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Celtics free-agent options at center

Posted By Ben Rohrbach On June 27, 2011 @ 6:46 pm In General | 14 Comments

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 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, Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Semih Erden) along with sometimes center Glen Davis. 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, $21.2; Paul Pierce, $15.33; Ray Allen, $10; Rajon Rondo, $10; Jermaine O’Neal, $6.23; Avery Bradley, $1.53), and Jeff Green 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 (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

Nazr Mohammed

RICH MAN: NAZR MOHAMMED*

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (75 games): 17.1 MIN, 7.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 52.2 FG%, 59.8 FT%
  • Why? Mohammed, 33, has been a productive rebounder and scorer in the NBA for 10 seasons, averaging 16.7 points and 11.5 boards per 40 minutes just last season.
  • Why not? With hands that have oft been compared to cinder blocks, Mohammed’s inconsistency is bewildering. Take Nov. 12-13, 2010, for example, when he totaled as many turnovers as points or rebounds one night, and then generated 22 points and 20 boards the next.

COMMON MAN: KURT THOMAS

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (52 games): 22.7 MPG, 4.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 51.1 FG%, 62.5 FT%
  • Why? Believe it or not, the Bulls got more out of Thomas with their one-year veteran minimum deal than the Celtics got out of Shaq this past season.
  • Why not? Never considered particularly athletic, Thomas won’t get any more mobile at 38 years old.

POOR MAN: JEFF FOSTER

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (56 games): 16.8 MIN, 3.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 47.9 FG%, 56.3 FT%
  • Why? Only two centers who averaged 15 minutes grabbed more than 20 percent of the rebounds available to them. Dwight Howard (21.9 percent) was first, and Foster (20.7 percent) was second.
  • Why not? At 34 years old, Foster’s production has fallen off significantly, in part due to his February 2010 back surgery. The career Pacer has said he’d like to stay in Indiana for as long as they’ll have him.

HOMELESS MAN: JASON COLLINS

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (49 games): 12.1 MPG, 2.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.2 BPG, 47.9 FG%, 65.9 FT%
  • Why? In his 11th NBA season, Collins earned a reputation as the Dwight Howard defensive stopper, helping the Hawks upset the Magic in the first round of the 2010-11 NBA Playoffs.
  • Why not? Collins’ combined points and rebounding hasn’t reached double digits since 2004-05, so signing an un-athletic guy just for his ability to bother Howard might be a bit of a stretch.

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 …

Kwame Brown

COMMON MAN: KWAME BROWN

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (66 games): 26.0 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 51.7 FG%, 58.9 FT%
  • Why? If you drafted Brown with the No. 1 overall pick — as Michael Jordan did in 2001 — then you’d consider him a bust of epic proportions. But if you signed him for the veteran minimum — as Jordan did again almost 10 years later — then he proved worthwhile, especially as a defender and rebounder.
  • Why not? Not necessarily known for his work ethic, Brown’s instincts, hands and free-throw shooting make him a liability on the offensive end.

POOR MAN: SPENCER HAWES

  • Status: Restricted ($4.1 million qualifying offer)
  • 2010-11 averages (81 games): 19.6 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 46.5 FG%, 53.4 FT%
  • Why? Starting 81 games this past season for a vastly improved 76ers team, Hawes continued to demonstrate an ability to score in the post and on the perimeter.
  • Why not? Hawes has developed a reputation for being soft, considering he often wanders from the basket offensively (shooting just 24.3 percent on 1,718 3-point attempts in 2010-11) and should be a better defender and rebounder with his height and wingspan (both 7 foot, 1 inch). The Sixers have already extended a $4.1 million qualifying offer, and the Celtics aren’t likely to exceed that.

HOMELESS MAN: AARON GRAY

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (41 games): 13.0 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.3 BPG, 56.6 FG%, 50.0 FT%
  • Why? A (very) big body at 7 feet, 270 pounds, Gray can score around the basket and pass well for his size.
  • Why not? Gray has a lethal combination of slow feet and poor conditioning, making him a defensive liability. He turned down a player option that would have paid him $1.1 million, so the five-year veteran will be looking for more than that on the open market.

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 …

DeAndre Jordan

RICH MAN: DEANDRE JORDAN

  • Status: Restricted ($1.1 million qualifying offer)
  • 2010-11 averages (80 games): 25.6 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 68.6 FG%, 45.2 FT%
  • Why? Just 22 years old, Jordan’s freakish athleticism translated into a 68.6 field-goal percentage (on a ridiculous number of dunks) as well as 11.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 40 minutes this past season.
  • Why not? If there’s a worse free-throw shooter than Kwame Brown, it’s Jordan (41.4 career FT%), whose work ethic and decision-making had been questioned until his breakout 2010-11 season. The Clippers can match any offer extended to Jordan, so the budding big man likely won’t be a legitimate option.

COMMON MAN: SAMUEL DALEMBERT

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (80 games): 24.2 MPG, 8.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 47.3 FG%, 73.0 FT%
  • Why? Dalembert is an athletic 30-year-old center capable of averaging a double-double, and not many of those will be available on the open market.
  • Why not? Despite nine seasons in the NBA, Dalembert still lacks fundamental understanding of the game, and even if he commands half of the $12.2 million he made last year he might cost too much.

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 …

Greg Oden

RICH MAN: GREG ODEN*

  • Status: Restricted ($8.8 million qualifying offer)
  • 2010-11 averages (0 games): DNP (knee surgery)
  • Why? There’s a reason the Trail Blazers selected Oden with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, as the 7-foot, 285-pounder has the potential to dominate the post offensively and defensively, evidenced by his averages of 18.6 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per 40 minutes in (really) limited action.
  • Why not? Obviously, the issue is keeping Oden on the floor. Knee injuries have limited Oden to only 82 games in four NBA seasons, and foul problems have cut into his minutes even further. Still, he’ll generate interest from a number of teams based simply on the mere possibility of a breakout season.

COMMON MAN: JOEL PRZYBILLA

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (36 games): 14.4 MIN, 1.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 56.8 FG%, 51.9 FT%
  • Why? The defensive-minded Przybilla averaged 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while playing 82 games for a 54-win team in 2008-09. Just last season, he grabbed 19.9 percent of the available rebounds while he was on the floor — third among centers who played 10 minutes a night.
  • Why not? Since rupturing his right patella tendon in December 2009 — and re-injuring the same knee when he slipped and fell in the shower a few months later — Przybilla has missed 98-of-134 games.

POOR MAN: YAO MING

  • Status: Unrestricted
  • 2010-11 averages (5 games): 18.2 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 48.6 FG%, 93.8 FT%
  • Why? When healthy, Yao is one of the best centers in the league, averaging 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 assists per game in his last full season (77 games in 2008-09).
  • Why not? Yao has played five games in two years due to foot, ankle and knee injuries, and even if his health improves enough to avoid retirement, his loyalty probably means he’ll re-sign in Houston.

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 …

  • Hamed Haddadi (31 games: 5.4 MIN, 2.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 51.7 FG%, 65.2 FT%)
  • Kyrylo Fesenko (53 games: 8.6 MIN, 2.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.3 BPG, 44.0 FG%, 39.1 FT%)
  • Erick Dampier (51 games: 16.0 MIN, 2.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 58.4 FG%, 54.5 FT%)
  • Alexis Ajinca (34 games: 10.0 MIN, 4.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 44.4 FG%, 72.2 FT%)
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas (72 games: 15.9 MIN, 5.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 50.8 FG%, 78.3 FT%)
  • Dan Gadzuric (42 games: 11.0 MIN, 2.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.7 BPG, 41.9 FG%, 37.0 FT%)
  • Etan Thomas (13 games: 6.3 MIN, 2.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.3 BPG, 47.6 FG%, 80.0 FT%)
  • Tony Battie (38 games: 9.9 MIN, 2.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 46.9 FG%, 57.1 FT%)
  • Jamaal Magloire (18 games: 8.8 MIN, 1.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.1 BPG, 59.1 FG%, 50.0 FT%)
  • Francisco Elson (62 games: 9.8 MIN, 2.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.2 BPG, 47.8 FG%, 83.9 FT%)
  • Hilton Armstrong (53 games: 9.2 MIN, 1.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 48.7 FG%, 48.5 FT%)
  • Theo Ratliff (10 games: 7.1 MIN, 0.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.5 BPG, 16.7 FG%, 0.00 FT%)
  • Eddy Curry (DNP in 2010-11)

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’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 [1]. Meanwhile, Yahoo! Sports reported [2] 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.


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[1] according to The Oklahoman: http://www.newsok.com/okc-thunder-signs-nazr-mohammed-to-contract-extension/article/3581375?custom_click=masthead_topten

[2] Yahoo! Sports reported: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=mc-spears_greg_oden_blazers_062911

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