The Boston Celtics need a big man to replace Shaquille O'Neal (retirement) and Nenad Krstic (signed in Russia). The 2011 NBA Draft offers a perfect opportunity for Danny Ainge and company to find one, as the draft is littered with a number of high-potential big men expected to be available at the end of the first round.
The Celtics pick 25th on June 23rd and seem to be all set at the guard positions. Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, and Delonte West all should be staples in their rotation again this season, and West can back up either position. The Celtics need help down low, as Kevin Garnett continues to age and Glen Davis' return remains in question.
One player the Celtics like is USC center Nikola Vucevic. ESPN's Chad Ford has Vucevic going at No. 23 to the Houston Rockets, but if the Rockets get a big man at No. 14, I don't see them taking Vucevic here.
Vucevic has already worked out for the Celtics in Waltham, MA.
If the Celtics are going to make one more (final?) run at the NBA title, they'll need some depth at the four and five. Here are five guys who I hope are up to the challenge.
Nikola Vucevic averaged a double-double during his junior season at USC with 17 points and 10 rebounds per contest, leading the Trojans to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
The seven-footer measured and performed well at the combine and is on the rise in many draft boards. With so many teams in need of big men, it'll be interesting to see if he makes it past pick No. 20.
If the Celtics can find a way to draft him, he'll add a new dimension to the offense. With range out to the three-point line, Vucevic could fill the Rasheed Wallace role for Boston.
He's not the most athletic center, but Vucevic's great size and upside make him a good pick as the Celtics make one more run.
ESPN's Chad Ford currently has the Boston Celtics selecting Purdue's JaJuan Johnson at No. 25.
If this is the direction in which Boston goes, I think it'll spell the end of Glen Davis in the Celtics' green.
Johnson isn't a center, which is the clear and gaping need for the Celtics. But, similar to Nikola Vucevic, Johnson stretches the floor in ways that the Celtics didn't have this past season.
Shooting big men are thriving, and the Celtics haven't had one since Rasheed Wallace (Troy Murphy doesn't count, yet). Look no further than Dirk Nowitzki for an example.
Johnson upped his scoring average every year at Purdue, topping out at 20.5 points per game during his senior season. Obviously, with age his talents has matured, but the increase in scoring also proves that he can adapt to a system.
Jeremy Tyler gave up his college eligibility to play professional basketball in Israel. While there, he averaged only two points in seven minutes per game and quit after 10 contests.
Tyler succeeded this past season in Japan, averaging 10 points on 50 percent shooting in just 15 minutes per game.
Tyler differs from Nikola Vucevic and JaJuan Johnson in that he'll live on the post in the NBA. He's not a shooter, but he is an explosive athlete, which would compliment Jermaine O'Neal's current below-the-rim style nicely.
Justin Harper had a superb senior season at Richmond, upping his averages in almost every major statistical category and leading the Spiders to the Sweet 16.
Harper put up good all-around numbers this past season: 18 points, seven rebounds, and a block per game. He shot 53 percent from the floor, 80 percent from the line, and 45 percent from three.
Harper is another shooter for the Celtics, but I can't see them taking him before Nikola Vucevic or JaJuan Johnson. Harper's a little bit small for my liking (remember, this pick is supposed to be a center to replace Shaquille O'Neal), but if he can stretch the floor, his lack of size will be hidden.
Drafting 18-year-old Lucas Nogueira would be a step towards rebuilding, not winning right now.
Nogueira posted 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks against Team USA in the FIBA Under-18's last summer.
Nogueira is very thin and would get pushed around by NBA centers and power forwards if thrown into the mix immediately. He's a work in progress, but his rebounding and shot-blocking skills will only refine as his body grows into itself.
Don't expect to see Nogueira on the court a lot this coming season, regardless of the team that drafts him.