Boston Celtics: Implications of picking up Guerschon Yabusele's third-year option

Guerschon Yabusele's third-year option has been picked up by the Celtics despite not seeing much of the court since being drafted in 2016. Is he a part of the team's future, or simply a piece of a potential trade?

The Boston Celtics have picked up Guerschon Yabusele's third-year option, electing to pay a $3.1 million bill next season to keep him on their currently crowded roster. Yabusele was drafted 16th overall in an absolutely loaded, yet infamously quiet 2016 rookie class. While many of the lottery picks in that group took almost their full first year to look acclimated to the NBA (or get healthy), many of them are thriving now. Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, and Jaylen Brown are a ridiculously talented top three selections of a draft. 20th pick Caris LeVert is blooming in Brooklyn; 27th pick Pascal Siakam is leading a stacked bench in Toronto; and 29th pick Dejounte Murray has already made an All-Defensive team for the Spurs. Yabusele's selection has yet to deliver on any promise.

All 15 players selected before Yabusele have played more games than him. He's played in 38; Georgios Papagiannis (inexplicably waived by the Kings already) has played the second fewest with 39. The average number of total games played among the top 15 picks is 134, more than tripling Yabusele's count. It's an unfair comparison given that the Celtics stashed Yabu in China for a year before bringing him over. But you know what? I think that makes things worse for him. Did the Chinese league make Yabusele a better basketball player? Like, even a little bit? I don't know how you could make the case that it did.

Still, Yabusele has garnered a tremendous cult following that believes his big butt will leave an imprint on the NBA in due time. If his mechanics can match his hustle and his heart, he could wear green for a long time. Until then, how exactly does he fit in the Celtics' future?

As a future role player

Yabusele has predictably seen few minutes off the bench this season. For him, the real opportunity lies next year. Marcus Morris will likely walk in free agency, assuming he continues to vastly outplay his $5.3 million dollar deal, and earn a bigger bag elsewhere. Daniel Theis' days could be numbered as well, should the Celtics decline to give him a qualifying offer next season. While Theis has been solid, Boston wouldn't have much choice but to cut ties if he can't put a healthy season together.

On the court, Yabusele clearly buys into the team culture of putting defense, hustle, and unselfishness above all else. In his limited minutes, he hasn't forced up shots to try to make an impression. Instead, he has worked as a facilitator as many of Boston's big men are trained to. (Of course, after I say that I find that he has zero assists in 18 minutes this season. They'll come... eventually).

Here's a nice block against a nifty point guard to close out a quarter:



Plays like that will earn minutes as quickly as showing any signs of development on offense (see: Game 7 starter and Greek God of defensive stances, Semi Ojeleye). At any rate, we'll likely have to wait and see what Yabu can do when more minutes open up in the future.

As a trade piece

Believe it or not, the Celtics aren't currently well suited to execute on any big trades. Their best assets, outside of their core players who you'd have to pry from Danny Ainge's cold, dead hands, would likely be trade deadline rentals for potential suitors if the Celtics choose to move Marcus Morris or Terry Rozier mid-season. In the event of another star player becoming available, the Celtics would have a hard time making a deal without getting a third or fourth team involved, as they don't have many easily movable contracts to package alongside other players in a trade.

Assuming Kyrie Irving gets his max deal next year, he'll join Al Horford and Gordon Hayward in making north of $30 million/year in Boston. Those types of contracts don't get moved very often, if at all. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be in the $7-9 million range for the next couple of years, but they are widely considered untouchable in trade talks. The rest of the roster is filled out with cheap and/or short deals that would make it difficult to build a substantial offer for a star player. The one exception is Marcus Smart's four-year, $52 million deal, which could easily be packaged with a couple more affordable rotation players and draft picks to get a deal done. Should the Celtics retain Yabusele beyond next season, the remaining years of his rookie deal could be worth $4.7 million in 2020-21 and $6.7 million if he signs a qualifying offer in 2021-22. I'm not predicting it'll get to that point; I'm just noting how it could be worth it for Boston to hold onto him. Take note that Sebastian Telfair's $2.5 million deal was a part of the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007. It would have been insane to speculate that the Celtics picking up his option in 2006 would have helped facilitate acquiring Garnett.

The Celtics won't be as active on the free agent market with their current core. If they emerge as contenders, they'll be scouring the buyout market mid-season and appealing to ring-chasers in the summer. In both cases, they won't be adding as many long-term deals to their payroll. This means they'll have to develop some young talent if they want to have any attractive trade pieces should they need any filler when they chase after, say, an Anthony Davis trade. Again, I'm not predicting anything. Just outlining possibilities.

It's all about options

Yabusele's option has only been picked up for the next year, and then the team can decide on his option for 2020-21. There's no substantial commitment outside of the $3.1 million he's owed for this year. If the Celtics aren't expecting to dodge the luxury tax, then it's no harm done. If they want to cut costs next year, they can decline his option. Clearing out a roster spot might be tough with few players seen as entirely expendable and more draft picks on the horizon (keep an eye on Memphis and Sacramento), but a resolution to an unfortunate legal situation surrounding Jabari Bird could open up a spot at some point.

Picking up his option gives the Celtics one more year to either fit Yabusele into the rotation or work him into a trade. Declining it would diminish all value, which wouldn't make sense without an immediate plan for someone to replace him. It's not very exciting, but Ainge's track record has me hopeful that the Celtics will get the most out of their assets, even if it means potentially letting one go.

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