- Green Street - http://greenstreet.weei.com -

Celtics free-agent options at center

Sure, the NBA is on the precipice of a July 1 lockout, but we can still examine what options will be available to the Celtics [1] at each position once the salary cap landscape is determined (God knows when). We’€™ll start with the C’€™s biggest need: Centers.

The Celtics started the 2010-11 season with four centers on the roster (Kendrick Perkins [2], Shaquille O’€™Neal, Jermaine O’€™Neal and Semih Erden) along with sometimes center Glen Davis [3]. Now, a year later, only JO remains from that list. While Big Baby remains an option depending on his value on the open market, the C’€™s still need at least one if not two more guys who can play the five.

The Celtics have six players under contract in 2011-12 for a combined $64.3 million (Kevin Garnett [4], $21.2; Paul Pierce [5], $15.33; Ray Allen [6], $10; Rajon Rondo [7], $10; Jermaine O’€™Neal, $6.23; Avery Bradley [8], $1.53), and Jeff Green [9] is due at least another $5.91 million this offseason. That leaves little wiggle room for Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, no matter how the collective bargaining agreement shakes out.

As a result, don’€™t expect any big-name free agents. So, let’€™s start by crossing Nene (early termination option), Marc Gasol ($4.5 million qualifying offer) and Tyson Chandler [10] (unrestricted) off the list of potential targets. While any of those three would be a fantastic fit on the 2011-12 Celtics (assuming, of course, there’€™s a 2011-12 season in the NBA), they’€™re all out of their league.

Without further ado, let’€™s take a look at the options that should be available to the Celtics at center, separating the current free-agent players into four categories ‘€¦

THE JERMAINE O’€™NEALS

Veterans past their prime, (unfortunately) these are the types of guys the Celtics are going to be able to add to provide depth. Like JO, they could be rejuvenated playing alongside Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen

RICH MAN: NAZR MOHAMMED*

COMMON MAN: KURT THOMAS [11]

POOR MAN: JEFF FOSTER

HOMELESS MAN: JASON COLLINS [13]

THE GLEN DAVISES

Some combination of athletic limitations and questionable work ethic could make these role players affordable as long as someone doesn’€™t overpay (which may very well happen in the NBA). Like Big Baby, they’€™ll make you nod your head in approval one night and shake your head in dismay the next ‘€¦

COMMON MAN: KWAME BROWN [15]

POOR MAN: SPENCER HAWES [17]

HOMELESS MAN: AARON GRAY

THE KENDRICK PERKINSES

Young and talented, these guys could fulfill the Celtics’€™ need at center for years to come. Although, like Perkins, their age and ability will probably make their asking price too rich for the Celtics’€™ blood ‘€¦

RICH MAN: DEANDRE JORDAN

COMMON MAN: SAMUEL DALEMBERT

THE SHAQUILLE O’€™NEALS

Based on their age and/or injury history, the following guys cannot be counted on under any circumstances, especially considering the only center on the Celtics roster has played almost 25,000 career minutes and suffers from an ailing left knee. However, like the Shaq Experiment, these players might also prove worthy if they can be had for (extremely) affordable dollars ‘€¦

RICH MAN: GREG ODEN [18]*

COMMON MAN: JOEL PRZYBILLA [19]

POOR MAN: YAO MING [20]

THE SEMIH ERDENS

While these unrestricted free agents could be stuck on the end of the bench, available to eat minutes in emergency purposes only, like Erden, they’€™re expendable for a reason. Thanks, but no thanks ‘€¦

As you may have noticed, the Celtics probably won’€™t be able to make any big upgrades at center through free agency this offseason. Unless they can find some gem through free agency, overseas or in the developmental league, sign and trade Big Baby, or negotiate a miracle in the new collective bargaining agreement, the C’€™s will once again be running out a center by committee.

Who knew Nenad Krstic [24]‘€™s signing overseas would cause such a problem for the Celtics? The best-case scenario at this point for Ainge is probably to land Oden on the cheap and sign a guy like Mohammed to serve as a reliable backup for Jermaine O’€™Neal, but even that might be too much to ask.

*UPDATE: Bad news for the Celtics, as perhaps their top two options at center via free agency are now likely off the board as a result of moves reported on Wednesday. Nazr Mohammed signed a one-year extension with the Thunder, and terms of the deal have not been disclosed yet, according to The Oklahoman [25]. Meanwhile, Yahoo! Sports reported [26] that the Trail Blazers will indeed issue Greg Oden his qualifying offer, which means the C’s would have to offer him more than $8.8 million — and that ain’t happening.