If you were asked in September to name which Boston Celtics players would have been traded by late January, Kris Humphries would have likely been at or near the top of your list.
Humphries, buried on the Brooklyn Nets’ bench in 2012-13, was acquired by Boston purely to make the salaries match in the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade and, given his expiring $12 million deal, was expected to be rerouted to another franchise almost immediately.
However, due to injuries and inconsistency in the frontcourt, Humphries has become a key piece in Boston’s rotation and could be in green for the long haul.
Humphries told The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn that he would like to stay a Celtic for the remainder of the season and potentially even sign a new deal in the summer.
The initial reaction might be to scoff at Boston signing the 28-year-old big man to a multiyear deal given the C’s are still a ways away from completing their current rebuild, but Humphries has proved with his stellar play both off the bench and in the starting lineup that he fits well with the team’s identity and current pieces.
He is averaging 7.7 points, six boards and 1.1 assists on 51.7 percent shooting for the season, and his PER of 18.93 is above players like Marc Gasol, Monta Ellis and Arron Afflalo.
In 10 games as Boston’s starting center, he has been even better, averaging 9.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 48.8 percent shooting from the field.
With the way Danny Ainge and the Celtics have been wheeling and dealing, Humphries could be gone before the end of this sentence, but let’s take a moment to discuss why keeping Humphries around would not be such a bad thing.
Is the Trade Market Really There?
The idea of Humphries going to a contender in need of one more big man makes a lot of sense in theory, but the problem is that few teams with a meaningful shot at the playoffs have the ability to accommodate the remainder of his hefty contract.
Teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers, virtual playoff locks at this point in the year, could certainly use some added depth up front, but right now they could not easily take on Humphries’ eight-figure deal and would likely not being able to give up much for him.
The Celtics have done well for themselves acquiring assets for Jordan Crawford, MarShon Brooks and Courtney Lee, but no team is going to give up a first-rounder for someone playing 19.5 minutes per game, even if he is exceeding expectations.
Nowadays, teams are wary about giving up picks under any circumstances, let alone for an impending free agent who could bolt when the season concludes.
Additionally, with Humphries’ role off the bench, it is not as if he is playing regularly enough to prevent the Celts from tanking. Humphries’ minutes have fluctuated wildly based on his role and who is available, so if Boston is worried about playing its way out of a top-five pick, it can just reduce his role.
The Boston front office is too savvy to make a disadvantageous trade, and it may wind up holding onto him past the trade deadline if a suitable offer doesn’t come.
Stabilizing the Backup Big Man Spot
Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, along with whomever Boston gets in the next few drafts, are the future frontcourt for the Celtics, but they are not yet ready to absorb all of the available minutes.
Olynyk looks great at times with his outside shot and heady passing, but too often he gets into early foul trouble, cannot get to the rim and struggles from beyond the arc.
Sullinger has taken a major step forward and looks like he could be an All-Star someday, but he does not have the size to play center much, and his injury history is troubling even with his relatively healthy 2013-14 campaign.
Brandon Bass has been decent this year, averaging 10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists, but he has another season on his contract and will likely be gone by the start of 2014-15.
That leaves a serious void, and it is one that Vitor Faverani cannot fill on his own.
Humphries has shown he can thrive in a limited role, and he has played well at both frontcourt spots. His PER per 48 minutes is 19.1 at power forward and 22.0 at center, according to 82Games.
While he has shown off an improved mid-range jumper this season, Humphries’ ability to play close to the basket means he complements both Sully and Olynyk well, and he is easily the Celtics’ best rebounder.
His rebounding percentage of 17.2 is the highest on the team, with only Sullinger coming close at 16.4, per Basketball-Reference.
Boston has long been among the league’s worst rebounding teams, and keeping Humphries around for a few extra years could go a long way toward remedying that issue.
Obviously, he won’t be earning anywhere near the two-year, $24 million he received from Brooklyn in the 2012 offseason, so while the C’s may need to slightly overpay, it ultimately should be a wise move.
The Free-Agent Market Is Not Exciting
Much has been made of the 2014 free-agent class, but while it is true there could be many marquee players available, the number of reliable, starting-caliber frontcourt players is not exactly overwhelming.
Boston has never been a particularly successful franchise come free agency—it acquires most of its talent through trades and the draft—so putting a lot of pressure on Ainge to land a big-time unrestricted free agent seems like a foolish move.
Humphries is a dependable player who, while certainly not a veteran’s minimum type, will likely be attainable without sacrificing much cap space and may even take a slight pay cut to return to the Celts.
As it stands, the free agents available in Humphries’ range are players like Spencer Hawes, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jordan Hill and DeJuan Blair. Not bad pieces, but not exactly players who are appreciably better than Humphries.
Obviously, Boston could look to draft a 4 or 5, but unless it can get a Joel Embiid or Julius Randle, it may not be a great idea. Reaching on someone like Willie Cauley-Stein in a draft of this caliber could set the franchise back further.
Unless Faverani and Olynyk both take major steps forward this offseason, which is fairly unlikely, the C’s will need someone to come off the bench to play roughly 20 minutes each game, and if Bass ends up being dealt, the best option out there may be Humphries.
Humphries’ Play This Year
Humphries is the furthest thing from flashy, so it’s easy to ignore his impact, but the 10-year veteran really has had a terrific first year in green.
He barely played in November, averaging 4.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.4 minutes, but has upped those numbers to 9.6 points, 8.4 boards and 1.6 blocks in 25.4 minutes through January.
Not only have his numbers improved, but he’s shooting 50 percent out of the pick-and-roll, 83.3 percent in transition and a respectable 46.2 on post-ups, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), proving he has been efficient in nearly every aspect of his offense.
He has also been very efficient choosing his shots, sticking primarily to his most comfortable mid-range areas above the break and doing good work around the hoop.
Humphries’ pick-and-roll prowess could mesh nicely with Rondo once he gets healthy. The two have not been able to share the court much since Rondo’s return but could form a potent offensive tandem, particularly with Humphries’ knack for running the floor.
His defense this season hasn’t been elite, but Humph has done a nice job against opposing 4s, holding them to a PER of just 12.8, according to 82Games.
The Celtics don’t need elite production from their third big man, and if they have the opportunity to lock down Humphries to a reasonable contract and have him be one of their main bench pieces going forward, they would be foolish not do so.