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2012-13 Celtics free agent options at center

Eleven of the 15 players on the roster against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals can begin negotiating with the Celtics [1] or any other team as NBA free agents on July 1. More importantly, they can sign anywhere on July 11 once an audit determines the salary cap. That figure is expected to be close to the 2011-12 number of $58 million, and a large chunk of that will be dedicated to one of the C’€™s biggest needs: Centers.

The Celtics started last season with two true centers (Jermaine O’Neal [2], Greg Stiemsma [3]), mixed in a little Chris Wilcox [4] early and settled on Kevin Garnett [5], who finished the year as the best remaining center in the playoffs. Now, a year later, nobody remains from that list. While Garnett, Stiemsma and Wilcox are all options depending on their mindset, health and value, respectively, the C’€™s may need anywhere from 0-3 guys who can play the five.

The Celtics have four players under contract in 2012-13 for a combined $34.5 million (Paul Pierce [6], $16.8M; Rajon Rondo [7], $11.0M; Avery Bradley [8], $1.6M; JaJuan Johnson [9], $1.1M). Pending decisions on or by Garnett, Ray Allen [10], Jeff Green [11], Brandon Bass [12], Chris Wilcox, Mickael Pietrus [13], Keyon Dooling [14] and Stiemsma, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have anywhere from $0-33 million to spend in free agency.

As a result, expect the C’s to be linked to just about any and every free agent on the market. Nobody is 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 KEVIN GARNETTS

Garnett remains Option A at center [15]. He defined the 2011-12 Celtics during their surprising run that culminated within a game of the NBA finals [16]. If he re-signs, scratch these guys — the cream of the center crop — off the list. However, if the KG era in Boston ends, expect anyone from this group to be on Ainge’s table.

RICH MAN: ROY HIBBERT [17]

COMMON MAN: BROOK LOPEZ [18]

POOR MAN: CHRIS KAMAN [19]

HOMELESS MEN: Kwame Brown [20], unrestricted (9 games: 20.8 MIN, 6.3 PTS, 6.3 REB, 52.5 FG%, 44.1 FT%); Spencer Hawes [21], unrestricted (37 games: 24.9 MIN, 9.6 PTS, 7.3 REB, 2.6 AST, 1.3 BLK, 48.9 FG%, 72.7 FT%); JaVale McGee, $4.4 million qualifier (61 games: 25.2 MIN, 11.3 PTS, 7.8 REB, 2.2 BLK, 55.6 FG%, 46.1 FT%).

THE GREG STIEMSMAS

Athletic limitations or health concerns keep these guys from holding down the fort at center, but they’re serviceable NBA backups. The Celtics extended a $1.0 million qualifying offer to Stiemsma and can match any figure, but they shouldn’t allocate more than $5 million (the non-taxpayer midlevel exception equivalent) to anyone on this list.

RICH MAN: MARCUS CAMBY [22]

COMMON MAN: GREG ODEN [23]

POOR MAN: MEHMET OKUR

HOMELESS MEN: Aaron Gray, unrestricted (49 games: 16.6 MIN, 3.9 PTS, 5.7 REB, 51.6 FG%, 53.2 FT%); Nazr Mohammed, unrestricted (63 games: 11.0 MIN, 2.7 PTS, 2.7 REB, 46.7 FG%, 56.5 FT%); Ben Wallace [24], unrestricted (62 games: 15.8 MIN, 1.4 PTS, 4.3 REB, 39.5 FG%, 34.0 FT%).

THE RYAN HOLLINSES

Young and athletic, like Hollins, these guys could come cheap, contribute deep off the bench and grow into a larger role in the future. On a veteran team, perhaps one of them blossoms into a diamond in the rough. However, if the Celtics draft someone like Fab Melo, this group might not be worth a roster spot.

RICH MAN: OMER ASIK

COMMON MAN: ROBIN LOPEZ

POOR MAN: SEMIH ERDEN

HOMELESS MEN: Solomon Alabi, unrestricted (14 games: 8.7 MIN, 2.4 PTS, 3.4 REB, 36.1 FG%, 87.5 FT%); Daniel Orton, unrestricted (16 games: 11.7 MIN, 2.8 PTS, 2.4 REB, 56.7 FG%, 44.0 FT%); Hasheem Thabeet, unrestricted (20 games: 7.0 MIN, 1.8 PTS, 2.1 REB, 52.4 FG%, 65.0 FT%).

THE JERMAINE O’NEALS

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

As you may have noticed, there are about 472,503 possible scenarios for Ainge to fill various center roles this summer, and the first few hundred thousand should and will start with Garnett, who will likely make his decision prior to July 1. And the same combination of Garnett, Stiemsma and Hollins certainly isn’t the worst-case scenario.