Picking up Guerschon Yabusele’s option for 2019-20 says something about the Celtics’ belief in his potential. But it may speak even louder about the club’s ownership practices.
There was no doubt the Celts would pick up the fourth- and third-year options for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, respectively. Those two will be bargains as long as they remain on their rookie-scale contracts (and maybe even after that, depending on the negotiations). But there would have been little surprise if the Celtics, facing onerous luxury tax implications in the coming years, had held the line and decided against the $3,117,240 for Yabusele next year — a figure that will be more than double that when the tax is figured in.
The French selection from the 2016 draft essentially was stashed overseas for a season and has yet to crack the regular rotation in a year-plus with the Celts. And if the team’s health holds up, it’s hard to see him getting much of a consistent run the rest of this season.
Still, the basketball people figure it’s definitely worth seeing how a 22-year-old bullish talent develops. That necessitated a discussion with the people who sign the checks, and, ultimately, they looked at the sideline, not the bottom line.
“They genuinely care about just winning,” said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge of an ownership group headed by managing partners Wyc Grousbeck, Irv Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca and Robert Epstein. “And if you’re ever in doubt of that — like, if anybody’s ever in doubt — this is proof, because if it was about money, it would be an easy one to make a decision the other way.”
There was a lot that went into the call on Yabusele. If it was just about basketball, sure, the Celtics and everyone else would try to hoard all the good players. But there is a salary cap and free agency and the possibility a player could want to go elsewhere for more of an opportunity to play.
“You’re trying to figure out budgets for next year, and you’re punching in numbers and best-case scenarios and you’re projecting,” Ainge told the Herald. “But it’s all projections. Nothing is absolutely certain.”
The Celts also had to consider that next summer Marcus Morris will be an unrestricted free agent, Aron Baynes can opt out, Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker can be restricted free agents, Kyrie Irving is planning to opt out (and, he says, sign a more lucrative deal here), and Al Horford can sever his deal, too.
“There is some uncertainty in the offseason, as there always is,” Ainge said. “But the bottom line is he’s a 22-year-old unique player that we really like, and, again, a player that we like as much who he is as what he is at this point in his career.
“Having Guerschon gives us continuity. He knows our system. He’s loved by everybody. It’s just not easy to find that type of player.”
And with the luxury tax in play — and the repeater tax looming on the horizon — signing off on several million dollars for “potential” is not a move every team would make. Or be allowed to make.
“It’s enjoyable in my job to work with owners like we have,” Ainge said. “I talked a great deal with Steve and Wyc. They wanted to hear all the pluses, minuses, opportunities, probabilities and all that. They had the same questions about role and how it all fits in, because it’s a big investment. And for them to give the basketball guys that support financially is a big commitment. They care about winning. They’re not trying line their pocketbooks.”
What Ainge said next is likely some of what Grousbeck and Pagliuca heard in the meeting where this decision was made.
“Guerschon is a player that is loved by his teammates,” he said. “He’s a player that has worked really hard on getting his body in shape, staying in shape and learning our system. His first year was rough with surgery on both of his feet, and last year he just didn’t get opportunities. We had great depth at the big position, where Theis and Baynes and Horford were playing, and Semi (Ojeleye) had a head start on him because of (Yabusele’s) health.
“I think he’s managed all that well, and he’s really earned the respect of all of us in the basketball office in what he can become. And, by the way, he’s 22 years old, and one year was sort of taken away from him in his development.
“We just think it’s rare to have a guy that’s 280 pounds and can move as well as he does, and with the skill level he has. Our fans haven’t had the chance to see a lot of him, and I think that’s probably going to change over the next couple of years. You’ll see a lot more of Guerschon. This year we have a lot of guys. Brad (Stevens) has a lot of decisions to make, so he may decide he needs one thing that Robert Williams can do better or maybe needing Semi to switch the pick and roll, and he does that better.
“But I think Guerschon is as complete a player as we have in the front court, as far as dribbling and shooting and passing and defending multiple positions. And he’s learning from one of the best players in Al Horford. We really are excited about Guerschon’s future. His work ethic and his development are coming along a lot better in our eyes than what the world sees out there, just because of opportunity.”
(We’re checking the voice recorder to see if it can be determined that Ainge uttered those last four paragraphs in one breath — but it certainly seemed that way. The man was on a roll.)
“Listen,” Ainge said, “it’s not my money. I’m very respectful of what the owners have to do. It’s genuinely very impressive that they want to do this. They listen to what Brad and I say, and they believe in Guerschon, too. They’re hoping he turns out to be the player we all think he can be.”
And they’ve put their money where their hope is.