Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Monday that no players who hit the buyout market this weekend will make him immediately take action, but there is still a chance a move could come eventually. On Sunday, the NBA deadline passed for players to be waived and still be eligible to compete in this year’s playoffs if they sign with new teams.
“We’re still looking at it,” Ainge said. “We’re still looking at that situation and haven’t made any decisions. We like our guys right now and the likelihood is we’ll stay as we are. But we could sign anybody that’s in the G League or playing overseas. Or anyone who has already [been bought out] could still be available. So we’re going to take our time. There’s nobody that we for sure want to sign right now.”
The Celtics do not have any open roster spots, so they would need to waive a player in order to create one. But as long as they sign a player who was waived before Sunday’s deadline, he would be eligible for the postseason regardless of when he joined the Celtics. There are no such restrictions on G League or overseas players.
The Celtics bench has not provided much scoring punch recently, most recently adding just four points in Saturday’s loss to the Rockets. But Ainge pushed back against the notion that the Celtics need to upgrade that group just to get more points.
First of all, he said, the Celtics injuries have pushed bench players like Marcus Smart into starting roles. With Kemba Walker set to return Tuesday after missing five games due to knee soreness, Smart will go back and bolster the reserve corps. Also, center Robert Williams is now available after missing three months with a hip injury.
“Bench scoring overall I think is overrated,” Ainge said. “The question is, do you have enough scoring? And I think we’re the fourth- or fifth-rated scoring team in the NBA last I checked, and we haven’t had our team together. So when people start classifying bench scoring, no, team scoring is all that really matters. And we haven’t been able to start our five best players much all season because of injuries, so our bench has been weakened, so I’m confident that we have enough.”
Ainge said the Celtics have erred on the side of caution as Walker works his way back after dealing with knee soreness, and they are confident Walker will be at his usual All-Star level when he is needed most.
“We know we need Kemba at his best, so we’re taking it day by day through the rest of the season, but feel very upbeat about where he’s going to be,” Ainge said. “It really is amazing that we’ve been able to find ways to win. People talk about bench scoring — and, heck, who doesn’t want someone like Lou Williams coming off their bench? Or Manu Ginobili or Kevin McHale in their prime? But we’ve been winning a lot of games without our best scorer, without Kemba. So he’ll add a big boost and that moves everybody back to their more common roles.”
With Walker out, Jayson Tatum has soared to new heights. During February the All-Star averaged 30.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while making 49.4 percent of his shots overall and 48.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Walker and Tatum have already shown that they can coexist, and Walker has had no issue ceding the spotlight and the ball to Tatum in big moments. But Ainge said there is some concern that such a dominant stretch by one player can cause others to become stagnant.
“[Tatum] has been on a good run,” Ainge said. “The great runs are fun. It’s been fun watching his development. I always just worry how it’s going to affect the rest of the team, and how everybody else needs to stay aggressive and confident in their play as well. Sometimes there’s too much standing around. I thought we got caught up in it a little bit in that in the Houston game.
“I don’t worry about Jayson. We just worry about how other players feel. Is the team all becoming Jayson’s team? I think obviously we know that there are a lot of other guys that are really good.”
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The Celtics had a doctor speak to the team Monday about the coronavirus. “We’re treating it from our standpoint a lot like we would if a player got the flu, if somebody were to come down with it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “And he gave all the facts and all the data and the stats and how we treat it, how to avoid it and all that.” . . . Tatum and Smart missed Monday’s practice due to illness. Walker is on track to play against the Nets, but his minutes would be limited and he would be unlikely to play against the Cavaliers on Wednesday because it is a back-to-back set.