The Celtics acquired Tyler Zeller from the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a salary dump that helped them sign Lebron James last summer. Zeller's overachievement as starting center helped the team make the playoffs but his contract expires at the end of the 2015-16 season. He’s extension eligible, however; along with fellow 2012 draft picks Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones, but the team only has until October 31 to come to terms with such a deal.

The necessity for Boston to get an extension done now became even more apparent in the wake of Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas signing a 4-year, $64-million contract extension on August 20. $16 million could be the new baseline for centers of even marginal talent, so would Boston be willing to buy into this new wave of big contracts in order to retain Zeller?

Chris Bernucca of Sheridan Hoops pondered that exact question as part of his analysis of what Valanciunas’ new deal means towards next summer’s monster free agency class hitting a crossroad with a predicted cap of $90-million. While marque centers up for new deals such as Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond will surely get their max money, even mid-level talents like Zeller, Meyers Leonard, and Festus Ezeli will need to be fiercely evaluated by the respective teams with much more serious money now on the table.

Bernucca went into full detail on Zeller’s situation with the Celtics in particular:

The Celtics could sign Zeller to a four-year, $40 million extension and take him off next summer’s market, avoiding a bidding war that could make them overpay to retain him. But if they do sign Zeller now, it will cost them $3.5 million in potential cap room – the difference between Zeller’s new salary and his current 2016 cap hold of $6.5 million.

All in all, this basically means that funds are so plentiful and demand is so fierce for any kind of talent that the Zellers of the world will cash in no matter what. For the Celtics, their cap situation gives them an advantage in that they may not even have to cross Valanciunas' new salary figures if they get the extension across before the deadline.

As stated before Boston needs to be careful about their salary commitments and consider whether Zeller is truly part of their plans before tossing that money his way.
Zeller and Valanciunas Credit: David Butler II/USA Today Sports

Zeller took over the starting center job in late November and averaged 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game on 55% shooting. His 833 points were third on the team while leading in rebounding and FG%. Most impressively, his 18.9 player efficiency rating was second to only Isaiah Thomas.

The more important question is where can Zeller go from here? At 25 years old he is still a more finesse-style center who isn't a high-level rim protector or rebounder; two things the Celtics brutally need to become a true contender.

Despite these shortcomings, the Celtics should absolutely sign Zeller to a 4 year deal at $10 million per like Bernucca stated may be possible. It will both alleviate the headache of trying to resign him as he heads into free agency and could make him an even more appealing asset should his game elevate once again.

An extension may take a minor hit to the C's cap flexibility, which they will need down the line in order to land a major player, but Zeller’s crucial production on an improbable playoff team is worth committing to. While his performance may have been a product of opportunity, that in no way undermines how impressive his growth was.

Zeller is by no means the center that the Celtics need, but he’s simply the best they have. With the booming price tag of centers, Zeller at $10 million would look like an absolute steal next to Valanviunas’ $16 million, especially since I think Zeller is a flat out better player.

Throwback to Zeller's finest moment in a Boston uniform:

Follow Bobby Manning on Twitter @RealBobManning

Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Bobby Manning 8/28/2015 08:00:00 AM Edit
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