The Boston Celtics had some hard choices to make about re-signing some players this offseason. They chose to keep Tyler Zeller, but retaining him doesn’t mean he’ll be getting more minutes in 2016-2017.
Zeller signed a two-year, $16 million deal after his fourth season in the league. A restricted free agent, Zeller might have been able to make more outside, but the Celtics knew, and he knew, that a big offer wasn’t going to come. A little bit more? The Celtics would probably have matched.
The 7-footer who played center exclusively since the day he entered the NBA (played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first two seasons) regressed last season in terms of production overall because of his minutes dropping almost by half, from 21.1 to 11.8. From 59 starts in 2014-2015 to only 3 in 2015-2016. However, his per-minute numbers were improved. Zeller can score near the rim and is a pretty good rebounder. However, he offers no range (only 5 3-point attempts in his career), and is a liability as a rim protector, which makes it difficult for Brad Stevens to find lineups that work with him.
Averaging 6.1 points and 3 rebounds for $8 million a season? Well, players who have done less last season got bigger contracts. That’s the state of the current CBA and how the NBA works. The Celtics will pay $8 million a season for someone who is a 9th or 10th option for them, unless injuries occur. Jared Sullinger left (the Celtics chose not to re-sign him), but Jaylen Brown arrived, and so did Al Horford.
Zeller averaged a career high 10.2 points while shooting 54.9% from the field in 2014-2015, his first season in Boston. But with the Celtics more and more focused on defense, and also rolling out some small ball lineups, Zeller found less and less floor time. He does do well in a very specific area which makes him good enough to keep, but not good enough to trust with a bigger role.