these number of draft picks. And so it’s unfortunate because we really liked having him around. Certainly a tough call and a tough day for us to have to part ways.”
It’s a critical weekend for Ainge: Boston is down to 16 players on its roster sheet and must trim that number to 15 by Monday.
Two of the Celtics’ recent first-round draft picks, R.J. Hunter (2015) and James Young (2014), appear to be locked in a battle for that final spot, and Ainge said the decision will “probably go down to the wire, down to Monday is my guess.”
“We’re continuing to evaluate and look for opportunities out there, if there’s any deals to be had, which we’ve been looking for for a few months,” Ainge said. “So we knew that this situation would present itself or was the most likely scenario to happen when camp started. Both of those guys have played very well, and it’s made the decision very difficult.”
Hunter averaged 7 points per contest in the preseason, including three double-digit scoring performances. Young averaged 5.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Both Ainge and Stevens have said their belief that Young and Hunter are both NBA-caliber players has compounded the difficulty of the decision.
“I’ve been in this situation many times before, and I just think that sometimes the decision is made for me, it’s really easy,” Ainge said. “This year, it hasn’t been that way. It’s been very challenging . . . Both those guys have had some outstanding moments in practice, in training camp, and in games.”
The Cetlics signed 25-year-old forward Ryan Kelly, who averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in 36 game for the Lakers last season. He spent this year’s training camp with the Hawks before being released this week. According to a league source, Kelly likely will be released and become one of Boston’s four D-League affiliate players.
Smart on shelf
Team doctors tomorrow will evaluate Marcus Smart’s left ankle, which the third-year guard sprained in Wednesday’s final preseason game, a 121-96 loss to the visiting Knicks.
Ainge said there is no timetable on his return and Smart is undergoing rehabilitation.
Asked if Smart would be ready by next Wednesday’s season opener against the Nets, Ainge said, without much conviction, “There’s a chance.”
If Smart, who averaged 27.3 minutes per game last year, misses time for a small chunk at the beginning of the regular season, other players will have to step up.
“I think that our starters may need to play a couple minutes more,” Ainge said. “Maybe Gerald Green, Jalen Brown, Terry Rozier — all those guys will have to step in for him.”
Rozier looms as a prime option to at least temporarily fill Smart’s shoes. The second-year guard averaged 9.6 points and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 54 percent from the field, including 9 of 13 from 3-poit land in the preseason.
“He seems like he’s just not scared out there anymore,” forward Amir Johnson said Friday. “He’s taking his open shots. He’s knocking them down with confidence at the same time. He’s just playing with confidence.”
“I think Terry has been I think by far the biggest surprise of training camp, and I would say the entire summer,” Ainge said. “He’s really been the bright spot in summer league and then after summer league he’s just continued to improve even more, playing the same way he did in summer league against NBA teams and NBA players and NBA practices. Terry has been a very bright spot for us so far. I think he’s going to have a really good year this year.”
Prep for long run
After Friday’s practice, the Celtics had four days remaining before the 82-game regular-season slog commences.
Stevens stressed the importance of these final days in smoothing over the rough patches of his team’s play and gaining clarity on lineup rotations.
“Obviously we didn’t play well on Wednesday, but didn’t play a lot of guys,” he said. “But I think we have to get a lot better on both ends of the court. And if we don’t get better and keep improving throughout the course of the year then you’re not going to have a very good year.”
“We’re going have to have some good practices, we’re going to have to have guys step up and separate themselves,” he said. “I just think we need to be a lot better in what we’re trying to do on both ends of the floor.
“I don’t think there’s any one particular area, but I think that, again, obviously there’s some older guys here that have played pretty well and done some pretty good things together, and then we need a little bit more separation from our bench right now.”
Griffin Connolly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.