Perk will likely not return before February and it is legitimate to question whether he will be able to contribute this year at all. O'Neal is no spring chicken and has missed a lot of games due to injuries in the past. Garnett prefers not to bang inside and is under-weight for such duty. Big Baby is game but very under-height for such duty. Erden is an iffy option, especially in the early part of the season as he has zero NBA experience. Picking up a 4th center, who may see lots of time, seems prudent but will have roster implications rippling down.
Most observers intimate that it will be necessary to rest the Big Three even more this year. That means their understudies must contribute and contribute a lot. It is also wise to plan for a contingency in case one or more of them are out for a few games. That means the 3rd string will be seeing significant time and/or that the backup at an adjacent (SG or PF, or both, for the SF for instance) position will have an expanded role. No surprise, as our Big Three age, the depth becomes more and more important.
Ideally we would be slowly working in each of their replacements. Unfortunately that has been, in my opinion, the biggest failing of the Big Three era. Admittedly Danny had long odds to add future starters with no first round pick in ’08, the end of the round in ’09, no trading chips, and no cap space. The ’08 MLE went for Posey and House who provided the support for a championship but held no promise as future starters. The ’09 MLE went for Sheed, no future but may yet pay dividends as an immediately expiring contract to trade. The ’09 LLE went for Daniels and looked good for two months but not future-starter good and ended up being a lost opportunity that eliminated its use this year. You hope for second rounders to become rotation players. Exceptions, turning into starters, much less stars, are so rare that they take on legendary status. Thus far, these longs odds have proven impossible for Ainge to overcome.
So we are left with an aging Big Three in need of life (lively) support with no solution in sight beyond Big Baby—the quintessential help but not an answer for the future. In order to transition to the post-Big-Three Celtics without plummeting into the abyss, the Celtics need to be grooming future talent. In order to maximize the remaining seasons of the Big Three, Boston needs to be providing immediate aid. Therein lies the problem since these goals don’t neatly overlap. Lacking the upcoming replacement pushing for playing time, the ideal would be an adequate experienced backup and a third string with long term potential.
In the C’s case there is a “flaw in the ointment” on both levels. For the immediate help, last year’s crew was disappointing. Most became free agents and few showed enough productivity to be recycled. Tony wanted a contract extending beyond the 2-year window. Nate was a mid-season addition and partially successful and will likely be retained—making him the only sub re-signed. Big Baby is limited but in place for one more year. Sheed’s contract still holds hope but for Danny’s efforts to shore up a team (and it only fell 6 minutes short of another Championship), there is sadly little residue of value from the bench. With no assets, Ainge is left looking at minimum vets leaving him in competition with the new Miami Glitters, the Chicago runners-up in the FA derby, and the traditional powers some with deep pockets (Dallas) and some not (Phoenix, Denver, Utah). Most of the competitors have shown no reluctance to offer length of contract and many have happily over-spent for minimum-level talent. End result—Danny has been left sifting through the dregs for backups that seem increasingly critical for an aging team.
As for setting up the future with a high-potential third string, the same lack of assets (tradable pieces, draft picks, European stashes) and the lost draft of ‘09 cripple the effort. Once again Ainge is left sorting through undrafted or unwanted free agents. Danny is trying to spin straw into gold and there is no Rumplestiltskin in the back room (hmmm, maybe we need to send Lucky for a refresher course at trade school?). I even found myself envious of the Knicks (and isn’t that a damning phrase) for a few moments when the signing of the Russian center was announced—then I remembered we didn’t have the cap room to have made that signing anyway. I’m still a little peeved that Wyc didn’t buy a couple of the oh-so-available draft picks to provide Ainge with some more ammunition.
But that brings me back to Perkin’s absence and its ramifications (thought I had forgotten didn’t you?) Adding a fourth center means the depth at some other position will be shortened. I suspect the logical position is point guard since all the others are manned by our aging stars.
Trying to exit on a more positive note, consider that Bradley, the highest draft pick on the team in several years, is a 1/2 (or a 2/1 depending on your point of view). Big Baby has played both PF and Center although he is woefully short (I just couldn’t bring myself to say undersized) for defending the aircraft carriers. If Gaffney makes the team he could certainly be useful covering some of the tall shooting guards as well as small forwards. My favorite from the Summer League, Janning, I also see as a 2/1. See a trend here? Having multiple position players is a good hedge for losing a player and covering the shortage. Now if we just had a good 3/4.
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