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If the Boston Celtics' final roster spot were earned by name alone, Abdel Nader wouldn't stand a chance.

He may not anyway, given he's had some of the worst play of an unremarkable season at exactly the worst possible time to stick with the club. But it may not be in Boston's interest to reward that hard work with another season - or even another week.

Normally - hell, in almost any other scenario - this would hardly be worth a tweet, never mind an article. But this season has been about as far from "normal" for the Celtics as any in my lifetime. Wracked with injuries and dependent on two-way players currently unable to participate in postseason play under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, Boston needs to make some hard decisions on who will be suiting up next week.

While it's true playoff rotations shrink in the postseason to nine or ten players, with four of five men out injured until at least the Conference Semifinals, the rotation could not get much shorter (playoff rosters must have a minimum of 12 active players), and with so many high-usage players among the injured (only Guerschon Yabusele normally plays less than double-digit minutes per game when healthy), it's quite possible even the 15th roster-slot-holder will see some floor time.
Abdel has not been as terrible as it might seem - he defends well, and can usually stay ahead of his man - but he's been turning the ball over as much as the point guards without the excuse of ball-handing, and has an offensive rating worse than every player on the team with significant minutes. Of course, it's hard to have a good offensive rating when you are the worst or near it at producing offense in almost every metric available for measuring it on the team, and there aren't many good excuses why he's so bad on that end of the floor. Worse, unlike, say, Marcus Smart, his defensive chops aren't nearly sound enough to make up for that.

For much of the season, it seemed Nader was safe, even with these warts. Now, however, the depth that sheltered Abdel has evaporated, and while the pressure may be off, in Boston, the stakes are still high, and a first-round exit likely would be seen as a failure even in the current state of affairs. The question then becomes 1) are there reasons to keep him under contract? and 2) Is there a compelling argument for someone else to take his spot?

Let me say I am not among the Nader-haters. I admire the focus and determination he's had to get to this point, and believe he's got the drive to be at least a journeyman in the league. He's had multiple seasons to get up when called up, and while he's definitely made progress, it's quite possible the Celtics would be better served to move on and allow that roster space to be given to another, more capable player.

Nader's value to Boston has mainly been his cost. He can be the end-of-bench guy on a super low-cost deal when the Cs need to pinch pennies to keep out of the luxury tax. Currently, the Celtics sit about $4 million below the tax at $115 million in payroll, so signing a playoff-eligible player shouldn't be an issue there, and Nader's current deal, only guaranteed for an additional $450,000 until August first for next season, would pay about 70 percent of any new contract in cap savings (players with zero years of non-two way NBA experience earn $815,615, and veteran minimum deals only cost teams $972,608 per season).

The one perk of keeping Nader around cap-wise is that Boston would be able to keep him under contract through the 2020-21 season, a year longer than the two maximum available for minimum deals. At 24, though, Nader's ceiling is likely middle-of-the-rotation in a best-case scenario, and cycling through minimum deals is probably as likely as hanging on to Abdel to give Boston any useful depth at low costs.

So, while convenient in that he knows the team and their plays and sets, there's nothing especially compelling for hanging on to Nader. But who else could they sign? To be playoff eligible, they would need to have not played in the league this season, or already be on the roster, like Jonathon Gibson. Boston has already whiffed a few times on some players from the Chinese Basketball Association now finding success elsewhere, so taking a shot on Gibson might make sense.

The problem with him (or any other player from overseas) is they've had little time to show what they can do in the NBA, and worse - would have to learn as they go, not an ideal situation for even established players, as those of us who sat through Greg Monroe getting his feet wet can attest to. The gaudy numbers being put up by these players in lesser leagues can be as infectious as Gibson's enthusiasm to play for the Cs, but the unknowns - and, in at least Jonathon's case, age (he's 30) - mean such a signing has probably outlived a workable time frame.

There could still be another candidate, however, and as I hinted in the lede, he's got the right credentials in the name department. For those missing the hints I'm dropping, I'm referring to Jabari Bird. Currently on a two-way deal, he can't play for the post-season, and, while the better of the two two-way players (though Kadeem Allen has been no slouch), he's also only signed for this season. Almost a full year younger than Nader with comparable defense and considerably more efficient offense (though his three-point shooting stinks) makes him in my opinion the ideal candidate for that otherwise-meaningless roster slot in a normal playoff rotation.

Bird's comparative youth and efficiency suggest he could become a high rotation player, too - never a starter unless he can learn to space the floor, but a guy who can spot start when needed and is more than capable as a second-unit guy able to play either wing position. Perhaps most importantly in the short term, Jabari actually looks like a player who can help keep the second (OK, third) unit in the game when scoring is needed. Barring a 20+ point outing from Gibson against the Wizards, I believe it's time again for Boston to have a Bird on its active playoff roster once again.

For more stories by Justin, click here.



Images: Mathew J. Lee and Jim Davis/Boston Globe, Elise Amendola/AP
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 4/08/2018 09:01:00 PM Edit
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