Chris Forsberg

Audition is on for Celtics' depth pieces ahead of trade deadline

Brad Stevens issued a challenge of sorts to Boston's reserves on Thursday.

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One month before the NBA trade deadline, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens gave an in-season state of the union Thursday highlighted by a repeated declaration of how difficult it might be for Boston to upgrade its roster given the team’s limited resources.

The most notable excerpt might have been Stevens suggesting the team yearns to add another big wing, but also hinting at a path where the depth pieces already on the roster make it easier for Stevens to sit out this year’s swap meet.

"I would like to continue to see how we can find another big wing or so that can help us, and I think that could be from within, and I also think that we’ll continue to monitor free agency and trades,” said Stevens. “But, again, the difference in this year and maybe other years is our tools are pretty limited from a dollars standpoint.”

Here’s how we took that declaration: Stevens knows the Celtics don’t have much beyond a $6.2 million Grant Williams traded player exception to seek talent and isn’t certain that’s going to be enough to obtain a player who might crack Boston’s top eight, at least without having to give up multiple draft assets. The buyout market rarely turns up players of value and there will be heavy competition from contenders for the ones who might.

A more agreeable path for the Celtics would be for one of the depth wings added this summer to state a firm case for time. And it sure feels like the next two weeks will determine Stevens’ urgency level in making a deadline move.

The Celtics play nine games over the next 15 days, including five games in the next seven days with two back-to-backs in that mix. That’s going to create a bunch of rest days and opportunity for lesser-used players.

Can Oshae Brissett, Lamar Stevens, Dalano Banton, or Svi Mykhailiuk make a play to be Boston’s deadline “acquisition?”

Brad Stevens stressed that adding Jrue Holiday on the eve of the season was more likely Boston’s big deadline swing, but you can tell the team yearns for at least one more player who coach Joe Mazzulla can fully trust to eat minutes at the wing position.

"I don't want to say that that person is not in the building because they might be right now,” said Brad Stevens. "I’ve been very encouraged when our bench has gotten in games that don't play how they've helped us I'm excited to see, as we go through this stretch, it's five games in [seven] days and January is a tough travel schedule for our guys. There's going to be more opportunities for those guys and that will be helpful as we head into February.”

Brissett has gotten the most opportunity to this point, logging 191 minutes over 17 games. The Celtics have played well in his minutes (+9 net rating) and his energy, particularly in crashing the offensive glass, has been infectious at times. Brissett has to show he can be a more consistent offensive finisher to see any sort of spike in his minutes.

Banton’s ability to handle the ball at his size is a luxury and Mazzulla threw him into a spot start earlier this season. But Banton has connected on just 1 of 8 3-point attempts and, like Brissett, hasn’t done quite enough on the offensive end to justify consistent time.

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The fact that Lamar Stevens has played only 60 minutes this season might be the most surprising aspect of Boston’s playing time distribution this year. The four-year veteran appeared in 62 games for Cleveland last year, starting 25 of them, but hasn’t gotten much of a chance in Boston. Like Banton, he has one spot start but that was the only game of the year he reached double figures in playing time (11 other appearances of 8:32 or less).

The offensive limitations of that trio seemingly has conspired against greater opportunity, even if Boston should yearn for a defense-first mentality from any big wing. Mykhailiuk should be the opposite story but he’s shot just 19.2 percent on 3-point attempts in limited minutes.

The tandem of Luke Kornet and Neemias Queta — who might eventually get the upgrade from two-way contract to roster player — has eased concerns about Boston’s big-man depth. But the Celtics could still benefit from a player with size who could play that big wing position and maybe serve as a center in smallball lineups.

The Celtics would love to hit the fast forward button on 19-year-old rookie Jordan Walsh but he’s spent much of the season in Maine simply getting much-needed game reps. His game remains raw and the team has asked him to focus on impacting winning without scoring.

The bottom line here is that the door is open. Wide open. The next two weeks feel vital for Boston’s depth pieces to state a case for a bigger role. Lingering over that is a January 10 deadline for contracts to be guaranteed for the season, though with one available roster spot already, it feels like the nonguaranteed quartet of Kornet, Mykhailiuk, Banton, and Lamar Stevens should feel secure in their spots.

Whether some of those players could be trade pieces if Boston elects to make a deadline move is another story. The audition starts now.

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