The Celtics need a big man. They need a real, legitimate guy in the middle, with shot-blocking capability. Unfortunately, these guys don’t grow on trees. In fact, they are so rare that some teams roll out players at the center position who shouldn’t be classified as centers. (See Chris Bosh). Furthermore, the whole concept of "small ball" has gained popularity because of the lack of legitimate centers in the league. Teams such as the Miami Heat would have you believe that "small ball" is the wave of the future. However, "small ball" lineups that don’t feature LeBron James are more difficult to use effectively for long stretches and are often only used to exploit specific matchups. Believe me, there is a reason why players such as DeAndre Jordan get large contracts before really proving their worth and why prospects such as Alex Len and Myers Leonard continue to be lottery picks. They are always worth the gamble because size matters. The Celtics, more than most teams, are in desperate need of size.
So what are the options? There are always seven-footers to be had in the draft, but it’s never a sure thing that a good player will be available when it comes time to make your pick. Also, rookie centers tend to take time to develop, if they develop at all, and with the exception of Joel Embiid, this year’s crop aren’t exactly springing the hype machine to life.
It seems far more likely that the Celtics will have to look to free agency or trade possibilities in order to land a good center. So what big man could be wearing Celtic green next season? Here’s my incredibly opinionated look at the possibilities.
First, let’s rule some players out. The Celtics are rebuilding and looking for a team that can compete for years. So there will be some centers that while talented, don’t fit what the Celtics are looking for, for one reason or another.
Too Old To Rock n’ Roll: Players like Pau Gasol are incredible talents, but because of advanced age, it would be hard to imagine the Celtics having high interest in signing or trading for such players. In this list I would include: Pau Gasol (33), Tyson Chandler (31), Samuel Dalembert (32), Chris Kaman (31), and Anderson Varejao (31). Any one of these players could help the Celtics next year, but for how far into the future? I find it hard to imagine Danny Ainge pursuing any of the players on this list, and as a Celtics fan, I wouldn’t be excited about signing any of these players.
Broken Records: Brook Lopez has now missed 2 full seasons with the type of injury that ended Yao Ming’s career early. While Lopez is immensely talented, it would be a monumental risk to trade for him. I’d like to think Danny Ainge would stay well away from trades or signings like this. I would also include in this group Andrew Bogut (has not played over 70 games since the 07-08 season), and JaVale McGee (coming off of a season-ending leg injury).
Not a Center: Greg Monroe. I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that the Celtics could benefit by signing Greg Monroe as our center. Personally, I do not understand the logic. In my opinion, Greg Monroe is not a legitimate center. What really troubles me about Greg Monroe at the center position is his lack of shot-blocking capability. Greg Monroe has averaged .6 BPG for this season and his career. Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass averaged .9 BPG this season and even Jared Sullinger averaged .7 BPG. I would be very disappointed if the Celtics signed Greg Monroe with the intention of starting him at center.
The Untouchables: Players like Andre Drummond are going nowhere. We can all dream of what it would be like to have them as Celtics, but it’s hard to even conceive of a fantasy situation where their teams would trade them. Danny Ainge, I’m sure, will do his due diligence before writing these players off as options, but I would imagine that in most cases, his conversations would go nowhere. Players on this list include: Andre Drummond (too young, too cheap, too much potential), Dwight Howard (important player on a contender), Roy Hibbert (important player on a contender), DeAndre Jordan (important player on a contender), Anthony Davis (too young, too cheap, too much potential), Jonas Valanciunas (too young, too cheap, too much potential), Derrick Favors (tied to the team’s future. The team recently extended him with an expensive contract), Demarcus Cousins (tied to the team’s future. the team recently extended him with an expensive contract).
So which centers could be in play for the Boston Celtics? Where is the big deal we need? I’ve broken down a couple categories.
Young Potential: It might be Danny Ainge’s plan to take a chance on a young center with potential to grow. Gorgui Dieng (4 yrs – 9 mil). Since the All-Star break Dieng is averaging 8 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block per game, and his stats have been seemingly getting better each week. He has good size and length for the position and is 24 years old. Timofey Mozgov (2 yrs – 10 mil). Mozgov averages 1.2 BPG in only 20 MPG. He may never be any more than a backup center, but he may also be able to achieve the production of an Omer Asik at a better price. Miles Plumlee (3 yrs – 7mil). This Plumlee brother has shown flashes of capable play for Phoenix this year. If Phoenix is sold that Alex Len is their future, Plumlee may be available at a reasonable price. Given minutes and time to develop, Plumlee may be a competent center for years to come. Alex Len (4 yrs – 19 mil). The other side of the Phoenix coin is Alex Len. Maybe Phoenix is happy with Plumlee going forward and is unimpressed with Len to this point. Maybe Danny Ainge is willing to take a chance on the big Ukrainian. Mason Plumlee (4 yrs – 9 mil). It’s hard to imagine the Nets parting with Plumlee, (even harder to imagine the Nets ever trading with Ainge again), but Plumlee has done admirably in the absence of Kevin Garnett and may be a solid center in the NBA for years to come. Anyone can be had for a price, and maybe Plumlee’s would be to Ainge’s liking. Enes Kanter (2 yrs – 13 mil). I’m not a huge fan of Kanter due to his poor defense. But if Danny Ainge could pry him from Utah at a reasonable price, he would be an upgrade for the Celtics. He has good size for a center and averages 12 points and 7 rebounds per game in 25 MPG.
Solid Players with Warts: These players would all be an upgrade for the Celtics, however each one of them has a distinct flaw. Al Horford (2 yrs – 24 mil). Horford would certainly be an upgrade for the Celtics, without question. The only question surrounding Horford are his pectoral muscles. The good news is that the injuries were not in the same pectoral muscle and that he did not suffer a leg injury, which can be much worse for a big man. Horford is undersized for a center, but has shown the ability to compensate. Depending on where the Hawks see their future, Horford could be in play. Spencer Hawes (FA). Hawes isn’t a very sexy name, however his statistics are surprising. 13 PPG, 8 RPG, and 1.2 BPG. Not All-Star caliber, but solid just the same. If Danny is in the market for a slight upgrade on the cheap, Hawes could be his target. Omer Asik (1 yr - 8.5 mil cap hit). Asik is a great option if the Celtics are looking for a defense-first center. His numbers are not gaudy, but he gets the job done, and is definitely a starter at the position. However, one has to wonder whether he can be consistent if things do not go his way. The drama in Houston is enough to raise eyebrows. John Henson (3 yrs – 9 mil). Larry Sanders (4 yrs – 44 mil). If the Bucks land Embiid in the draft, then either Henson or Sanders could be available for the right price. Both players have major potential, yet, also have major flaws, Henson’s, being quite skinny for the rigors of an NBA center and Sanders’, being a very immature person. However, both players would be a good get for the Celtics. Marcin Gortat (FA). Gortat is certainly an upgrade. He’s athletic and above average offensively. His defense is nothing to write home about, but he is capable. The main concern would be Gortat being on the wrong side of 30. However, it’s only been 4 years now where Gortat has averaged big minutes. Al Jefferson (2 yrs – 27 mil). Nikola Pekovic (4 yrs – 48 mil). Jefferson and Pekovic are offensive juggernauts and they would certainly make the Celtics better. The major caveats with both players are that they are expensive and seem to be allergic to defense.
The Stuff Fireworks Are Made Of: Joakim Noah (2 yrs – 26 mil). Envision a world where Tom Thibodeau is tired of the Bulls’ front office and decides to go coach somewhere else. Envision a world where Derrick Rose’s rehabilitation takes a turn for the worse. Both things are not that far-fetched. The Bulls are not in the frame of mind to trade pieces away for the future right now, but it might be an eventual reality. Marc Gasol (1 yr – 16 mil). With one year left on Gasol’s contract, Memphis needs to figure out things fast. They are in danger of missing the playoffs, and unlikely for a deep run anyway. Could Memphis decide that a top-5 pick in the 2014 lottery is the beginning of talks to move Gasol to Boston. I don’t think it’s out of the question.
I see all these players as possibilities, some more possible than others, but all still possible. I’m interested in the development of Dieng, hopeful we could land either Horford or Asik, and simply praying I see either Noah or Gasol in Celtic green soon. Here’s to hoping for those fireworks we keep hearing about.