Al Jefferson and Josh Smith are two of the top prizes available on the 2013 free agent market.
The 2012-13 campaign is drawing to a close, meaning the offseason is right around the corner.
The Boston Celtics will enter this summer with more question marks than they've had in years. Will Kevin Garnett and/or Paul Pierce retire? Will the Celtics attempt to trade them if they don't? Will GM Danny Ainge decide to give it one more go with the two veterans and try for another championship?
Fortunately for Boston, a team in desperate need of frontcourt help, there will be a large number of solid big men on the open market. No, that doesn't mean Dwight Howard, but there will be plenty of other interior guys who can really help the C's going forward.
There also happen to be a few nice backup point guards headed for free agency, and that could be a point of emphasis for Ainge with Rajon Rondo returning from a torn ACL.
One thing is for sure: It will be interesting.
The Celtics have been playing without a true point guard ever since Rondo went down, and they have been getting by just fine. However, it would still be nice to have a ball-handler backing Rondo up next year.
D.J. Augustin has never really lived up to the expectations many had for him, but he is still a serviceable player. He could end up being one of the best backup point guards in the league if he accepts the fact that he will never be a key cog.
Augustin's numbers are all over the place this season.
His .122 win shares per 48 minutes (per basketball-reference.com) are solid, but his 34.9 percent shooting clip is obviously not. In 16.3 minutes per game, he is tallying 4.7 points and 2.4 assists.
Are his stats great? Not by any means, but he has been much better than this in the past. His career shooting percentage is 40.1 percent, and while that is far from impressive, it's certainly better than what he is shooting in 2012-13. Also, this is a guy two years removed from averaging 14.4 points and 6.1 assists, so the talent to be a nice role player is there.
Fortunately, Augustin would come very cheaply, and he is still young at the age of 25.
Ainge should investigate the Texas product.
Earl Clark has only been in the league for four years and has already played for four teams. Generally, that is a pretty big red flag. However, Clark has shown quite a bit with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 6'10" forward is averaging 11.8 points and 9.3 boards per 36 minutes and performed very well during Pau Gasol's absence. He has managed 11 double-figure rebound games despite only getting 23 minutes of burn a contest. He has two 20-10 games under his belt.
Clark was very impressive at Louisville, and due to his production there, many felt that he had the talent to be a very nice player on the professional level. While he will likely never develop into any kind of star, he can be a decent role player. He has demonstrated that in Los Angeles.
Clark is 25, inexpensive and seems to be improving by leaps and bounds with more floor time.
For a Celtics team that needs frontcourt help so desperately, Clark is worth a look.
Brandan Wright is really starting to make something of his career with the Dallas Mavericks.
In 2012-13, Wright is posting 17 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes and .177 win shares per 48. This comes on the heels of a 2011-12 campaign that saw Wright boast .215 win shares per 48.
There are two very good things about Wright other than his improvement.
First of all, he is only 25 years old, so there is room for him to get even better. Yes, this is already his fifth year in the league, but he has shown substantial growth as a player in Dallas. There is absolutely a chance that he becomes more effective than he is now.
Second of all, he will come cheap. Signing Wright would not require the Celtics to make any major roster moves, as his potential arrival wouldn't revolve around Garnett and Pierce's situations.
It would be a bit surprising if Ainge doesn't at least entertain the idea of bringing Wright aboard.
Devin Harris is currently the second floor general behind Jeff Teague with the Atlanta Hawks, so why wouldn't he accept a reserve role behind Rondo in Boston?
The days of Harris being one of the top point guards are long gone, so he is not going to get paid too much. One trade where the C's shed some salary could certainly open up the door for a potential Harris signing.
Harris has been solid in Atlanta, averaging 14.2 points and 4.8 assists per 36 minutes while shooting the ball at a 44.6 percent clip. He has also improved his outside shot after really struggling with it early on in his career.
So long as someone doesn't come along and offer him bigger bucks than he is worth, Harris could be a realistic option for the Celtics. He would provide some nice insurance as Rondo makes his way back from ACL surgery.
Samuel Dalembert has the potential to be one of the biggest steals of the 2013 free-agent pool.
He has been one of the league's most underrated and underappreciated players ever since arriving on the scene. Dalembert has averaged double-digits in rebounds per 36 minutes in each of the 11 years of his career, and this season, he is putting up 14.9 points per 36 minutes, a lifetime best.
Dalembert is just stuck in an extremely deep Milwaukee Bucks frontcourt, hence the lack of significant playing time. On the Celtics, he would be the starting center no matter what. Garnett would be able to move back to power forward should he return for another season.
Given the fact that there are going to be so many good big men on the market, Dalembert will likely be very affordable. Will Boston have to make a move to clear some cap space to sign him? Probably, but it wouldn't have to be anything too drastic.
If the C's want to make one more run with K.G. and Pierce, Dalembert would be the perfect guy to add to the mix.
Remember when the Celtics almost acquired David West before the 2011-12 season? You have to wonder what might have been.
Well, there is a slim chance that may come to fruition.
West is a free agent this summer, and he will definitely be heavily pursued by many teams.
Let's take the pipe dream route here and imagine that he won't get too big of a contract. That actually may be plausible, too, given how strong the market is going to be for big men.
Does Ainge make a play for West?
First, a couple of things about West that will explain why he isn't ranked higher on this list.
No. 1, he will be 33 years old at the start of the 2013-14 campaign. So, if the only way he can come to Boston is if Garnett retires, forget it. The C's aren't going to build around a 33-year-old in the post. If West doesn't get short-changed on the open market, the Celtics have no chance.
If West gets lost in the shuffle of guys like Josh Smith, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and Paul Millsap, there is a chance that his price drops enough for Ainge to do some wheeling and dealing. He can try and dump some salary and bring in the Indiana Pacers forward.
It probably isn't going to happen, but hey, you never know.
J.J. Hickson is a pretty big wild card in this year's free-agent class. He seems like the prototypical productive player who doesn't get signed until late in the offseason because he will be holding out for too much dough.
Hickson is having the best season of his career in 2012-13. By far. The 6'9" forward/center is averaging 15.9 points and 13.1 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting a very impressive 56.4 percent from the floor. Hickson is also great on the offensive glass, putting up 3.4 offensive boards a game.
Could the rebounding-challenged Celtics use that or what?
The problem with Hickson is that he is not a very good defender, and in a league where defensive-minded bigs are starting to rule, that is a problem. Also, Hickson's .155 win shares per 48 minutes are easily the best of his career, making one wonder whether or not he is merely playing well in a contract year.
The feeling here is that Hickson will go into the offseason expecting a big-time deal, and with other bigs like Smith, Jefferson, Bynum, Millsap and West on the open market, he will not get it. Instead, he will have to settle for a contract far below what he actually anticipates.
Will that allow Boston to sign Hickson without having to lose Garnett or Pierce in the process? Well, it would take an awful lot of maneuvering on Ainge's part, and it would probably start with unloading Bass' contract somewhere.
Is it likely? No, but the potential of Hickson in Celtic green is worth mulling over.
The Celtics may be able to get their hands on Millsap without gutting their core. Would one of Garnett or Pierce have to go? Probably, but Millsap should be affordable enough that Boston could keep one of the two.
Millsap probably won't be too expensive. That isn't to say he won't get a nice-sized deal, though.
The 28-year-old is averaging 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and a robust .166 win shares per 48 minutes. The guy is a very solid player and would be a welcome addition to the C's' frontcourt.
Is Millsap a great rebounder? Well, not exactly. He has a total rebound percentage of 14 percent on the dot, a little below his career mark of 15.3. That is still decent, and he would certainly bring more to the glass than Bass and Chris Wilcox do.
Millsap may actually end up being a fairly realistic commodity for the Celtics if K.G. ends up retiring or if Pierce gets moved. He may also be the best option for Boston overall in terms of not handcuffing the franchise financially.
It would take a pretty significant sequence of events for the Celtics to secure Jefferson, as Garnett and Pierce would have to either retire or get dealt in order to clear enough salary for the Utah Jazz big man. It would be fairly ironic if K.G. retiring leads to the signing of Jefferson, considering Jefferson was the main piece Boston sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves in order to reel Garnett in during the summer of 2007.
Big Al is the type of player Celtics fans have been pining to put alongside of K.G. for quite a while now. Unfortunately, that pairing will probably never happen in Boston.
Still, Jefferson would seem like a pretty nice candidate to replace Garnett should the future Hall of Famer walk off into the sunset this summer. While he is not exactly a defensive stalwart, Jefferson has established himself as one of the game's best low-post players and one of its better rebounders to boot.
Jefferson's advanced metrics have always looked more than decent. He posted a career-high average of .173 win shares per 48 minutes in 2011-12, and this year, he is recording a more modest .134. His career average is .128.
Spectacular? No. Effective? Absolutely.
Al would definitely look good in Celtic green because, well, we've seen him don that jersey before. He would also be a solid No. 1 option. Is he a superstar? No, but he is definitely a good player who can anchor a frontline.
It's just a shame K.G. would have to go in order to make it happen.
Much like Jefferson, a lot would have to happen for the Celtics to have the capacity to sign Smith. The move would likely only occur if Garnett and Pierce retire or if Boston can trade them.
There is also the question of whether or not Smith would be worth the massive contract he would command.
The man known as J-Smoove is certainly a very good basketball player, someone who seems to be one of the biggest All-Star snubs each and every year.
However, he cannot be "the guy." He just isn't that type of player, and if the Celtics invest too much money into Smith long-term, chances are they will handicap themselves and not be able to surround him with the necessary talent to win.
Of course, there is the possibility that Smith's price drops and he doesn't get the kind of money he expects. There is also the potential that he takes a bit less to play in Boston, a place he has expressed his fondness for in the past. But, you can't count on either of those things.
Looking at Smith's numbers this season, it's hard to think of him as a max contract type of guy. After all, he is averaging only .074 win shares per 48 minutes, below the approximate league average of .100. The funny thing is, Smith's career average in that category is .099. It seems very hard to believe given that he is a fantasy basketball owner's dream, but hey: Numbers don't lie.
Smith will undoubtedly be the top player on the C's' radar should they have enough cap space, however. I mean, rumor has it that the Celtics almost dealt Pierce to acquire his services at the trade deadline.
Again, J-Smoove is a very nice piece in the right situation, but if you're asking him to be your No. 1 guy and paying him like a superstar? No.
Boston would be better served making a trade for someone like Marcin Gortat and pairing him with Garnett (if he returns) up front.