Big Men the Boston Celtics Can Bring in to Shore Up Front Line
The Boston Celtics are far from contending for a championship, but aside from adding another All-Star-caliber talent or two, the major element standing in their way is a reliable big man who can protect the rim and anchor both ends of the floor.
These players are rare and valuable, but this offseason a few are either entering free agency, openly on the trade market or can be gouged with the right number of draft picks and/or young talent (what a coincidence: That’s exactly what the Celtics have!) in a trade.
Here are five players Boston could potentially target this summer, ranked on the likelihood they actually end up wearing a Celtics jersey next November.
5. Pau Gasol
"Pau Gasol is “only” 33 years old and coming off two straight years of hiccups and injuries, but given the all-around skill he possesses on offense, who really knows if the seven-foot Spaniard is actually in decline?"
In 60 games last season, the 12-year veteran actually put up some pretty good numbers, averaging 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and more shots per game than any of his last three All-Star campaigns.
Actually acquiring the unrestricted free agent is perhaps too complicated of an endeavor to make hunting for him worthwhile—the Celtics can't ink him outright unless Gasol is willing to take a tiny fraction of what he's worth to sign with a non-contender—but creative measures can be fostered with a sign-and-trade and Boston’s trade exemptions. It stands as fact right now that the team badly needs competent height, and they just might find some with Gasol.
4. Enes Kanter
Enes Kanter’s third season was a modest step in the right direction. He cut his turnover rate dramatically, and despite early-season shoulder problems, ended his 2014 campaign averaging a solid 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in only 26.7 minutes per game.
At 22 years old, he’s still a project, but he hints at becoming one of the league’s more meaningful big men someday.
Kanter has a decent jump shot and resides in a giant’s body. Defensively, he allowed opponents to make more than half their shots at the rim while he defended it, which is something he can clearly improve on. But the gamble is well worth it, especially for someone so young and on a rookie contract
After trading for him, the Celtics would have one season before Kanter became a restricted free agent. If they like what they see (they will, the upside is too high to ignore), he’d instantly transform into Boston’s franchise center and a helpful two-way cog to complement their collection of talented power forwards.
It seems unlikely Utah would be willing to give up on Kanter so soon, but so far he’s yet to have any semblance of success playing beside 22-year-old Derrick Favors, whose four-year, $48 million extension kicks in next season. Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey scoffs at the idea that his two young big men can’t coexist, telling the Deseret News’ Jody Genessy:
Frankly, that’s nonsense [that they can’t play together]. Enes can really shoot the ball. And Derrick can really anchor a defense from a rebounding, shot-blocking standpoint. In combination going forward, they’ll be fine. Will it be them as starters or closing games is really immaterial to me.
But the two only played 771 minutes together last year in a season where finding out if the duo could work should have been a priority. The Celtics will jump at the chance to throw one of their future first-round draft picks in Utah’s direction if the former third overall pick becomes available.
3. Brook Lopez
First things first: Would the Brooklyn Nets be willing to swap their injury-prone franchise center for a chunk of the exact same draft-pick laden haul they surrendered just last summer?
It’d be a tough pill to swallow for an organization that would rather foot a $200 million luxury tax bill than enter a rebuild, and doing so would have to be the first deal Brooklyn’s next general manager makes—it’s tough to envision Billy King overlooking the next era after royally screwing up the previous two or three while simultaneously wiping out all future flexibility—but it could be that trading Brook Lopez is this team’s only answer.
(Side note: Know what King’s very first move was after became the Nets general manager? He signed Sean May—fresh off a scintillating season of 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game averages—then waived him the following month. It’s a completely insignificant sequence of events today, but a good symbol for his subpar tenure.)
Now, the other question is: how eager would a rebuilding Celtics team be in acquiring a highly priced 7-footer who can opt out of his contract the following season? Lopez is a legitimate go-to weapon on offense, the type of big who can score with extreme efficiency from just about anywhere inside the three-point line.
In 17 games this season, the 26-year-old posted a PER of 25.4 and a true shooting percentage of 62.9 percent. Those are clear All-Star numbers, and adding that type of force would accelerate Boston’s renovation dramatically.
2. Larry Sanders
Larry Sanders would’ve been a strong candidate to win the 2013-14 award for Most Disappointing Embarrassment, if such a thing existed. Fresh off signing a four-year, $44 million extension last August, the 25-year-old Milwaukee Buck appeared in just 23 games this year, posting averages of 7.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.
That’s far from $11 million worth of production. Also, Sanders’ block percentage fell from a league-leading 7.6 percent in 2012-13 to 5.6 percent. But by acquiring Sanders, what you’re counting on is last year being an aberration and the previous season better representing who he is and what he’s capable of providing. Few defenders were better then.
Sanders is one of the league’s finest rim protectors. Even in what by all accounts was an atrocious fourth season, he still held opponents to an incredibly low 41.6 percent at the rim on 7.3 defended attempts per game, according to SportVU. For the sake of comparison, Celtics power forward Jared Sullinger allowed opponents to make 53.9 percent of those shots on the exact same number of attempts.
Sanders' trade value is in the basement, and his ceiling is Defensive Player of the Year. This might be someone the Celtics take a long, hard look at.
1. Omer Asik
- He can bolt as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.
- He turns 28 on July 4 (not young).
- His hands are actually feet (so don't throw him the ball).
Omer Asik is essentially a free agent under contract. There’s all but no chance the Houston Rockets don’t trade him this summer, and the Celtics are one of a handful of teams holding interest.
Asik is on an expiring contract next season that will pay him approximately $15 million while costing his team’s salary cap “only” $8.3 million. Trading for him is a risk in several other ways:
Everything else is wonderful. Asik is a dominant defensive player and one of basketball’s finest rebounders, if not the very best. Physically moving him is next to impossible, and he’s nimble in space, which comes in handy hedging pick-and-rolls and stepping out to guard an opposing big who can shoot. In a vacuum, he’s the ideal player Boston should want.