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Celtics free agent options at center redux

Shortly after last season, we examined the free agent options that will be available to the Celtics [1] at each position. The new (tentative) labor deal has changed the landscape a bit, and some previously available players either retired (Yao Ming [2]), re-signed with their old teams (i.e., Nazr Mohammed and Greg Oden [3]) or signed overseas (i.e., J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler [4] and Kenyon Martin [5]), so it’s worthwhile to reexamine those options.

We’€™ll roll out one positional breakdown each day this week, starting with the C’€™s biggest need: Centers.

The Celtics started the 2010-11 season with four centers on the roster (Kendrick Perkins [6], Shaquille O’€™Neal, Jermaine O’€™Neal and Semih Erden) along with sometimes center Glen Davis [7]. 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 [8], $21.2; Paul Pierce [9], $15.33; Ray Allen [10], $10; Rajon Rondo [11], $10; Jermaine O’€™Neal, $6.23; Avery Bradley [12], $1.53), and Jeff Green [13] is due at least another $5.91 million this offseason. That leaves little wiggle room for Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.

As a result, don’€™t expect any big-name free agents. So, let’€™s start by crossing Nene, Tyson Chandler [14], Greg Oden ($8.8 million qualifying offer) and Marc Gasol ($4.5 million Q.O.) off the list of potential targets. While any of those three would be a fantastic fit on the 2011-12 Celtics, they’€™re all out of their league.

Without further ado, let’€™s take another 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 could add to provide depth. Like JO, they could be rejuvenated playing alongside Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

COMMON MAN: KURT THOMAS

POOR MAN: JEFF FOSTER

HOMELESS MAN: JASON COLLINS [16]

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 (it’s still the NBA, right?). 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 [18]

POOR MAN: SPENCER HAWES [20]

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 his injury history, he can’t be counted on under any circumstance, 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, he might prove worthy if he can be had for (extremely) affordable dollars.

COMMON MAN: JOEL PRZYBILLA [21]

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 among undrafted free agents, overseas or in the developmental league, sign and trade Big Baby, or use the amnesty clause on Jermaine O’Neal [25], the C’€™s will once again be running out a center by committee.

Who knew Nenad Krstic [26]‘€™s signing overseas would cause such a problem for the Celtics? The absolute best-case scenario at this point for Ainge is probably to land Dalembert on the cheap and sign a guy like Thomas to serve as a reliable backup for Jermaine O’€™Neal, but even that might be too much to ask.