All of these players have Shaquille O'Neal to thank for their first (and only, in Hardaway's case) shots at glory.
Unfortunately, the Boston Celtics were not able to benefit from the player that shook the league over a decade ago. In fact, Shaq's minor impact on the team only lasted a few months.
With Shaq and Kendrick Perkins gone, only a hobbled (more than ready to “earn” $6.5 million more) Jermaine O'Neal is left under the hoop.
Whether Nenad Krstic and his minimal impact will be brought back to the team next season remains to be seen.
In order to have the slightest shot at overcoming the Heat (I know, I'm not optimistic), the Celtics will need to make some critical acquisitions. At the top of this list is improving the center position.
Let's get a couple of the “in a perfect world” players out of the way first.
It's hard to think of a team that got more bang for their buck out of $3.6 million than the Grizzlies did with with Gasol's bargain contract this season.
Put it this way. Joel Pryzbilla, Greg Oden, Nenad Krstic and Jeff Foster all made more money than Gasol this season.
Look at that. I didn't even need to bring up Yao Ming.
Although Gasol's numbers declined from the 2009-10 season, he still averaged 11.7 points, 7.0 boards and nearly two blocks.
I'm going to go ahead and say that Gasol's statistical drop can be largely contributed to the amount of star power around him.
Gasol is just one of an infinite amount of players whose story isn't told through his numbers (although, the 15 PPG, 11 RPG that he posted during this season's surprising playoff run are rather noteworthy).
Gasol has more than earned what is coming to him (unless, you're one of those “who cares, they're all overpaid” people).
It's more than likely the Grizzlies will lock down the other half of their physical interior with a fat contract. Not doing so will push them back in the direction of the Vancouver Grizzlies rather than the suddenly relevant team that everyone should be concerned about heading into next season.
I'll say it again. Who thought Marc, the younger brother, would play bigger than Pau?
One thing that Celtics fans can be pleased about is that Nene seems intent on playing the market when free agency begins this summer.
According to the Denver Post, Nene said he recently felt unappreciated by the franchise.
Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri publicly apologized to Nene.
“We were caught up in a storm [with Carmelo Anthony],” said Ujuri. “We feel like Nene has always been a huge priority, and we want him to always be a Denver Nugget. We do apologize if he felt in any way like he was put on the side.”
Nene has consistently hovered around a 14-8 line for the past three season and after four injury plagued seasons, he has played 75+ games for all three of those years.
Nene is physical and as consistent as anyone. His 61.5 percent from the field was sixth in the league (playing in 20+ games) and the best of his career.
Nene, along with Gasol, are surely the two most sought after centers in this summer's class.
The thought of Boston acquiring Jordan sits at the top of my “this feels semi-possible and I would go completely ape if it happened” list.
Jordan ties with Aaron Gray and Hilton Armstrong for the lowest moneymakers from the 2011-'12 free agent class. While Gray should end up with a reasonable raise, Jordan takes the cake in what should be a significant salary bump.
I have no reason to think the Clippers won't make an effort to re-sign Jordan as soon as possible (but hey, it is the Clippers). Still, the thought of the Celtics picking up an athletic center with the kind of energy an aging team needs is just too good not to discuss.
Jordan's numbers dipped slightly after Chris Kaman returned to do some renowned Cave Man ball hogging, but Jordan still managed a 7-7 line and almost two blocks over 25.6 minutes last season.
Jordan would be a fantastic for the Celtics and an excellent exploiter of weak interiors.
Ah, go ahead and try to envision a Rondo-to-Jordan alley-oop. I'm plagued by wishful thinking.
Dalembert played a career-low 24.2 MPG this year while only starting 46 games.
Clearly, the presence of DeMarcus Cousins, along with a fast-paced team, made Dalembert a less desirable play. Remind me why the Kings thought this was a great move? I'm all for the acquisition, but 24.2 minutes? The big man just didn't fit in the puzzle.
Despite the low playing time, Dalembert averaged 8-8 this past season.
Dalembert has played in 80+ games for five straight seasons and is a great shot-blocker.
At age 30, the Celtics could probably get Dalembert at a discount by tempting him with the thought of contention.
Alright, alright. I'm dishing out my final overly-hopeful acquisition.
A year ago, I would have said something completely different.
Averaging a near double-double, Chandler demonstrated the success of his career wasn't based entirely on Chris Paul's passing abilities.
Chandler should receive somewhere along the same lines of his $12.6 million if Mark Cuban has anything to say about it. The Mavericks should have 1-2 more years of relevance with the current group and Chandler has, once again, proven the utter importance of a physical big man in the NBA.
As of now, the rest of the league will be lucky to have a shot at him.
OK, now we are getting down to those players that would put the Celtics in “multiple big-men mode.”
Let's face it. If the Celtics are unable to acquire one of the primary centers in this year's free-agency, they will be forced to pick up the best secondary big they can find in hopes of making one more run with what they've got.
Mohammed has been a journeyman his whole career (7 teams) and his next few contracts will likely be of the brief variety until he hangs it up.
At age 33, Mohammed still has fire, averaging a 7-5 line this season.
It is hard to imagine that Mohammed will earn $6.9 million/year on his next contract and it is equally difficult to imagine that he wouldn't want a shot at another title (Spurs, 2004-05).
Mohammed has yet to lose his legs and is very efficient in limited time off the bench.
If Mohammed became a Celtic, there would certainly be no shortage of minutes. Unfortunately, at this point, the acquisition would result in a “that's good, but we need something more” situation.
Yes, I know Wilcox is listed as a power forward. And I'm going to do it again too.
I'm simply not willing to include Kwame Brown or Jeff Foster in the list of potential acquisitions.
Like Mohammed, Wilcox is 6-foot-10 and hovered are 17 MPG this season.
I've always loved Wilcox's ferocity but I am not sure having a role player that hasn't played in over 62 games in the past four seasons is a good fit for Boston.
What am I saying? It's a perfect fit!
Wilcox, like Mohammed, is a garbage man. He is one of the gritty players that survives in the league based on battling alone.
Wilcox could probably come to Boston as a low-risk, high-reward role player and the Pistons could easily let him slip through the cracks of chaos in hopes of grooming younger talent.
Again, roughly 7 points and 5 boards isn't bad over 17.5 minutes.
Hayes served as the force down low in Houston this year, posting an 8-8 line over 28 minutes.
Hayes was hindered by Luis Scola's stat-hogging abilities but finally earned recognition for a season of hard work, only dipping below 30 minutes once in the last 15 games of the season.
Hayes had 11 double-double's this year and even managed a triple-double on Mar. 23 against Golden State (what a shocker).
Hayes is only listed at 6-foot-6 but is still able to shut down some of the best big men in the league.
Hayes would fit in perfectly with the Celtics defense strategy and his tenacity would be a huge plus alongside a progressively slower Kevin Garnett.
Martin bounced back late in the season after suffering injuries to a 9-6 line over nearly 26 minutes.
Even though K-Mart has significant mileage, this could potentially help Boston get him at a discount.
At 33, Martin hasn't seen a title shot since his mid-20's in New Jersey and it is near certain that he would want another.
Martin can still do it all at both ends and is slightly subdued emotionally compared to earlier in his career. I would still expect him to rack up the technicals.
K-Mart's intensity would be a great fit for Boston but his price probably won't drop as drastically as the Celtics might hope.
The Celtics have already made the mistake of betraying the “win now” philosophy and taking a run at another aging, injury prone star may not be the way to go.
It's all about the price and I'm not optimistic.
I never thought I would say that I was impressed with Aaron Gray. It's a known fact he is one of the most awkward and dorky-looking players in the league. Just look at the picture.
However, Gray showed significant growth this season in New Orleans.
I'm going to go ahead and predict that he earned more than his $900 thousand Player Option and will take his chances in hopes of a bigger contract.
Gray wouldn't be the fit in Boston but he could end up being a valuable asset of the bench if he continues to improve his game.
I think of Gray as a much-improved Semih Erden. I suppose that's not a great example.
Gray would still remain a cheap option for Boston if he didn't pick up his option and at the very least, would hopefully be part of a much needed influx of youth.