Danny Ainge's search for frontcourt help this offseason was most likely spurred on by two simple facts. First, his starting center, Kendrick Perkins, would be out for a considerable portion of the season after tearing his right ACL in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Second, his team was the second worst rebounding team during the regular season and the fourth worst rebounding team in the playoffs last year. All season, rebounding was a glaring weakness for the Celtics, and the picture was painted clearest during the NBA Finals, when the Lakers out-rebounded the Celtics over the course of the seven-games series, 297-265.
While many things changed for the Celtics once the postseason got under way, their rebounding woes remained. As a team, the C's averaged 38.6 rebounds per game during the regular season, and saw that number increase only slightly to 39.1 over the course of the playoffs. As for the Lakers, their regular season average of 44.3 boards per game (second in the NBA during the regular season), dipped slightly to 42.9 in the playoffs, most likely due to Andrew Bynum's knee injury.
So, Danny Ainge went out and acquired the 6'11 Jermaine O'Neal, and his 7'1 namesake, Shaquille. He also signed the 7'0 Semih Erden as added insurance.
If the Celtics and Lakers do in fact meet in the Finals once again next season, these additions should help Boston combat LA's considerable size and length. However, next season, LA's frontline won't be the only one the Celtics will have to worry about.
The Celtics ranked sixth in rebounding amongst Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs last season, behind the Chicago Bulls, the Orlando Magic, the Atlanta Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Milwaukee Bucks. They came in ahead of the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Bobcats.
In terms of frontlines, as of right now, Charlotte's isn't overly daunting, and neither is Cleveland's, although Anderson Varejao always seems to make his presence felt under the glass, and J.J. Hickson could finally have a breakout season next year.
Now think about the other teams. Chicago led the league in rebounds during the regular season last year (44.54), and still averaged 41 per game during the playoffs, largely due to the production of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. What did the Bulls do this offseason? They signed free agent Carlos Boozer, who, while slightly undersized at 6'9, still averaged 11.2 rebounds in 78 games last season, and boasts a 10.2 rebounds-per-game average for his career. The move gives the Bulls a considerable one-two punch on the glass in Boozer and Noah, and on top of that, their defense in general should be much improved under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau.
While the Magic haven't exactly made waves this offseason in terms of personnel changes, the club still sports one of the league's premiere rebounders in Dwight Howard (13.2 rebounds per game last season; 12.7 rebounds per game for his career), whose rebounding and defense alone make his team's frontline formidable.
Similar to the Magic, the Hawks have yet to change things too dramatically, but the power forward/center combination of Josh Smith and Al Horford will still be enough to keep them in the middle of the pack in terms of total rebounds per game next season. While Atlanta wasn't a superior rebounding team by any means last year, it was still ahead of Boston, and the Celtics' newest additions could help to turn the tide on that stat. Also, we know the Celtics have struggled against the younger, athletic teams like the Hawks, but having a bigger, stronger frontline could take away rebounding opportunities for Atlanta, which could also limit its fast break attempts.
As for the Bucks, who finished seventh in the league in rebounds per game during the regular season last year (42.9), their rebounding numbers were nearly identical to Boston's (39.14 for MIL compared to 39.13 for BOS) in the playoffs, but that was without their leading rebounder in Andrew Bogut. Bogut will be back from that horrific arm injury he suffered late in the season, and the Bucks also added Drew Gooden.
As a quick aside, check out Milwaukee's roster. The Bucks have a ton of offensive firepower, and they'll get Michael Redd back sometime around the All-Star break. If they can play defense under Scott Skiles, look out.
And then there's Miami. As talented as it now is as a whole, the Heat's (I hate how the team's name is singular) front court isn't very overwhelming, apart from Chris Bosh. Miami added the 37-year old Juwan Howard, the 35-year old Zydrunas Illgauskas, and the 32-year old Jamaal Magloire, who's known these days as a wannabe enforcer, as opposed to a legitimate rebounder or defender. Bosh and Udonis Haslem will serve as Miami's main rebounding threats underneath, along with James, who I personally feel like might put forth his finest rebounding season yet. But in terms of interior defense, who on the Heat makes you nervous? While Boston's revamped frontline will help take away a potential edge from the teams mentioned above, it could very well serve as a necessary edge against the boys from South Beach.
The Lakers will be favored in the West once again, but they could still be upended by teams with bolstered frontlines, including Dallas (traded Erick Dampier for Tyson Chandler and locked up Brendan Haywood long term), Utah (lost Boozer, but traded for Al Jefferson to stick alongside Paul Millsap. Mehmet Okur will be returning from injury as well), San Antonio (ninth in the regular season in rebounding last year, and fourth in the playoffs. Duncan will still be Duncan, and this 6'11 kid Tiago Splitter is rumored to be The Real Deal), and Oklahoma City (acquired Cole Aldrich on draft night). Also, if Yao Ming returns healthy, the Lakers can't sweat Houston, either.
If the Celtics are to meet any of these teams in either the playoffs or the Finals, I personally feel much better about them going to war with a rotation of Kendrick Perkins (when healthy), Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal, and Glen Davis, as opposed to Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace, and Shelden Williams/Brian Scalabrine. What about you?