The Boston Celtics have stumbled out of the gate in the season’s early going; finishing the first month of play with a 9-7 record. The issues that hinder the team’s progress can be most attributed to a weaker defensive output compared to past seasons and a level of inconsistency from game to game. One area that also appears to be a source of concern is the lack of physical presence on the interior. With Kevin Garnett now the permanent holder of the center position and being on a strict minutes limitation, the reserve unit has shown a lack of defensive intensity when the future hall of famer of on the bench.
To address this issue, the Celtics are likely to look at options available to enhance the team’s reserve frontcourt. Taking the salary cap implications out of the equation, here is a look at players the Celtics might want to consider if the need for an interior presence still exists.
The assessment profiles players based on their likely availability; with the easier to obtain first.
Kenyon Martin: Free Agent
Curiously absent from any NBA roster, the former college player of the year and overall number one draft selection is a 6-9 agile big man with defense and rebounding skills. Last season saw the veteran’s production dip dramatically; possibly indicating a significant erosion of skills.
Martin is not a strong shot blocking presence but has been an active big throughout his career. Despite the decline, the Celtics may wish to kick the tires on his current skill level and see whether adding another agile big man to this roster would be the right fit. Obtaining the 11-year veteran would likely not cost more than the veteran minimum, especially if playing for a title is incentive.
Erik Dampier: Free Agent
Certainly Erik Dampier has size and was once considered a solid rebounder, banger and shot blocker. In recent years, age and injuries have slowed the five-team veteran big man. At his best, Dampier was a formidable physical presence, but the agility required for a player in the Celtics’ defensive system might make his limitations less desirable.
Chris Andersen: Free Agent
The “Birdman” has been an eclectic mix of artistry (on the floor and on his body), athleticism, and troubles (drug suspension in 2006). At his best, Anderson can run the floor, block shots and rebound. Throughout his career, Andersen has been a valued reserve, averaging 1.6 blocked shots in just 18 minutes of play per game through his 10-year career.
Whether Andersen would be willing to conform to a disciplined environment in Boston is not yet known. His talents are likely to draw interest from other teams in the NBA and overseas as well given his unique talent set.
Ben Wallace: Free Agent
The last time Ben Wallace was seen on an NBA court, the visible erosion of skills that made him a defensive force had clearly taken place. His retirement following the 2011-12 season likely means that “Big Ben” playing days are behind him.
Much like P.J. Brown in 2008, there is always the potential that a title run and a limited reserve role fitting his skills could entice the former defensive player of the year and NBA champion to make one last stand.
J.J. Hickson: Portland Trail Blazers
Current Status: One year contract at $4 million
Once available as a waiver wire free agent last season, the former Cleveland Cavalier and current Portland Trail Blazer forward-center is having a solid season; averaging close to a double-double a game. Hickson’s energy level and ability to attack the basket on both ends of the floor might make him a worthy trade option.
With the Trail Blazers in the midst of rebuilding, it is not currently clear whether the team views him as a viable piece to their future or a transitional piece. If the later is the case, a trade might be possible.
DeMarcus Cousins: Sacramento Kings
Current Status: Two years remaining totaling $9 million with qualifying offer for 2014-15 at $6.5 million
The troubled Sacramento Kings big man is a talented player who may benefit from the veteran presence offered in Boston. There is little doubt that Cousins possesses an NBA body and skill set and would bring tremendous upside to Boston.
With the Kings apparently in perpetual rebuilding mode, obtaining Cousins might require the team to take on a less than desirable contract. There has been speculation that Tyreke Evans has fallen out of favor in Sacramento and would likely be included in any deal to obtain Cousins in return.
Marcin Gortat: Phoenix Suns
Current Status: Two years remaining totaling $15 million
Once rumored to be a trade option, the center has produced well for the Phoenix Suns. Gortat would bring aggressiveness, size, rebounding and shot blocking ability to the Celtics. Coming off a career-best season in 2011, Gortat has followed that up with another solid campaign.
The skills offered by the Polish-born big man would be a good compliment to the talent currently in place in Boston. What it would take to obtain the seven-footer?
Emeka Okafor: Washington Wizards
Current Status: Two years remaining totaling $28 million
Once considered the cornerstone of a Charlotte Bobcats franchise, the former number two overall pick is now toiling away as a reserve center for the moribund Washington Wizards. Okafor has dealt with an assortment of injuries through his career to date but is only two seasons removed from a 72-game season where he produced 10.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots.
In a reserve role, Okafor could bring lane coverage and a shot blocking presence the team sorely lacks. Whether the Wizards would be willing to part with Okafor this early in the season is not known; but with Nene Hilario recently returning from injury and Okafor’s hefty contract, his reduced dependence and massive contract would make him a desired trade option for Washington but not one many teams could take on.
Anderson Varejeo: Cleveland Cavaliers
Current Status: Two years remaining totaling $17 million with team option for 2014-15 at $9.8 million
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ center is having a career season and teams around the league are taking notice. With the Cavaliers not yet a legitimate playoff team, there has been rumors of late that the team may wish to leverage the career season being had by the Brazilian big man and obtain more building blocks for the future.
Obtaining Varejeo would be the most difficult and costly option for Boston. Given that Varejeo is a strong fan favorite in Cleveland, any potential offer for his services will likely have to include multiple players as well as draft choices; otherwise another revolt in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame home is likely.
Clearly, as you go down the list at potential options the Celtics could pursue to bolster their front court the more difficult their acquisition would be. The Celtics do possess young talent with manageable contracts to offer for some of the players currently employed elsewhere.
The more likely scenario would be for the Celtics to pursue one of the aforementioned free agent options first to see if one would fit the current need. The cost would likely be minimal and the team could move to a trade option if the experiments fail to deliver.
Panic time is not at hand in Boston and the Celtics are a team taking time to gel after a busy offseason of building. The return of Avery Bradley will help the interior defense by reducing the free passes to the paint currently being offered by the active Celtics’ guards.
If a physical intimidating presence is needed, the team can continue to experiment with additional minutes to Jason Collins to see what returns can be gleaned. From there, the likely scenario might be running down a similar list as described above to see where the right fit might exist.
Planers mentioned above could possible be obtained with the right combination of player salaries, but the further one reads down the list, the more difficult to acquire the aforementioned players becomes.
Regardless, the Boston Celtics are a solid playoff team with the potential of being an elite Eastern Conference contender with the talent currently in place. There is always the danger of experimenting too much with chemistry in development, in fear that it could all blow up in their face. With all the front office has done over the past several months, a prudent approach would be wise.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; witnessing five of Boston’s 17 championships. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
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