Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Forty-five seconds left on the game clock, five seconds left on the shot clock. The Boston Celtics lead the Cleveland Cavaliers, 105-92.
Former Cyclones men's basketball player Abdel Nader picks up the ball on the left wing, just outside the 3-point line. Larry Nance Jr. steps out to guard him. One, two, three, four dribbles later, Nader’s fadeaway jumper falls through the net as the shot clock expires.
With that garbage time basket, Abdel Nader scored more points in an Eastern Conference Finals game than J.R. Smith. That's NBA Champion J.R. Smith.
But the minor detail in that scenario, the fact that the game was in garbage time, is more pertinent when discussing Nader’s current standing on the Celtics roster.
Nader was the 58th pick of the 2016 draft, as the Celtics took a flyer on him following a senior season at Iowa State in which he averaged 12.9 points per game on 9.6 shots per game and shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range.
Nader showed well in the Summer League and had offers from teams overseas, but bet on himself and went to the Celtics’ G League team, the Maine Red Claws.
Unaffected by the burden of playing for a team with one of the best names in sports, Nader was named the G-League Rookie of the Year, averaging 21.3 points per game and shooting 44.6 percent from the floor.
His Rookie of the Year performance was enough for the Celtics to call him up in the 2017 offseason, signing him to a three-year, $6 million contract that included a first-year guarantee and a team option for a fourth year in 2020-21.
What happens after that guaranteed first year, though, is dicey.
The Celtics have some tough decisions to make this summer, and deciding the former Cyclone’s future with the team is just one of many on the mind of General Manager Danny Ainge.
Despite having fewer lottery picks and less cap space compared to recent offseasons, the Celtics will "still be very aggressive in trade conversations." https://t.co/s1gwSZve4J pic.twitter.com/kFhoH8nWSX— NESN (@NESN) June 7, 2018
Nader’s contract only carries a partial guarantee of $450 thousand for the 2018-19 season. If he is not released by the Celtics before August 1, his full $1.378 million salary is locked in. The next two years of his deal have zero in guaranteed salary but a July 5 confirmation date.
His situation with the Celtics for the future is murky partly due to the fact that the Celtics have a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft (27th overall). For reference, last year, the 27th pick in the draft, Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers, received a 2-year, 3.113 million contract with two team options for 2019 and 2020, making $1.423 million in his rookie year.
The Celtics’ roster as currently constructed is only $4.19 million below the luxury tax, and that doesn’t take into account a potential contract for restricted free agent guard Marcus Smart (the man many Cyclone fans remember for flopping twice in one play against DeAndre Kane). Smart’s salary will likely be in the $10-16 million per-year range next season unless he decides to take the team’s $6.51 million qualifying offer with an eye towards free agency in the summer of 2019.
Add in the fact that the Celtics will have to work at re-signing backup center Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe, and the open roster spots become few and far between.
Nader played sparingly in his first NBA season, appearing in 48 games and playing 10.9 minutes per contest. He shot only 33.6 percent from the floor (35.8 percent from three), and the Celtics had a plus-minus of -444 when Nader was on the court.
On the face of it, that doesn’t look great.
However, the Celtics seem to like Nader as a player, and the team has invested in his development much like they have with fellow 2016 draft pick Guerschon Yabusele. Nader is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, and has the prototypical body of a modern NBA wing, a position that most teams are searching for every offseason.
A cheap, tall wing player with the ability to shoot and drive is highly valued in the professional game. Nader's offensive skill, if not useful to the Celtics next season, could be helpful for one of the 29 other teams in the league.
Whether Nader stays with the Celtics for another year, finds another NBA team or goes overseas, this is a huge summer for Nader, one that will likely determine the immediate trajectory of his professional career.