COJ: What to do with David Lee & Tyler Zeller

Mailin' It In w/ Paul Colahan

MattDotRich: Paul, David Lee's averaged about 12 minutes a game over the last 5 games - and IMO he's actually played pretty well - what should the Celtics do w/ him?

Paul Colahan: David Lee is looking much better. With all the attention on Sully's waist line, I think we might have overlooked that D Lee wasn't in prime shape to start out the year. He seems to be moving better, and he's definitely finishing better at the rim. The thing about the Celtics bombing, and clanking, so many threes is it does give Lee some room to operate in and around the paint. His interior passing is a real asset for a team that needs to create some more easy opportunities and I'm not sure the Celtics are in a position to sit a guy who has those kinds of offensive tools.

I think the Celtics should play him a bit more, but his defense is so rough so I'd like to see him paired with Amir as much as possible or at least try to hide him against the opposition's second unit. I don't think he's a starter anymore. I'd like to see a 4 man big rotation, with some leftover minutes going to small ball set-ups with Jerebko getting time at the four. Sorry Tyler Zeller. Now that we're 11 games into the season, how do you think Stevens should be splitting up the front court minutes? Do you think Lee has a role on this team? And what about poor Zeller?

MDR: The front court question is a really loaded question, because it's not just about what bigs should play, but also how often we should go w/ a traditional 2 big lineup over a small ball look w/ Jerebko or Crowder at the 4. The good news is that they've played pretty well small and big(-ish). So, I don't want to totally cop out of your question - but I really do think it's a night to night matchup thing. Amir needs to play 20+ minutes last night, Sullinger probably around there as well if he can keep up this level of play, I think everyone else is pretty matchup dependent.

I think Zeller's just the odd man out, unfortunately. It's not like he's bad, he's just not good enough or fast enough defensively to be trusted as the lone big for smaller lineups and his inability to shoot means he can't really play next to Amir. That's kind of Lee's issue too (though Zeller's a better defender by virtue of being taller), in my opinion - he can't be the only big on the court, and he needs to play next to someone who can defend the paint.

That being said, I think Lee does a lot more out there offensively. He's smart and seasoned, he's a decent midrange shooter, good in the post, and he passes really well. When the Celtics offense hits a lull - particularly in the half court game - I think he's a very unique, and good option.

Let me ask you this, and I think it's THE David Lee question - Is he good enough at what he does well to offset the fact that he's not really in the Celtics future plans?

PC: I think he is good enough at what he does well to get minutes on this year's Celtics team, despite the fact that he's not in the longterm blueprint. If the minute distribution was shaping up that Lee was getting 30 minutes a game and Sully and Olynyk couldn't get off the bench, I'd have more of an issue with that. But giving Lee 12-15 minutes a game doesn't seem like it's going to stunt Sully and Olynyk's development in a dramatic way. There are times when the ball stops moving on offense and the team gets stuck, and Lee can help the team wade through those slumps with his passing and his ability to make something happen on the block.

You're totally right to point out that in some ways this is more about traditional vs small-ball lineups, and that's a whole other conversation. But if we're playing traditional more than small, I don't see how giving Lee some minutes with the second unit necessarily has to take away from Olynyk and Sully's growth this year. It's not like The Evan Turner situation, where every time Turner brings the ball up and Marcus Smart sprints to the corner, ET's taking a rep away from the player who appears to be the point guard of the future. When Turner coughed the ball up last night forcing a play with the game tied in the fourth, that's tough. If you're going to take the ball out of Smart's hands, at least take care of it. In some ways, those have to be Marcus' mistakes to make for him to get better. I'm getting off topic, but the point is, I don't see the same issues with Lee getting minutes. There are enough minutes to support 4 bigs, just not 5... unless this team wants to go small more often.

Should we go there? The matchup dependency issues aside, what's your default setting for this year's Celtics team? Are you giving minutes to Lee and using more traditional lineups? Or will Lee (and Zeller) get a bunch of DNPs while Jerebko and Crowder see more time at the four?

MDR: Sure, I'll take your bait. I think to get all your perimeter players the proper amount of time, you're going to need to play about 10 minutes of small ball a night. That leaves us with 86 minutes for the bigs, there's some tough decisions to be made there but I think the easiest is leaving Zeller out.

Ahmir Johnson (27), Jared Sullinger (23), Kelly Olynyk (18), David Lee (18)

Let me ask you two questions

1. What does your bigs rotation look like
2. If you're like me and you've got Zeller as a DNP, do you trade him? And if so, what do you think he could net us?

PC: I'm right there with you on the rotation. I think I'd cap Lee off at 15 minutes (3 five minute stints seems about right for him) and give an extra minute to the other guys. Amir (28), Sully (24), Olynyk (19), Lee (15).

I think you try and trade Zeller, but obviously him riding the pine is not helping his trade value. A quick glance at other rosters, and I'm just not really sure where he best fits. The Pelicans could use him, but it's tough to find a player we could use from their roster. And is there even a point to bringing back a fringe rotation player in return? It's tough to find the market for a solid rotational big with limited upside and rim protecting ability. He's an agile 7 footer that's only 25 years old, who will be a restricted free agent next summer. There's value there.

I think there's two ways you can move him. One is you try and get another one of those heavily protected firsts that is really just two seconds. The resulting trade exception gives Ainge flexibility to take on additional salary for another, bigger in-season trade this year. You might have to wait until more contending teams get the injury bug to make that work. And the other is you hang on to him and wait for a larger opportunity to present itself. If Ryan Gomes can be a piece of the Kevin Garnett deal than Tyler Zeller could certainly be a part of a trade for Boogie or whatever disgruntled star becomes available.

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