Storyline: Jared Sullinger Free Agency

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I don’t want to get too specific, but when you say a mental breakdown, was that an actual mental breakdown or was it your mindset? Sullinger: I was in tears! I was in tears, I was crying. Because I just didn’t know what I could do to help myself to be a better basketball player, for me to be healthy. And over time, I just got better and better, and I’ve been reading books and just trying to figure out who I am as a person. And the more I figure out who I am as a person, the better off my basketball game goes, the better off as a person I am.

So why Toronto? Why the Raptors? Jared Sullinger: Why the Raptors? Why not. It was almost like a no brainer. It was a situation where not only money was great, but the situation of us winning—they lost Bismack Biyombo, they lost Luis Scola, they needed a other big, and I just said “Why not?” This is a team with hard workers, and you look at the team, and there’s a lot of guys that were journeymen before they went to the Toronto Raptors. It’s just been the place to be, you got the whole country behind you, and they want to win. That’s the mindset out here.

“Jared still hasn’t figured out who he wants to be, and when he does, he’s going to take off,” John Lucas said. “He’s still fighting anybody and everybody about who knows best. He’ll give in to a point, but he won’t… let… go. And if he’d ever just let go and accept what people are telling him, I think he can be great. I love his talent. I haven’t seen a lot of guys with his talent. He’s really highly talented. He’s got 3-point range. He played well. But I think the Celtics were concerned about his weight all year.”

“He really worked and got himself down to about 282 last year when he left, but he began to put weight on when he went back up,” he said. “He worked had all summer. I really think he has some kind of food intolerance or some other thing. It’s not like he’s not conscious of it. I think he just has to investigate more what dictates his weight. I recommended to him that he go see a holistic doctor or some kind of doctor about what food allergies he might have. My daughter went to a food allergy doctor and cut out yeast and bread, and she dropped 40 pounds in like three months just by taking that out of her diet. I think Jared, as much as he ran and worked, he should have been around 210. When he’s in shape, his talent can take over. But he gets out of shape, and then he gets tired and his shot gets blocked.”

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens admitted the addition of free-agent big man Al Horford forced his team to make difficult roster decisions, including moving on from Jared Sullinger. As part of inking Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract last week, the Celtics rescinded a $4.4 million qualifying offer to Sullinger and renounced their rights to him, making him an unrestricted free agent. “I think Jared’s a really good player, and I think Jared will continue to be a really good player,” Stevens said before watching Boston’s entry in the Las Vegas Summer League play the Phoenix Suns at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV. “Obviously when we got Al, that made us make hard decisions. And the thing that stinks about that is having to move on and move forward, both for him and us. But he’ll do great. Jared’s one of the more talented guys being able to get the ball off the glass, and he’s got a beautiful touch and he’s a good guy, and so I think he’ll do well.

The Celtics have decisions to make on two other young big men in Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller. Both players are restricted free agents after Boston tendered qualifying offers in late June. The Celtics are unlikely to sign either to the sort of long-term, big-money deal that might compromise their salary flexibility, but they’d certainly consider short-term deals (particularly if neither received an offer sheet and settled for the qualifying offer). “I’ve talked with both those guys and we’ll continue to see how it all plays out,” Ainge said. “We are still looking at doing deals and we’re certainly not finished for the summer. Those are two very good players and we’ll continue talking with them as the summer goes along.”

Addressing his impending restricted free agency on The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix, Sullinger said he would “love to” return to the Celtics — whose chemistry he lauded — but understands the team will have a lot of decisions to make. “We’ll see,” Sullinger told Mannix. “I understand there’s a lot of free agents out there. I understand there’s a lot of draft picks they have. There might be a lot of movement. But regardless of whatever happens, I have to thank the Celtics organization for what they have done. They gave me a chance when nobody else was going to give me a chance. And just for that I feel like I owe them. I would love to come back.”

Q: You challenged Jared Sullinger to come back in better shape this season and we all overanalyzed his role during the preseason, but now he’s emerged as the team’s best big man early in the season. Are you happy with the way he appears to have embraced that challenge? Danny Ainge: Jared has played really well. I know what he’s capable of doing. I think Jared is still so young. I think that his best basketball is still ahead of him. But I do see a lot of great progress from Jared.

“I believe Jared’s going to be a very, very valuable free agent next summer. I don’t think there are very many good free agents next summer. The cap’s going to up $20 million dollars, and I think at that point it’s just a more natural time to talk about it. Most people — including Danny, who knows me well — understand that that’s my philosophy. It has nothing to do with them getting a bargain or not getting a bargain. Unless Danny came to me and said, ‘Would you be interested in maxing out Jared Sullinger?’ there’s really nothing to talk about.
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November 17, 2017 | 10:03 pm EST Update