WALTHAM (CBS) – Decision time is approaching for Danny Ainge as the Celtics' president of basketball operations attempts to finalize his 15-man roster ahead of Monday's cutdown deadline.
The Celtics are down to 16 players after waiving second round pick Ben Bentil and training camp invites Marcus Georges-Hunt, Damion Lee and Jalen Jones over the past 24 hours. Ainge hinted on Friday that other borderline roster parts (Gerald Green, Demetrius Jackson and Jordan Mickey) were likely to be on the 15-man opening night roster, in essence confirming that R.J. Hunter and James Young are the ones battling for the final spot as we head into the weekend.
Hunter and Young have both shown flashes of promise during the preseason, giving Ainge's staff no clear cut candidate to keep over the other.
"The guys that are in question have all played really well," Ainge said Friday. "I guess that's refreshing. I'm happy for them that they are all playing well under the stress and pressure of trying to make a team and make a roster. I'm proud of all of them."
With the knowledge in place that someone has to go this weekend, let's look at what the team's options are before Monday's 5pm deadline.
FIND A TRADE PARTNER FOR HUNTER OR YOUNG
This is the ideal scenario for the Celtics, since they would be getting some sort of a return on a former first round pick in Young or Hunter. Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier Friday that the team was shopping either player for a second round pick, a reasonable ask by the Celtics. Ainge all but confirmed the trade talks on Friday:
"We're continuing to evaluate and look for opportunities out there if there are any deals to be had – which we've been looking for for a few months," he said. "We knew that this situation would present itself, or was the most likely scenario to happen when camp started. So both of those guys have played very well, and have made the decision very difficult."
Ainge's willingness to trade either player for a second round pick may back up the fact the team has no strong preference for one young guard over the other at this juncture. The problem for the Celtics GM though is the fact he's painted himself into a corner here and other teams know it. Prying about a pick for a borderline prospect that could be available for free in a couple days is not an easy sell. Young and Hunter have both helped their stock this preseason, but after mostly ineffective seasons in 2015-16, it may not be enough to convince a team to offer up a second round pick.
FIND A TRADE PARTNER FOR ANOTHER PLAYER ON ROSTER (KEEP YOUNG AND HUNTER)
Since Young and Hunter are not the only borderline roster players on the roster, it seems conceivable that the Celtics could test the market for one of other young pieces down the depth chart (Jordan Mickey, Demetrius Jackson). It's possible either one of them could fetch a second-round pick as well, allowing the Celtics to keep Hunter and Young instead of losing one for nothing. Ainge called this route "unlikely" on Friday though, as the Celtics may prefer the potential long-term upside of both over a lackluster return.
CUT HUNTER OR YOUNG
At this point, it appears this is the most likely option for Ainge. The decision won't be easy, but once a move is made, the only thing that would change from Boston's perspective is a salary cap hit. If Hunter or Young is claimed after being waived than would be good news for Boston since it would be able to take that respective salary (Hunter at $1.2 million, Young at $1.85 million) off their books for the 2016-17 season.
If either player clears waivers though, the Celtics will have to pay that salary for the entire season. That's not an ideal scenario for Boston's ownership, so you can bet Ainge will continue to work the phones hard for the remainder of the weekend to find an alternative solution.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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