Despite winning seven of their last eight games, the Boston Celtics have undergone yet another extreme hardship in 2013. General Manager Danny Ainge has some dire and time-sensitive decisions to make.
First, floor general Rajon Rondo saw his best season as a pro cut short due to an ACL injury. Then rookie big man Jared Sullinger underwent season-ending back surgery. And Monday night, backup point Leandro Barbosa, who had been on a hot streak during Boston's latest run, tore his ACL, as reported by Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com.
With only 10 players on the Celtics' active roster, Ainge needs to make some moves. The trade deadline looms less than 10 days away, and many rumors have already been shot down by Ainge and Coach Doc Rivers.
Additionally, Kevin Garnett has roundly rejected notions that he would waive his no-trade clause, and he and captain Paul Pierce have recently played as if they want to contend this year more than any other.
While Avery Bradley has played great basketball of late, he remains an injury concern without a dependable backup point guard. Courtney Lee and Jason Terry are both more shoot-first, pass-later 2-guard types, with Lee in particular struggling mightily.
Rumors have swirled that the Celtics will offer a 10-day contract to Shelvin Mack, a PG in Boston's D-league affiliate in Maine who has filled NBA spots for the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers.
But as Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski describes the potential move, Mack would be nothing more than a stopgap. If the Celtics expect to make a legitimate postseason run, Ainge will need to up the ante by signing more legitimate NBA options both at the point and down low.
The following list of players highlights the available free agents the Celtics might consider to fill their needs.
The collective groans may be rolling in from Celtics Nation at the thought of rooting for a former Laker, but Derek Fisher could provide a lot of benefits to this Boston team.
Fisher, who was waived by the Dallas Mavericks in December, has played in the NBA since 1996. His veteran point guard experience includes 229 playoff games, five NBA titles and some legendarily clutch shots.
A career 37 percent three-point shooter, Fisher takes good shots without hesitation. But his offensive instincts revolve around ball-handling, team basketball and smart decision making, as evidenced by his lifetime 2.60 assist-to-turnover ratio.
He also plays aggressively on the drive, utilizing his 6'1", 210-pound frame to get to the free throw line, where he shoots a lights-out 82 percent for his career.
And despite having lost a step or two, the 38-year-old plays gritty, heads-up defense. He stays in front of most opponents, sliding his feet and taking charges whenever possible. He has quick hands and displays solid fundamentals that make up for his inability to stay with younger, quicker point guards.
Most important to the Celtics, Fisher would bring in his basketball IQ and leadership experience. He stepped up nicely for Oklahoma City in the Thunder's Finals run last year, and he could step up in Boston when fellow veterans Pierce and Garnett need it the most.
Kenyon Martin, who is remarkably still available despite a pretty effective 2012 campaign with the Los Angeles Clippers, has been involved in Celtics whispers since November.
However, Ainge and the Celtics organization have reportedly been "wary of the attitude and disposition of Martin."
But the Celtics continue to struggle on the glass, sitting next-to-last in total rebounds with 40 per game and yielding a staggering 3.6 rebounds per game differential. Especially considering the void left by Sullinger, who was averaging six boards a game before his injury, Ainge must act now.
The last two games have highlighted Boston's inferiority on the glass. On Sunday night versus Denver, the Nuggets out-rebounded the C's 65-51, including a whopping 15 offensive rebounds. Besides Garnett and Pierce, nobody in green had more than five rebounds.
One night later, the lowly Charlotte Bobcats had their way with Boston down low, winning the rebound battle 47-44 and unleashing center Byron Mullens for a 25-point, 18-rebound night. He cleared five offensive rebounds himself, three less than Boston's entire roster.
The 35-year-old Martin would have put a stop to such disparities. At 6'9", 240 pounds, he's a powerful bruiser down low, with career averages of 13 PPG and seven RPG. He plays tough-nosed defense in the post, and was once considered one of the best defensive power forwards in the game.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2000, Martin's two major concerns since turning 30 have stemmed from behavioral issues and a nagging knee injury. But his toughness, defensive prowess and rebounding are worth the risk. He has more than likely learned his lesson thanks to a four-month absence from the Association.
If Boston decides to go back to Martin's camp, and somehow signs him to the veteran's minimum, KG would be glad to keep him in line.
If not, expect Martin in Madison Square Garden for the playoffs.
One of the shortest players in NBA history, Earl Boykins has no plans to retire from the game just yet. The journeyman point guard has stayed in great shape, "working out in Denver altitude," according to Yahoo's Marc Spears.
A spectacular ball-handler with some quickness left in his 36-year-old legs, Boykins provides intelligent point guard play and solid poise under pressure. He grabs a lot of steals, and leads fast breaks with Rondo-like skill. His steals and assists-per-turnover ratios have helped contribute to his length of service in the pros.
Of course, Boykins presents drawbacks. Standing only 5'5", he has trouble guarding larger opponents at times, and gets posted up quite a bit. On the other side of the floor, he sometimes looks for his own shot more than he should.
If Ainge brought Boykins for a meet-and-greet, he would probably discuss that the veteran's services would be on a distribution basis. Otherwise, the Celtics would be better off sticking with Mack.
Boykins has played for 10 different teams since being drafted in 1998, in some cases only appearing in a handful of games before being shipped out. But he's a crowd favorite wherever he goes, and Boston would be no different.
The Celtics could use Boykins' brand of explosiveness, offensive intelligence, and natural ball-handling skills. Anything's better than being short-handed (excuse the pun).
Let's move into the improbable for a moment. Although he likely wouldn't return to the game unless it was to go back to Motown, Ben Wallace deserves a serious look from Ainge.
A four-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time rebounding champion, Wallace would provide exactly what the Celtics need in a big man.
Wallace, 38, has had short stints in Washington, Orlando, Chicago and Cleveland, but his undisputed NBA home is Detroit. He donned a Pistons uniform from 2000 to 2006 and again from 2009 until last year.
He has expressed interest in returning to The Palace of Auburn Hills this season, but Detroit seems to be transitioning to a younger team dynamic. If Wallace opts to play for a different squad rather than stay retired, Boston would give him a great chance to earn his second NBA Championship.
He may be a liability on the offensive end, but his dominance on defense and on the glass more than make up for that. Wallace has Herculean strength and a team-first mentality, two qualities always welcomed at the Garden.
Formerly a superstar for the Milwaukee Bucks, point guard/shooting guard Michael Redd remains willing and able to bring his services to an NBA team.
The sharpshooting Redd may be known more for his days as a top scorer in the league (19.0 career PPG) and less for his passing game, but he did man the helm of the Bucks' offense for many years. In fact, he averaged close to six assists a game for a couple seasons early in his career.
For Redd to be considered for the Celtics green, he would need to return to that team-oriented mindset. The Celtics have a great deal of chemistry already, so any incoming guard would be needed to facilitate more than create.
Redd's lights-out jump shot could free up Pierce, Bradley, Lee and Green on the wings, as defenders will be unable to play him loosely. His experience and clutch play could mesh well with the veterans of the squad.
Or, they could clash. Redd had a decent campaign with the Suns last year, shooting 32 percent from three-point range and averaging eight points in 15 minutes per game, but he only logged 0.6 assists a night. Such selfishness, mixed with a slowed-down first step at 33 years old, could be bigger handicaps than help.
Best of the rest: Here is a brief list of the other notable point guards currently available as NBA free agents, as well as the reason why they might not pan out in Boston.
Delonte West, PG: West has had two different stints in Boston, but behavioral issues and law problems stemming from his battle with bipolar disorder may have kept the team away from re-signing the 29-year old. Wojnarowski says he is not an option. He had a solid run with the Dallas Mavericks last season, but likely won't find a job in Boston this year.
Gilbert Arenas, PG: Arenas, once a prolific scorer for Washington, has run into similar behavioral problems in his recent past. Since he was arrested for bringing guns to the Wizards' locker room on Christmas Eve 2009, "Agent Zero" hasn't been the same player. He's currently playing in China, competing against fellow NBA vet Tracy McGrady. Both will be eligible to return in the March-April range. Especially considering their history of disrupting team chemistry, neither of these stars seems to fit the roles Boston must fill.
Allen Iverson, PG: Iverson's name has been all over the Internet and Boston sports radio shows since Barbosa's confirmed ACL injury. However, the former perennial All-Star who didn't like "talkin' 'bout practice" doesn't have much to offer the Celtics at this point. His game was built off speed and elusiveness, which might be a problem now that he's 37 and not as speedy or elusive.