by Evan Mazursky
It has been a rough season for the Celtics inside the paint. Despite excellent years from Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, the team has lacked a solid inside presence at the center position. Preseason starter Jermaine O’Neal played just 25 mostly ineffective games before he was shut down for the season with a left wrist injury. His backup, veteran Chris Wilcox, showed some youth in his 29-year-old legs running in transition with Rajon Rondo but is also out for the year with a heart irregularity. Best of luck to Wilcox as he prepares for aortic surgery. The Celtics were able to release Wilcox and sign free agent center Ryan Hollins as his replacement, which is better than nothing but certainly doesn’t fix the team’s problems. Hollins is an athletic 7-footer but is painfully skinny and is one of the worst rebounders in the league (labeled an “amazingly bad rebounder” by ESPN’s John Hollinger). Hollins and rookie Greg Stiemsma are currently the only true centers on the roster. Stiemsma is a prolific shot blocker (1.4 blocks in just 11 minutes per game) but is another poor rebounder and has a habit of getting shoved around down low by the heavier centers.
It’s obvious that a center combo of Stiemsma and Hollins will not be enough for the Celtics to advance deep into the playoffs. I believe this team has too much pride to lose in the first round, but going any further is nothing more than a dream at this point. However, if the Celtics are able to pick up another big man and stay healthy throughout the playoffs, they could pose a threat to Miami and Chicago, the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference. Releasing O’Neal would open up a roster spot, but there are limited options available. Leon Powe was an intriguing name for Celtics fans after his contribution to the championship season in 2008, but he recently signed with a team in Puerto Rico. Mike Gorman and Tom Heinsohn have been talking up Dan Gadzuric, the longtime Milwaukee Bucks center who is currently in the NBA D-League. The Celtics would basically be playing 4-on-5 on offense with Gadzuric, but he is a smart veteran who clearly wants to keep playing (at least I hope so; I can’t think of any other reason why a 34-year-old man would play in the D-League). He’s not an exciting player, but it never hurts to add another 7-footer.
The center I would most like the Celtics to add is Mehmet Okur. He hasn’t played a full season since 2009-10, but he would not be required to play a lot of minutes and he would be a nice alternative to have coming off the bench. Unlike Hollins and Stiemsma, Okur has a consistent outside shot and can be a viable option on the offensive end. He won a championship with Detroit in 2004 and is still only 32, which is relatively young for this Celtics team. Okur is averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds per game for his career. He will not be the X factor that leads the Celtics to the Finals, but he is undoubtedly the best big man available. Signing him is a low-risk move that could potentially bring high reward.