Boston Celtics Shouldn't Bring Al Jefferson Back to Beantown
There are not many knocks that can be made against the Boston Celtics as a franchise, but the one criticism that holds true over history is that the team has rarely, if ever, been a major player in free agency.
The C's have had more than their share of great players, but the vast majority of them have either come through the draft (Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, John Havlicek, the immortal Fab Melo) or a trade (Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett).
After finishing the 2012-13 season with a disheartening first-round playoff loss to the New York Knicks, it is evident that if Boston wants to contend again, it is going to need more talent than it had this past season.
Jefferson, who was drafted 15th overall out of high school by the Celts in 2004 and spent three seasons with the club, has emerged as one of the best scoring big men in the league today. He was dealt by Boston to Minnesota in the blockbuster trade for Kevin Garnett and quickly emerged as a first-rate offensive player, averaging 23.1 points in his 2008-09 campaign with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Over the 2012-13 season, Big Al averaged an impressive 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 49.4 percent shooting from the floor while leading the Utah Jazz in minutes per game at 33.1.
There is no denying Jefferson's talents. He is a nightly 20-10 threat, a true post-up presence with a reliable mid-range jump shot and one of the few elite centers left in the NBA.
With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, it would be incredibly surprising if Utah decided to bring Jefferson back to Salt Lake City on a long-term deal.
All of that being said, Jefferson simply is not the player Boston should be targeting during the 2013 offseason.
For all of his offensive talent, Jefferson has always been a world-class defensive liability. Though he does block the occasional shot thanks to his size and length, he does not protect the rim consistently, struggles at times to rotate properly and is a poor low-post defender.
He has difficulty covering the league's more physical centers, but is not quick-footed enough to cover the game's more athletic power forwards or guard out on the perimeter.
Doc Rivers' Celtics teams have always been defense-first and featured the likes of Kendrick Perkins and Garnett serving as defensive anchors during their most successful years.
For all of Jefferson's offensive ability, he will never be the kind of defensive paint presence that this team has thrived with during the Big Three era.
At 28 years old, Jefferson is in the midst of his prime, but is unlikely to make any dramatic improvements. Big Al has proven fairly durable over his career, but is still a nine-year veteran with plenty of mileage on his legs and a surgically repaired ACL from a knee injury sustained in 2009.
Unlike fellow free-agent big man Josh Smith, Jefferson is really only capable of making an impact on one end of the floor and cannot log much time at power forward. He has improved as a passer, but is not an elite passing big man like a Pau Gasol or Blake Griffin.
Jefferson is a capable pick-and-roll center thanks to his shooting touch, but Boston's offense—particularly with Rondo—has never been as pick-and-roll-oriented as other offenses around the league.
Though not entirely his fault, Jefferson has little postseason experience or success. He has appeared in the playoffs just twice, once as a bench player with Boston in 2005 and once with Utah in 2012. He averaged 18.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on 52.9 percent shooting, but his Jazz team was swept by San Antonio.
His 2012-13 Jazz were in good position to make the playoffs before a slump in March that included two four-game losing streaks cost them their postseason spot to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Beyond just Big Al's fit in Boston as a player, there is the significant matter of how much it would cost to bring him back to Beantown. Jefferson just finished the final year of a five-year, $65 million contract and, as one of the few top-shelf free agents available in the 2013 offseason, is sure to earn a max or near-max deal.
With Paul Pierce's contract and the non-guaranteed deals for Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams and D.J. White, the Celtics have over $76 million on the books for 2013-14 (per Spotrac.com).
This means that, in order to sign Jefferson, they would need likely to get rid of both Pierce and Garnett.
Pierce is a free agent after the 2013-14 season while Garnett is under contract until the end of the 2014-15 season, but could possibly retire earlier, meaning that neither player is locked in long-term.
While Jefferson is a special talent, his production alone does not replace the value of having both Pierce and Garnett back in green for one more season. One option for the Celtics is to give Pierce and Garnett one more title run with a healthy Rondo and a resurgent Jeff Green before opting for a complete and total rebuild.
The 2014 free-agent class boasts plenty of intriguing talent, including Eric Bledsoe, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol, Marcin Gortat, DeMarcus Cousins and Andrew Bogut.
The Celtics are not expected to be major players for marquee stars like Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, making it a serious gamble for Boston to risk blowing up its roster this offseason and landing nothing more than Jefferson to build around.
The team also needs to preserve some cap room for when Avery Bradley and Rondo come off the books, as both will likely fetch plenty of interest on the open market.
Even among the free agents available in the 2013 offseason, there are pieces who would fit the team better than Jefferson.
Should the Celtics bring back Al Jefferson?
Josh Smith is a versatile talent who can play multiple positions, has a close relationship with Rondo and would give the team another young athlete who can run the floor along with Green in transition.
Jefferson's Utah teammate, Paul Millsap, is capable of playing both forward spots and is both a good rebounder and a solid defender who will not be as costly in free agency as Big Al.
If the C's do choose to rebuild sooner rather than later, they could also target younger players like Tyreke Evans (23), O.J. Mayo (25) or J.J. Hickson (24), all of whom would fill needs on Boston's roster and have yet to reach their respective ceilings as players.
Jefferson is by no means a bad player. He is an efficient scorer and a strong offensive rebounder who could immediately jump into a starting role for the Celtics.
However, given the cost of bringing him in, the style of basketball Boston plays and the other free agents available in both 2013 and 2014, it simply does not make sense for the C's to bring Jefferson back to town this offseason.
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