The Boston Celtics have stumbled out of the starting gate, and it is largely because of their weak interior defense. Not only is the team 9-8 and fourth in the Atlantic Division, but they are the worst rebounding team in the league.
Some help is needed, and fast.
Fortunately for general manager Danny Ainge, there are plenty of big men available who could help the Celtics in a heartbeat. Kenyon Martin has yet to be signed by a team, and leading rebounder Anderson Varejao may be on the block (via probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com).
Both men are great defenders who would provide an equally great inside presence in Beantown.
However, it is still early in the season, and it is understandable why Boston's front office may be wary of making a move. For all they know, the team could undergo a great turnaround this month and immediately get back on track.
It is still better to be safe than sorry, and Ainge should be reaching out and looking to deal with the teams of the two big men. The Celtics need help in the paint, and they aren't going to get any unless their GM starts pursuing it.
2012-13 Stats: 3.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, .600 FG%
Now that Denver Nuggets coach George Karl has gone with Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee as his duo of centers, Mozgov has fallen towards the end of the bench. He has appeared in just seven games and is the type of player who needs significant minutes in order to produce.
More importantly, Mozgov is a restricted free agent this coming summer. He isn't really needed in Denver, so he could be acquired fairly cheaply if Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri is willing to deal.
Were he sent to Boston, Mozgov would give the Celtics a reliable backup center who could actually produce and not just be a big body like Jason Collins. If he were able to perform well, the Celtics could easily re-sign him at a cheap price for next season and perhaps beyond.
2011-12 Stats (with Los Angeles Clippers): 5.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.0 BPG
Martin is almost 35 years old and not the same dominant big man he was in the prime of his career, but he still has value in the NBA.
He has good size at 6'9", 240 pounds, and he will play a great low-post defensive game regardless of how much playing time he gets.
The best thing about Martin is that he is a free agent and can easily be signed for the veteran's minimum. Boston needs an experienced power forward not only to back up Brandon Bass but also mentor rookie Jared Sullinger. Martin can do this and more, assuming he is prepared to shed his bad-boy image.
Best-case scenario, Martin becomes a force in the low post while coming off of Boston's bench. Worst-case scenario, he doesn't work out and the team releases him before he becomes a burden.
2012-13 Stats: 11.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.1 BPG
Marcin Gortat has come into his own as the starting center for the Phoenix Suns. He has performed well this season, and he has good size at 6'11", 240 pounds.
However, Gortat is 28 years old and often struggles against elite centers. Though he is far from a rookie, he still needs some guidance on how to post up and play well down low.
Boston is the perfect place for him to learn those skills.
Were Ainge willing to take on the near-$15 million Gortat is owed up to 2014, then the Celtics would have one dominant frontcourt. Kevin Garnett would still handle the starting duties at center, and Gortat would be his dominating defensive backup. Gortat backed up Dwight Howard in Orlando for two-and-a-half seasons, so he is not a stranger to this type of role.
The only real issue with potentially trading for Gortat is the money. $15 million is a lot of cash for a backup, and the Celtics' payroll is pretty high already.
Just the same, Gortat's skills on defense speak for themselves, and having him in the paint to pull down rebounds and block some key shots will only help in Boston.
2012-13 Stats: 6.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, .465 FG%
The Spurs are one of the NBA's best teams at the moment, and are unlikely to be in the hunt for a trade any time soon.
However, it can't hurt team management to listen to offers on big man DeJuan Blair.
Blair is a fine low-post presence, despite being just 6'7"; his 270-pound frame gives him an ideal build for playing a physical game and going toe to toe with bigger interior players. This season, Blair has done his usual good work in the post but has averaged only 17.6 minutes per game.
This is because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is slowly phasing out Blair in favor of Tiago Splitter, who is a bigger player at 6'11", 240 pounds. Splitter has shown great improvement in his overall game this year, and he has a better shooting touch than Blair. Against the Miami Heat on Nov. 29, Splitter scored 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
Blair wouldn't be much of an offensive threat were he to play for the Celtics, but his being a restricted free agent this coming summer gives the Spurs some extra incentive to deal him. Better that they try and get something for him rather than potentially lose him to another team for nothing.
Boston should thus reach out to San Antonio because they need Blair's body. With the proper playing time, he can be a legitimate low-post threat and also provide some much-needed rebounding.
Such an improved defense would improve the team as a whole and help prepare them for a long playoff run.
2012-13 Stats: 11.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG, .536 FG%
Hickson does not have much size for a center at just 6'9", 242 pounds. Despite this, the Celtics should look to trade for him for one reason: rebounding.
Hickson has been great under the basket for the Portland Trail Blazers this season, and his expiring contract makes him a perfect candidate for the cash-strapped Celtics.
The fact is, Portland is unlikely to bring Hickson back long term. The team drafted center Meyers Leonard this past June, and he has not yet received enough playing time or experience in the paint to be considered a bust. Seeing as how Hickson will fetch a high price tag next summer—and if Portland's season is lost by the trade deadline—team management should look to deal him for some younger talent.
Boston has some good young prospects, namely Kris Joseph and Jared Sullinger, so trading them to acquire Hickson could prove to be a great trade. His presence off the bench would add a jolt to Boston's defense and instantly improve their standing in the Atlantic Division.
Even better, Hickson could potentially sign a new deal if he liked playing in Boston, and that would not be bad by any means.
2012-13 Stats: 15.1 PPG, 15.3 RPG, .536 FG%
According to Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer, the 4-13 Cleveland Cavaliers are shopping Anderson Varejao. The 6'11" Brazilian is in the midst of a career season, even as his team struggles without star point guard Kyrie Irving.
The man is unfortunately very expensive and is owed $27.3 million from now until 2015. Despite this price, Ainge would be foolish not to calculate just which players he could send to Cleveland in hopes of landing Varejao.
Yes, Varejao is injury prone and has only reached the 70-game mark three times before this season, but he is still a superb defender and has the rebounding that Boston needs.
The fact of the matter is that Boston is being presented with a rare opportunity, and needs to jump at it. You don't look a gift horse in the mouth, and Boston should not just ignore the concerns surrounding Varejao simply for financial purposes.
This man can help the team greatly, and it's time for team management to reach out to Cleveland and start negotiating.
2012-13 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG
Al Jefferson is currently in the final year of his contract for the Utah Jazz, all set to become a free agent at the end of the season. That said, should guard-needy Utah fall out of the playoff picture, general manager Dennis Lindsey will likely look to deal his star center rather than lose him for nothing come free agency.
Jefferson actually began his career in Boston and would be a great fit there now. Oddly enough, in an interview with Mike Petraglia of WEEI, Jefferson stated that he would love to play in Boston again and that the city was his "home away from home."
It would take some creative packaging, but the Celtics could easily pull off a trade for Jefferson. By including Brandon Bass, either Courtney Lee or Jeff Green (or both), plus draft picks, a trade could happen, and Boston's frontcourt would immediately benefit.
Jefferson has great size at 6'10", 289 pounds and knows the fanbase well. He is also a better-rounded player than when he first arrived on the scene in 2004.
The fact is that Ainge's team needs size, and Jefferson has plenty of it. If the Celtics' GM hasn't reached out to Utah already, he should right now.