I hate to be Debbie Downer on Jason Collins Day here at CelticsBlog, but it's his slot on the roster that doesn't make sense to me. Last month, I suspected that a delay in officially signing Jeff Green potentially meant a re-working of his contract to bring in another big man. At the time, Andray Blatche was still a free agent (but has since signed a one-year vet minimum with Brooklyn), Kenyon Martin was available (and still is), and Darko Milicic hadn't resurfaced into relevancy after being amnestied by Minnesota. After Collins' signing became official on July 31st, fellow free agent big men Joel Przybilla and Josh Harrellson found homes in Milwaukee and Miami, respectively.
Did Danny jump the gun on signing a veteran big? Maybe. To me, Collins' signing is the most curious move in what has been a stellar off-season for Danny Ainge. Most Celtic fans have been over the moon with what he's done with the roster, but Collins' signing leaves something to be desired. Although he's been billed a Dwight Howard stopper (I'm sorry, but that title should only belong to one man: Kendrick Perkins), Doc Rivers has already dispelled the notion that the Lakers are even on the Celtics' radar. If we're truly focused on the Heat, how does Collins' fit in?
This move just smells of adding depth for the sake of adding depth but unfortunately, it's a position that we're still weak at. After Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, we've got Jeff Green who can fill in at the 4 but is historically underwhelming at that position, Chris Wilcox coming off heart surgery, and two rookies, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, who are unknown commodities. I don't want to be overly critical about Jason Collins. He's a proven vet in this league that has a good reputation as a teammate and low-post defender; he sounds like a Celtic already. However, comparing him to what's available on the market, I feel like Danny could have done more. For example:
It's revisionist history because Jordan Williams was available at the time, but he's a kid at 21 years old that Boston was once rumored to be interested in last year's draft. Danny could have taken a flyer on the aforementioned Andray Blatche or even Jorts whose biggest asset is that he's 6'10 with a jumper (a skill coveted by Doc Rivers). Again, it's unfair to stack Jason Collins to literally everybody on the free agent market, but on a one year, veteran minimum contract, could he have done better? It's a question that raises more questions.
Is Danny confident that Fab Melo will mature quicker than expected? Recent reports from the Celtics' practice facility haven't been too kind to Fabricio. By the end of the week, I'm sure we'll be hearing that Brian Doo beat him at H-O-R-S-E. But although Kris Joseph and Courtney Lee have used him as poster fodder, reports from Waltham are optimistic about his development.
"He's making strides," said Joseph. "He's in better shape, he's trimmed down tremendously. He's a guy I've been with for two years, and I remember his jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year, and he puts in a lot of work that people may not see all the time. But I was there, personally, and I saw the hard work that he puts in and his dedication to the game. So, since summer league, he's really been doing well, pick-and-rolling like they want him to, dunking, blocking shots. He's doing all the things necessary to win basketball games."
And as Jay King points out at Celtics Town, even though he didn't get the blocked shot, it's promising that he's challenging players and contesting dunks. By the end of October, a slimmer Melo might be able to take advantage of his fancy footwork from growing up playing soccer to reject Joseph and Lee. KG still hasn't reported to camp either and there's no better accelerant than Garnett barking in your ear.
Have Doc and Danny committed to small ball? In his interview with Bob Ryan last week, Doc talked about how the Celtics are focused on beating the Heat and what that might entail. He highlighted more free throws and easier buckets in transition as points of emphasis for next season. By that rationale, it doesn't sound like Jason Collins fits into those plans. Maybe Collins is simply insurance for when we face the Lakers and Sixers, six fouls to use on Howard and Andrew Bynum. In my mind, Collins will be the third big off the bench anyway behind Wilcox and either Sullinger or Melo or maybe even the fourth behind both rookies. If that's the case, the Collins signing doesn't bug me too much.
Could a mid-season trade be looming? This is all just speculation, but it's possible that Collins' contract could be fill-in for a deal after December 15th. For all the reasons that the Celtics' signed Collins' as a dependable veteran with minimum, that could make him an attractive commodity when trading season opens up. There are two situations that Danny should monitor this winter:
Kendrick Perkins in Oklahoma City: Serge Ibaka's 4 years at $48 million puts Sam Presti in a bind. Although Perk hinted that the organization was close to extending James Harden, the irony is that it might be the former Celtic that might have to leave OKC if Harden forces the issue and demands a max or close-to-max contract like his teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In addition to keeping Ibaka long-term, OKC picked up Hasheem Thabeet and drafted Perry Jones III and they still have Cole Aldrich and Nick Collison on the bench. Outisde of PJ3, none of those players are big offensive threats coming off the bench. Could a long term deal with Harden and already available backcourt depth make Perkins expendable? Would the Celtics entertain the idea of bringing back Perk if it meant trading re-minted Brandon Bass and a serviceable Jason Collins or maybe even Jeff Green? It's food for thought.
Josh Smith in Atlanta: This seems to be the more popular and rumored deal. With Danny Ferry going nuclear with the Hawks' roster, all signs point to him dealing Smith before the deadline. He's in the final year of his contract and been very complimentary about the Celtics' organization. Rajon Rondo is one of his best friends and Kevin Garnett has respected his game after facing him twice in the playoffs. It's a trickier trade because of matching salaries but certainly one that could send Collins back to the city that he spent three years in.
For now, Jason Collins is in Boston and I'll root for him like anybody else that puts on the Celtic green, I've had my heart ripped out before with Semih Erden and Greg Stiemsma leaving the C's. Forgive me if the soft spot for back up back up centers has hardened of late.