Shane Larkin seems ready for a second run in the NBA.
The 24-year old guard turned down a $6.3 million player option with Spanish team Saski Baskonia to sign a one-year deal with the Boston Celtics at the league minimum. This puts their active roster at 16 players, so somebody has to go before the regular season begins, meaning the recently signed Abdel Nader could be in danger of losing his spot before ever playing an NBA game.
Don’t act like Danny Ainge has done this before. While he opted to stash Nader and fellow 2016 draft picks Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, the team actually signed 51st overall pick Ben Bentil and then wound up cutting him at the end of training camp because they had to many bodies on the roster. Bentil wasn’t even given a real shot to make the team as he only saw the floor in three of the Celtics seven preseason games. He went on to spend last season playing in China, the D-League and appeared in three games for the Dallas Mavericks on a ten day contract which wasn’t renewed after it expired.
There is a lot to like about Nader. He was easily an afterthought after getting picked up by a deep Celtics team with the third to last pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. But Nader went on to turn some heads with the Maine Red Claws and wound up winning the G-League Rookie of the Year award after averaging 21.3 PPG and 6.2 RPG, leaving many hopeful about what he could bring to Boston down the road.
Nader does have a four-year deal that’s worth $6 million, but don’t let those crybaby NFL players make you think that he’ll wind up getting every penny. The contract does guarantee that he’ll get paid $1.2 million in the first season but there’s only $650,000 guaranteed in year two and nothing after that. This is essentially the same situation that Boston found themselves in with Bentil last season.
You have to figure that Larkin feels good about his chances to make this team seeing as he gave up so much just to have the opportunity. His track record during his first run in the NBA also wasn’t that terrible. He was the 18th overall pick in the 2013 draft and had very limited playing time as rookie with the Dallas Mavericks but Larkin averaged 6.2 PPG with an average of 24.5 minutes per game in year two with the New York Knicks. The 5’11” point guard seemed to take another step forward with the Brooklyn Nets in his third season by averaging 7.3 PPG despite averaging fewer minutes, but after that he decided to try his luck over in Spain.
While it seems like the now 24-year old guard will make the roster, cracking the rotation will be even tougher. But it’s a rotation that could have Nader at the very bottom.
Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart all averaged over 30 minutes per game last year and should likely do that same going forward while also having Gordon Hayward join “the core” as Avery Bradley departs for the Detroit Pistons. It’s also easy to assume that Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and 2017 third overall pick Jayson Tatum will have a regular role. After those eight guys, you’re starting to run low on minutes you can hand out and more established players such as Terry Rozier and the recently signed Aron Baynes could wind up rounding out a ten man rotation.
That leaves Nader in a group of six guys who will be fighting for five roster spots and he will likely wind up making the most sense to cut. Larkin – who was named Second Team All-Spanish league last season after averaging 13.1 PPG and 5.7 APG in his first year overseas – is the only one of them with NBA experience; the remaining five are rookies.
Yabusale and Zizic were both taken earlier in the draft as him and therefore have at least two fully guaranteed years on their contracts as all first round picks do. This leaves just Nader, 2017 37th overall pick Semi Ojeleye and 25-year old German Daniel Theis, who went undrafted in 2013 after declaring and won the 2017 German League Defensive Player of the Year award.
One of those three players will need to be cut at the end of the preseason unless Ainge makes a trade that opens up a roster spot. No matter what happens, all three of them should wind up having almost no impact for the Celtics unless the team gets destroyed by injuries. A team can only dress 13 of their 15 men for a game anyway and the two guys that survive the cuts will likely be healthy scratches while also making plenty of trips to Maine.
Some people might have grown fond of Nader last season when he put up solid numbers for the Red Claws, but what’s the point of having him play a second season there? He was the third to last pick in his draft and will be 24-years old this fall. R.J. Hunter was a younger first round pick and wound up bumming around the D-League after the Celtics cut him last camp, and there’s a chance that he doesn’t get picked up at all either with no NBA experience.
So why keep dragging him along for a ride?