Unable to find a trade that could have saved the team from eating salary or brought back an asset, the team elected to simply move on from Hunter, the 28th pick of the 2015 draft.
"The one part of the business that, no matter what, every time sucks, is when you have to make roster decisions," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who recruited Hunter when Hunter played high school basketball in Indianapolis. "Because it's real people and certainly I've known R.J. for a long time. I think he's really improved, I think he's gotten better. I had a pretty decent long talk with him this morning and I told him this is part of the path to a great career, right? And I truly believe he'll have a great career."
Boston had been exploring possible deals for both Hunter and 2014 first-round pick James Young in the final days before the final roster trim. Rivals knew the Celtics had to cut a player and were reluctant to part with anything of value in order to facilitate a deal.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he believes Hunter will find another NBA opportunity.
"It was a very difficult decision and I guess that's a good thing," said Ainge. "We had a really good training camp, a lot of guys played really well and there's really no reason why we waived R.J. other than we had 16 bodies and that position is probably needed less than we need other positions. But I will say that James and Jordan [Mickey] and Demetrius [Jackson and], Terry Rozier had fantastic training camps."
The Celtics came to camp with an overstocked roster knowing they might have to simply cut a former first-round pick. The team waived second-round pick Ben Bentil on Friday.Bentil signed with the Indiana Pacers on Monday, but he is likely ticketed for their D-League team in Fort Wayne.
Boston will carry two rookies on this year's roster in No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown and No. 45 pick Demetrius Jackson, who provides emergency ballhandling depth. Two more 2016 draft picks are stashed overseas in Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, while another second-rounder, Abdel Nader, is expected to land with the team's D-League affiliate in Maine.
Celtics brass decided that, because Hunter and Young had some positional redundancy, the team had to simply pick one to move forward with. The front office wrestled with the decision, but, ultimately, the 15th player on the roster was unlikely to impact the team's success during the 2016-17 season.
"James won the job. He played well. Day in and day out, the last six weeks, he won the job," said Ainge, who also challenged Young, the 17th pick in the 2014 draft who just turned 21, to show more progress in his third year.
Young said he was eager to show the team they made the right decision keeping him around.
"I feel like this is even better than the draft really, earning this position," said Young. "I'm really blessed to be a part of this and [there is] not much I can do but keep getting better."
Ainge was at peace with having to move on from a first-round pick.
"Right now the hardest thing is I like R.J. and we've invested time in him," Ainge said. "But I see Jaylen and Terry and Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson and Abdel Nader, who had a terrific summer with us, and the two kids over in Europe [Yabusele and Zizic] that are playing fantastic right now. I mean the draft is the draft, as we all know. You have some good selections and some that don't fit and don't work for you, so I'm not disappointed in that regard at all. I'm glad we have another pick next year and we'll keep taking our swings and try to find the right guys."
The Celtics used a first-round pick received from the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Doc Rivers exchange in 2013 to draft Hunter.