Celtics add NBA vet to summer league roster, free agency update and more

With summer league training camp on the horizon, the Boston Celtics are in the final stages of strengthening their squad for Las Vegas.

The Celtics’ summer league roster will feature former first-round pick Udoka Azubuike, according to a team source who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak. Azubuike spent his first three seasons in the league with the Utah Jazz. Danny Ainge’s front office declined his fourth-year team option before last season. Azubuike scored just 125 points in 359 minutes last season and had a few decent showings starting for the meaningless final week last season.

Azubuike is your basic 7-foot rim runner, mostly falling on defense while knocking off shots with his 7-foot-7 wingspan and rolling through the paint on offense. He’s explosive enough to jump to the rim and throw it down right off the catch, so he and JD Davison should put on a show in Vegas. He would be a good candidate for a two-way deal if he can show better hands and more fluidity. The teams now have an additional two-way slot thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement signed Wednesday, which allows the Celtics to bring in three players beyond the 15-man roster.

Also filling out the roster is combo guard Mychal Mulder, a pull-up scorer who has three years of NBA experience. Justin Bean, who averaged 10.2 points per game pitched for the Memphis Hustle G League team last season; 7-foot-1 center Aleksander Balcerowski of Gran Canaria in Spain’s top division, a skilled pick-and-roll finisher, as first reported by The Boston Globe. Kamar Baldwin and Reggie Kissoonlal are playing from last season’s Maine Celtics. Also on the team are 6-foot-10 wing Vincent Valerio-Bodon, as first reported by the Stockrisers’ Jake Weingarten, and Nebraska rookie Sam Griesel, as first reported by HuskerOnline’s Robin Washut.

The team is still working to sign another guard for the summer league rotation, according to a team source.

Juhann Begarin, Boston’s second-round pick in 2021, has signed a two-year deal with French club Nanterre and will not be in Boston this coming season. Israeli point guard Yam Madar, 22, whom Boston drafted in 2020, could still arrive at training camp after his international assignments this summer.

Boston has room at the back end of its roster for a point guard with good pace control and vision like Madar, though he still has a lot of development in both his skills and physique to be NBA-ready. But several league sources believe Madar felt he should be ready for a two-way this coming season.

Grant Williams. (Jerome Miron/USA Today)

Next move

With Kristaps Porziņģis being introduced Thursday and free agency opening 24 hours later, Brad Stevens and the front office continue to actively explore trade options, according to league sources. After trading Marcus Smart, Boston still has a potential playmaking need depending on how the Malcolm Brogdon situation shakes out after a deal to trade him to the Clippers fell apart last week.

Then there’s Grant Williams’ limited free agency as the Celtics consider whether to retain someone who can fill an important long-term role as the frontcourt hustle guy. Al Horford can still do that to some extent this coming season, but players’ activity levels and aggression tend to drop off dramatically in their late 30s.

Jordan Walsh will eventually be able to help bring the kind of physical perimeter defense that was a big part of Williams’ role, team sources expect him to need some time to jump into that spot on a struggling team.

With the Celtics expected to agree to a two-year contract extension with Porziņģis on July 6 that could pay him up to $77 million, matching a Williams offer sheet will make it incredibly difficult to stay out of the second spot for years to come once teams makes his probable supermax offer to Jaylen Brown.

Because Williams has received widespread interest from young teams looking to take the next step in the postseason, getting a little compensation in a sign-and-trade could be the way Boston goes if Williams’ market ends up exceeding $12 .5 million the mid-level exemption.

Brooklyn and Atlanta are the only trade-waiver teams that can fit Williams at the moment according to Spotrac, so any other bidder would have to shell out some salary. Because of the base year compensation rule, Williams’ salary for matching purposes would be half of the first year’s salary on his new deal. If Williams signs a deal in the $50-65 million range, Boston would be able to acquire a player valued above the projected $5 million mid-level taxpayer exception. So if Williams signs with a team using cap space or the $12.5 million non-taxpayer MLE, Boston would likely be able to use the taxpayer MLE to sign a free agent.

Miles goes south

After several of Ime Udoka’s staff left Joe Mazzulla’s bench to reunite with Udoka in Houston, one last domino was left standing. Aaron Miles was initially on the fence about going to Houston and staying in Boston, but jumped at the opportunity to go to New Orleans and work for Willie Green.

Green and Miles have been close friends for years and helped convince the former Celtics assistant to accept the Pelicans’ offer. Although Udoka did not recruit Miles during the season, the pair discussed a role for him in Houston after the dust settled from the loss to Miami in the conference finals. But according to a league source, after Miles saw the direction Boston was headed with their big hires in Sam Cassell and Charles Lee, he saw greater upward mobility for his career in New Orleans.

Boston currently has its three front bench assistant spots filled with Cassell, Lee and Tony Dobbins, who returns for his fourth season on the Celtics bench. DJ MacLeay, who was often in the coaches’ huddle last season, is also still on board.

(Top photo by Udoka Azubuike: Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

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