Now that (as expected) Kevin Garnett has made official his decision to return to the Celtics, the rest of the off-season plan for the Green Team comes into focus. The first goal in that plan is to deal with the team's free agents -- who to keep, who to let go?
Brandon Bass is one of those free agents, and his free agency presents an interesting situation for the team. Bass had a career year, giving the Celtics everything they had hoped to get from him as a replacement for Glen Davis and more, while displaying good work ethic, character, and developing chemistry with his teammates. Bass struggled a bit in the post-season, suggesting that despite his success as a starter in the regular season, he's probably best suited to a bench role. Therein lies the problem for Bass and the Celtics. Bass is going to enter the free agent market with a likely price tag similar to what Glen Davis got last fall: 4 years, $26 million. That's pretty expensive for a bench player, especially for a team that already has a handful of cheaper options at the position.
The acquisition of Jared Sullinger, who if healthy should be more than able to step right into the front-court rotation and be productive (he's a lottery-level talent), along with the expected growth of second-year power forward JaJuan Johnson, makes Brandon Bass expendable as a bench option. Moreover, as good as KG was starting at center this season, it is likely that a condition of his return to the team was that the Cs would sign or trade for a legit center to start beside him (even if he ends up playing a good chunk of his minutes at center anyway). That means the team probably isn't interested in bringing back Brandon as a starter, either.
As a result, Bass is probably more valuable to the Celtics as a piece in a sign-and-trade. The Celtics could have a much easier time filling one of their needs (which include a starting-caliber center and possibly a scoring guard to bring off the bench in the event that Ray moves on) by trading Bass, since Brandon will likely get a contract with a yearly salary just above the full MLE, which is all they'd have to offer a free agent otherwise.
But where might Brandon go?
Because Bass is still relatively young -- he's 27 years old -- he should remain productive over the life of a 3-4 year deal. He would have value to a playoff team in a bench role (filling in for a start in a pinch). However, a rebuilding team could also make use of him, since he's a high character veteran who works hard and can set a good example for younger players.
Here are four possible destinations for BB:
Bass would make sense for Portland because they could start him next to LaMarcus Aldridge and try to duplicate what the Celtics did offensively with Bass and KG this season (with good results). Bass could start for a season or two until rookie Meyers Leonard develops enough to step into the starting lineup at center, at which time Bass could seamlessly transition to a bench role.
In return for Bass, the Celtics would likely look to get Jamal Crawford (either on the last year of his deal, which is a player option, or a new 2-3 year deal). Crawford is an experienced sixth man who can provide instant offense off the bench with legit size to play the 2 or even the 3 in a small lineup, and the ball-handling skills to play at the point. On the flip side, Crawford is getting rather long in the tooth and is on the decline.
The Celtics could also possibly get J.J. Hickson in the deal, who is clearly on the outs in Portland after they declined to extend him a qualifying offer. Hickson would either have to start at center (which seems unlikely given his defensive deficiencies and small size for a center) or join the logjam at power forward. Even so, the Celtics reportedly had some interest in Hickson around the trade deadline this season, and he would at least be a younger alternative to bringing back Chris Wilcox (who has a similar game) for some front-court depth.
Similar to the situation with Portland, Bass could be an immediate upgrade at power forward for them (over Frye or Morris -- especially defensively) and transition to a bench role once they develop a better young player. Bass could be a good pick and pop weapon for rookie floor general Kendall Marshall, as he was for Rondo. The Suns are going to be near the salary floor next season, which is why they would look to acquire a player like Bass.
The Celtics would probably target Shannon Brown, a sort of "O.J. Mayo-lite" option. He has been an effective bench scorer for the Lakers and the Suns, showing the potential to explode for a bunch of points in short minutes from time to time. He is a fast, super athletic player with absolutely unreal hops; he can get out on the break, finish alley oops, hit spot up jumpers from beyond the arc, and hit shots off the dribble. He could be a solid, young replacement for Ray.
#3. New Orleans
Bass started his career in New Orleans after playing at LSU in college. It would be a nice homecoming of sorts for him; he'd also likely relish the prospect of playing beside the newest "next big thing" in Anthony Davis, while the Hornets would appreciate a steady, veteran leader who can be productive while not tying up much of their cap space.
The Celtics would look to get Chris Kaman, enticing him to come to Boston with an offer north of the MLE, which is all they'd be able to offer him otherwise. Kaman would be the most offensively talented starting center the Celtics have had in the Garnett era, standing at a legit 7 feet with a good mid range jumper and post-scoring ability. The main issues with Kaman are that he's slow, injury prone, rather old (30), and he has emotional issues (bi-polar disorder, though Celtics have dealt with that before without problems -- Delonte West).
Starting Kaman would take the Celtics away from the quick, adaptable style they played last season with Bass and KG starting. Still, Kaman is the type of player that might justify KG moving back to power forward, at least for 20 minutes or so a game, and he and KG would form a formidable duo on both ends. Kaman has not been a great defender statistically in his career, though his on / off court numbers would likely improve playing next to KG. Nevertheless, Kaman would seem a lot like a redux of the Jermaine O'Neal signing -- but even if he's injured half as often as JO was, it could be worth it if he's ready to go in the playoffs. Kaman is definitely a high risk option -- the sort that Danny loves -- but signing him is the kind of move that would have made a lot more sense a couple seasons ago. This is Rondo's team now, and Kaman fits better in a slow, half-court offense rather than the kind of free-flowing, up-tempo style that Rondo prefers to play. Size matters in the NBA, however, and size down low is the main thing that the Celtics' arch-nemesis, the Miami Heat, lack, so loading up on exactly that could pay dividends in the playoffs.
The Kings, plagued for years by dysfunction, lack of chemistry, and inconsistent effort from their players, desperately need a high character, blue-collar player to come in and help change the culture. Bass fits the bill, and he's both relatively young and will be worth the money he's paid, unlike their veteran "character" signing from last summer, Chuck Hayes. He would probably come off the bench behind Thomas Robinson from the get-go, but could carve out a significant role playing there. Bass might not be interested in going to Sacramento unless the deal is pretty lucrative, however.
The Celtics' target would be Jason Thompson, who could play a role on the Celtics similar to the one Tiago Splitter plays for the Spurs. He's a big who can easily play either power forward or center, which would make him an ideal fit next to KG, just as Splitter has been next to Tim Duncan. His offensive game is similar to Brandon Bass, except he's 4 inches taller and is a much better rebounder, which means he'd also be a great fit running with Rondo. Thompson would be worthy of a multiple year deal and could be a solid piece for the future, as well as a key contributor right now.
The Kings wouldn't have too much incentive to trade Thompson instead of keeping him, so the Celtics would likely have to throw in a pick to make it worthwhile -- the Bobcats' second rounder they just got from OKC would make sense.
The Bottom Line:
Like many Celtics fans, I became quite fond of Bass this season. Though his game is in many respects quite similar to the player he replaced, Glen Davis, everything from his demeanor on and off the court, to his pleasantly surprising defensive ability, to the fact that he actually finished shots underneath the basket (particularly dunks while surrounded by multiple defenders), made watching him much more satisfying. It will be sad to see Brandon go, if indeed he does go elsewhere this summer. However, from the moment the Celtics traded for him, it seemed likely that this was a one-year marriage of convenience. Bass got an opportunity to prove his worth playing consistent minutes on a top team, and the Celtics got good production at a bargain price while maintaining flexibility going into this summer. So whatever happens, it's safe to say that Brandon Bass has made himself a nice little spot among the many respected names that have worn the green and white.