At least the Boston Celtics know now.
Since they won their 17th NBA Championship, Boston’s season was repeatedly derailed by injuries to the center position, with failed attempts to fill the void.
Earlier this week, the Celtics released Darko Milicic as he returned home to be at the side of his ailing mother. He played just five minutes in the regular season.
Expectations were high for Milicic, the former second-overall pick in the 2003 draft. His performance in the preseason was very encouraging, as Milicic averaged five rebounds per game (four defensive) and two blocks in 14.5 minutes per game. Boston totaled a +37 with Milicic on the floor in four games, a difference of 9.25 points per game.
But Milicic’s performance in practice didn’t satisfy head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers lost confidence in Milicic and dropped Milicic behind Jason Collins on the depth chart.
The Celtics absolutely could use the preseason version of Milicic this season. After 13 games, Boston is 22nd in rebounding with a differential of -78. Boston is also 28th in the league in blocked shots with 42 and 29th in points in the paint allowed with 44.3.
These flaws were on full display last week. Boston went 1-2 in losses to Detroit and San Antonio while defeating Oklahoma City. Boston has been out-rebounded in 10 of 12 games. And the Celtics were out-scored in the paint by 48 points.
|Opponent||Rebounds||Points in the Paint|
No one will ever know what kind of effect a productive Milicic could have had for the Celtics. But now Boston can patiently find a solution to their depth-at-center problem.
Boston always had insufficient size on their roster after Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were united. Coaxing P.J. Brown out of retirement late in the 2007-08 season was the reinforcement the Celtics needed to win the NBA title.
But since then, Boston has been cursed repeatedly with injuries that crippled their shots to add an 18th banner to the rafters:
2008-09: With the best record in the NBA, hopes of a repeat went down when Garnett injured his knee in February against Utah. In Garnett’s absence, the Celtics signed free agent Mikki Moore.
2009-10: Boston’s Kendrick Perkins tore the MCL and PCL in his knee in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, ending his season. Rasheed Wallace was the only reliable center left on the roster, but Wallace wasn’t enough as the Celtics lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
2010-11: President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge thought he solved the center problem by signing free agents Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal. But Jermaine couldn’t stay healthy, and Shaquille went down with a right Achilles tendon injury in February. A pair of bold trades (C Kendrick Perkins and G Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for C Nenad Krstic and F Jeff Green; C Semih Erden and F Luke Harangody to Cleveland for a second-round draft pick) plus the signing of Troy Murphy didn’t compensate for the loss of both O’Neals.
2011-2012: For the second season in a row, Jermaine O’Neal spent more time off the court than on. Reserve Chris Wilcox was playing his best basketball when a known heart abnormality became a concern and ended Wilcox’s season in March. Rookie Greg Stiemsma was slowed by a foot injury through the playoffs. Late additions Ryan Hollins and Sean Williams looked like they had little to no idea what to do in their few appearances.
With Milicic’s release happening early in the season, Boston can wait and see how the team develops and who becomes available around the league before making a move, if Ainge believes changes are needed.
Early rumors have the Celtics interested in Phoenix’s Marcin Gortat, according to Przeglad Sportowy (h/t Gothic Ginobili). The veterans on the Celtics allegedly endorse the signing of free agent Kenyon Martin, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
Both options should remain open, but there’s no rush. More players will become available as the season progresses. Teams become more willing to deal as the February 21st trade deadline approaches.
Players with expiring contracts will be dealt, as teams get value out of players instead of losing them for nothing after the season. Expensive, disgruntled players will come at a high price, but for teams going nowhere, it’s better to cut losses and acquire potential and draft picks to rebuild.
Other players will get released after the trade deadline, flooding the free-agent market with more options. Maybe a precocious player from the NBA Developmental League can come in and contribute.
Maybe first-round draft pick Fab Melo will benefit tremendously from his experience with Celtics D-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, as his raw skills are refined quickly. In his debut, Melo only scored two points and pulled down just one rebound. But he did have four blocks in 20:15 of action.
A lot will change in three months. As the Celtics strive for consistency, some problems take care of themselves while new ones arise. If Boston is fortunate, they won’t be hit hard by any significant injuries to key players.
Boston already lost one center in Milicic. To replace him, the best move right now is to do nothing and wait for other opportunities to become available.
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