January 16, 2019
Boston has signed decent players to decent deals despite not needing them all that much.

Using his Bird rights, the Boston Celtics have re-signed Jonas Jerebko to a two year, 10 million dollars deal. They have also reached an agreement with former Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson on a two year, $24 million deal. And finally, they have also agreed to re-sign wingman Jae Crowder for five years and $35 million. Free agency has only just started, yet they’ve been busy early.

The Jerebko deal looks like quite the bargain considering his production while playing for the Celtics. Conversely, the Crowder deal might be the steal of the free agency so far – or a slight overpayment. But we begin with the new guy.

Amir Johnson is a ten year veteran, but still only 28 years old. He brings high energy and a very solid game on both ends of the floor, but nothing spectacular. His 60% career true shooting percentage speaks to a player who operates within his comfort zone, which happens to be quite wide. He is versatile enough to defend three positions, although he is a prototypical power forward, the position he defends the most. Johnson’s energy-based game also shows in his rebounding, where he averages 9.1 per game for his career, more than a third of which are offensive rebounds.

One of Johnson’s strengths is in being able to play center in a small ball system, which is a position of need by the Celtics. But can he, and indeed all three of the players they have agreed deals with, help with one of the team’s more pressing needs?

From Behind The Arc

Johnson might have untapped potential as a stretch four, since he hit 41% from behind the arc last season. The sample was very small – only 46 shots – but the signs are good. Although with a very slow and flat-footed release, Johnson has been a good long two point shooter for a few years, and last year it appeared as though he was trying to extend that range.

Jerebko on the other other hand is a ”real” stretch four, who hit 40% from behind the arc while playing for the Celtics last season, after shooting 41.9% for the Detroit Pistons in 2013-14. He proved to be a really good fit in coach Brad Stevens’s system last season – Jerebko, Crowder and Johnson play all out all the time, something that Stevens really values.

Finally Crowder, who is more of wing player but plays the four in small ball situations, has proven to be the real prize in the Rajon Rondo deal. So much so that his apparant suitors in free agency this summer were Boston and the Dallas Mavericks, the same team that had traded him for Rondo, who was out of Dallas probably before the buzzer of the last game of the season.

Crowder’s deal is completely straight, no options, every cent guaranteed, which shows that the Celtics count on him for the long haul. He showed great progress in his half season in Boston, and ended up as a key player in the playoff series against Cleveland, a quite successful “LeBron-stopper” on defense and an efficient performer on offense. His ability to get to the free throw line in particular is something that few other Celtics players bring to the table.

If Crowder doesn’t improve his three point shooting, he might never be more than a really good sixth or seventh man. But if he can get his three point shooting percentage (31.6% for his career, 28.6% for Boston last year) behind the arc up in the late thirties, then we’re talking about an elite three-and-D player. Crowder and Johnson are not two strong three point threats as of right now, but they might be soon.

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A Cluster Of Power Forwards

Considering that the Celtics already have Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk (though he might be considered a stretch five rather than a forward), the draft rights to Jordan Mickey and the Bird rights to Brandon Bass, these signings seem to have some implications, unless GM Danny Ainge is trying to corner the market for slightly-below-average-level starting power forwards. The reasons for such might be as follows:

  • Jared Sullinger could be on his way out of Boston. Johnson would be a slight upgrade from Sullinger and Bass in most regards, but otherwise, someone there is redundant. And Sullinger should still have enough upside to make him an interesting trade object.
  • The Celtics are looking for star power, but might have assessed that they will not find that in free agency this summer. A typical Danny Ainge move is to add as much value as possible, and these three players are certainly valuable.
  • Both Jerebko’s and Johnson’s contracts reportedly have non-guaranteed second years, but that is still to be seen for sure. But if they are, they will both be super tradeable and give Ainge maximum flexibility next summer.
  • The Celtics are probably not even done on the free agent market, and both Johnson and Jerebko could be considered as assets.

Johnson, in theory, could still be acquired in a sign-and-trade using the trade exception created by the Rondo trade in December 2014. If so, his contract needs to be three years in length, perhaps with the last two years unguaranteed. The Rondo trade exception only has value if used, and at $12.9 million, Ainge would want to spend it on one player with as high a value as possible. He probably couldn’t find better than Johnson, since higher tier free agents would most likely get offers starting at $15 million or more. For this reason, if the Celtics and Raptors go down that route, Johnson’s acquisition might just be a case of obtaining as much quality as possible, rather than being the ideal piece for the team going forward. His presence does, however, clutter an already-crowded team.

Too Many Players On The Roster

When the free agency window opened, the Celtics had nine players on guaranteed contracts plus two more on unguaranteed contracts. Furthermore, they have two first round draftees and two second round draftees to sign. Now they have added three players to that cluster, which means that something’s gotta give.

The two second round draftees, Jordan Mickey and Marcus Thornton (not that Marcus Thornton), can be stashed until a roster spot opens, but that still leaves 16 players. And they still need a rim protector and a wing player who can create for himself and others.

Ainge is usually a patient man, and if the right deals don’t come along, then he is not one to rush things. The Celtics might go into the season with an unbalanced roster yet again, and with their assets intact or converted into other assets. There is so far very little reason to believe that they will have found their star player(s), or made any other long term commitments by then. That might have to wait until next year. Or the year after that. Or the year after that. Johnson, Jerebko and Crowder don’t necessarily do much to better the Celtics’s current limitations, other than by way of their value as future trade assets. And yet that might be enough.

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Torkil Bang

I'm a journalist from Denmark, so if I write something strange on my Twitter, it's probably in Danish.
I am the editor of NBAinfo.dk, a blog about the NBA in Danish.

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