While Kevin Garnett remains one of the game's best two-way big men, it became abundantly clear during the 2012-13 season that the 37-year-old needs some help up front. Though he is still an elite post defender and a deft outside shooter, KG simply cannot do it alone as he could during his MVP-level prime.
It certainly did not help that the players Boston brought in to compliment him, bigs like Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Chris Wilcox and Fab Melo, spent the year battling issues ranging from inconsistency to injury to not belonging in the NBA.
Although Garnett has not made a decision about his future according to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett, there is no way this team can contend without him. And if Danny Ainge and company want any shot at the Celtics' 18th banner, they need to surround KG with some more talented frontcourt teammates than he had this past season.
Fortunately, the 2013 free-agency class actually features its share of quality big men who could slide in comfortably alongside the Big Ticket. While these players range from young up-and-comers to battle-tested veterans, all of them would bring something valuable to the depleted Boston frontcourt.
As Celtics Nation anxiously awaits the front office's decision KG and Paul Pierce, let's take a moment to look at the free-agent big men who would fit best alongside Garnett.
At 6'9" J.J. Hickson is not the biggest center in the NBA, but he proved with the Portland Trail Blazers that he is one of the game's best rebounders and interior scorers. Hickson, who is coming off of a one-year, $4 million deal, is sure to be a hot commodity once the 2013 free-agency period starts.
In his first full season with the Blazers, Hickson averaged 12.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 56.2 percent from the floor. He thrived alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, a big man with a similar offensive game to Garnett, and proved he could excel as a full-time starter.
While KG is still a solid rebounder, the past few seasons of Celtics basketball have proven that this team cannot depend on him to be the sole dominant rebounder on the floor. Hickson, who is long, athletic and capable of making multiple efforts on the glass, would be able to take a lot of the rebounding pressure off of Garnett and allow him to preserve himself by playing less in the paint.
Hickson is also a menace on the offensive glass, averaging 3.3 offensive rebounds per game this past season compared to KG's 1.1.
Though Hickson is not the post defender Garnett is, he is a decent defensive player who could allow KG to shift back to power forward for longer stretches of time. Because Hickson is not a jump shooting big, there would not be any spacing issues having the two on the floor together.
Last season, Hickson attempted 5.5 shots at the rim per game, converting 68.2 percent of them, a career-high, while Garnett attempted just 2.4 shots there, making 77 percent of them. Hickson also shot a respectable 45 percent on jumpers between 16-23 feet, although he attempted just 1.3 of those per game.
Bringing in Hickson might be costly given that he is coming off of such a strong season, but there are few free-agent big men who would mesh as well with KG.
Currently starting for San Antonio in the NBA Finals and holding a $5.9 million qualifying offer, it is going to be extremely difficult for Boston to sign Tiago Splitter away from the Spurs. However, given the Brazilian big man's size and skill set, it would be very much worth it for Danny Ainge to make an attempt to pair Splitter and KG.
In his first season as a starter alongside Tim Duncan, Splitter had a career campaign across the board, averaging 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists while shooting 56 percent from the floor.
Splitter's rookie season was hardly impressive, but he has worked hard to develop a more versatile game and cement himself as a starting-caliber player. He has improved his offensive game tremendously and become a stronger post defender and rebounder.
Signing the 6'11" Splitter would undoubtedly be costly, but his presence would allow KG to play more minutes at power forward while also giving Boston a big man who is more capable of running the floor and playing around the rim.
In the 2012-13 season, Splitter averaged 4.9 shots at the rim, converting 67.8 percent of them. He has great hands for a big man and is able to make tough catches and finish in traffic. He does not have much of an outside shot, but that is something that he can develop as his career progresses. More importantly, he is not a liability from the foul line, shooting 72.8 percent.
Although the 28-year-old Splitter might not have tremendous upside going forward, he could be a solid piece for the Celtics to build around for the next four or five years if they can find a way to pry him away from the Spurs.
Marreese Speights is likely the worst fit alongside KG of any player listed here, but he still would prove to be a pretty decent compliment to Garnett on the front line.
Speights struggled to find a role early on, but thrived with the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers, averaging 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game on 45.7 percent shooting in 39 games with the Cavs.
Speights is not much of a defensive force. He's decent on the defensive glass, but is not much of a post defender or shot-blocker. However, what he can do is score, and that is something that Boston could certainly use going forward.
The 6'10" Speights is best suited as a power forward but can log time at either position, and he played well starting in Zach Randolph's stead during the 2011-12 season. He is not a deft post scorer, but Speights is an excellent outside shooter who can stretch the floor much like Garnett himself.
With Cleveland, Speights shot 50 percent on jumpers from 16-23 feet, and 58.3 percent at the rim. Given the fact that Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley are such inconsistent shooters, having a pair of big men who can open up the floor is extremely valuable.
Speights is also a capable offensive rebounder who creates second-chance opportunities for his team and can finish in the paint.
In many ways, Speights' game is quite similar to Brandon Bass', but Bass is not tall enough to play much at center and lacks the upside of the 25-year-old Speights who has never averaged more than 22.4 minutes per game.
With the Cavaliers, Speights played only 18.5 minutes per game and posted a career-best PER of 18.34. If he can stay out of foul trouble and log 26-30 minutes per game, he should establish himself as a nightly double-double threat.
Speights, who has a $4.5 million player option with Cleveland, could opt out due to the depth up front that the Cavaliers boast, and while he would not be a perfect fit in Boston, he would be a decent addition to the C's roster.
Obviously bringing the 35-year-old Kenyon Martin to Boston would be a one- or two-year stopgap, but Martin played well enough for New York that it might actually not be a bad option. Given that this is the guy who implored his teammates to wear funeral black to Game 6, according to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, it's far from likely though.
Martin, who spent most of the 2012-13 season looking for work, was instrumental for the Knicks down the stretch, averaging 7.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game on 60.2 percent shooting from the floor.
In the playoffs, he continued to put up good numbers, and his energy and effort on the glass was something Boston had trouble matching. Though he is not a consistent double-digit scorer anymore, Martin can still finish in the paint and defend the rim at a fairly high level.
While 18 games is a small sample size, Martin shot a ludicrous 80.7 percent on shots at the rim for New York and looked as healthy as he has in years. While he has become a complete liability from the foul line, shooting 42.5 percent this past season, that is a worthwhile sacrifice given his production in limited minutes.
Martin would likely not supplant Brandon Bass in the starting lineup, but he could provide the C's with some valuable minutes at power forward and even play some spot center against smaller fives. His presence off the bench would allow the team to rest KG more and stick to the 5-5-5 strategy they implemented to keep him fresh during the regular season.
His ability to attack the offensive and defensive glass would also lessen the burden on Garnett in that department, and the fact that he has thankfully erased the mid-range jumper and three-pointer from his game means there would not be much clogging on the offensive end of the floor.
Though a front line of Garnett and Martin is not nearly as foreboding as it would have been five or six years ago, they are both physical presences who could deter opponents from attacking the basket. Martin averaged 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes with the Knicks and has no problem doling out the hard fouls to prevent easy layups.
Martin's veteran-minimum contract with New York was pro-rated, but would have been worth $1.4 million over the entire season. If the C's can sign him for a similar deal it would be a nice low-risk, high-reward option for a team that has always gravitated toward bringing in veterans. Signing K-Mart wouldn't be a popular move, but it could prove to be a smart one.
Samuel Dalembert falls into the Kenyon Martin camp of players who would be an immediate help but certainly not long-term building blocks. Dalembert had an up-and-down season in Milwaukee, averaging 6.7 points, 5.9 boards and 1.1 blocks per game on 54.2 percent shooting from the floor in 16.3 minutes of work a night.
For his career though, the 32-year-old Haitian center has averaged eight points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 52 percent shooting overall.
The 6'11" Dalembert is a true center, a pure post player who does not make many forays outside of the paint. Though his best days are behind him, signing Dalember would allow Boston to shift Garnett back to power forward full time and keep him from having to do as much banging in the paint as he did the past two seasons.
Dalembert also would provide the Celtics with the shot-blocking presence they have lacked for several seasons. Dalembert is a good help defender who knows when to rotate and make it difficult for opponents to get a clean look at the rim.
Though he is not much of a scorer, Dalembert can finish at the rim, converting on 65.9 percent of his looks at the basket last season. He can hit the mid-range shot on occasion, but that is not a particularly significant part of his offensive game.
Most importantly, Dalembert is a dominant presence on the glass. His total rebounding rate of 19.4 is good for eighth in the NBA, above the likes of Zach Randolph, Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan.
The front line tandem of Dalembert and KG would be tough to score on in the lane and the presence of Dalembert, a strong offensive rebounder, would help Boston get more easy shot opportunities.
Dalembert is coming off of a two-year, $13.7 million deal he signed with the Houston Rockets, and given his declining production, he could likely be signed for significantly less than that. If Boston is serious about making another playoff run instead of rebuilding, bringing him in might be a smart, cost-effective option at center.
Josh Smith has been linked to the Boston Celtics plenty of times in the past, but it is extremely difficult to foresee a way to sign him while keeping Garnett around. However, there are few players available in free agency who would fit as well alongside KG as the Atlanta Hawk.
Smith's 2012-13 season was another quality one, as the versatile forward averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting a serviceable 46.5 percent from the floor.
Though he struggled from three-point range (30.3 percent on 2.6 attempts per game) and the charity stripe (a horrid 51.7 percent on 4.2 attempts per game), the hyper-athletic Smith still showed the kind of multi-faceted game that would be a huge boost to this Boston team in transition.
Smith is capable of playing both small forward and power forward as needed, using his quickness to blow by bigger forwards off the dribble while using his strength to bully shorter wings. He settles for outside shots too often, as he attempted 7.2 shots per game from beyond 10 feet last season compared to 5.2 at the rim, but is as explosive a player as there is in the league.
One of the game's premier finishers in the paint, Smith shot a career-best 77.6 percent at the rim in 2012-13 while demonstrating just how much of an impact he can have when he stays around the basket.
Smith is coming off of a monster five-year, $58 million extension he signed with the Hawks and will likely command a similar contract when he hits free agency.
Like Dalembert, Smith would give Boston the shot-blocking presence they have sorely lacked and with his ability to handle the ball and drive to the rim, the two could potentially run a very dangerous big-to-big pick-and-roll that defenses would struggle to stop.
Though bringing in J-Smoove would mean Garnett must continue to play primarily the center position, his presence would take significant pressure off of KG as a scorer and a rebounder. Smith is also a talented passing big man, as he created two scores at the rim per game for his teammates.
In the past, Smith has struggled with maturity issues, but having a battle-tested veteran like Garnett on the court and in the locker room should help him continue to develop as a player. KG has always been good with young big men, and it's easy to forget that Smith is still just 27 years old and has been in a somewhat turbulent situation in Atlanta.
The only way to bring Smith to Boston would involve dealing Pierce and sundry other pieces, but the pairing of Garnett and Josh Smith would give the Celtics one of the top frontcourts in the league.