The Boston Celtics, led by President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, have positioned themselves to make huge moves in the upcoming offseason as their collection of young players and draft picks present limitless options when it comes to trade opportunities. This season has been a struggle for the current group of players, with just a 23-48 record and the team has huge areas of weakness that need to be addressed before they once again become a competitive unit in the NBA.
The Celtics have amassed a crop of talented young frontcourt players over the past couple of years, including second year standout Jared Sullinger and rookie Kelly Olynyk. The problem in the frontcourt, however, is that while these players are skilled offensively, pass well and have good shooting range, no one on the roster is able to play the role of the defensive anchor, and thus the Celtics’ interior defense is among the worst in the league this season. So coming into the offseason and with limited funds to hit free agency, who are some potential targets that could fill the role of defensive anchor for the next phase of the Boston Celtics’ rebuilding?
Omer Asik – Houston Rockets
The Turkish center has endured a rough season in his second go-around with the Rockets as the acquisition of All-Star Dwight Howard relegated him to the bench. He publicly stated a desire to leave and sat through weeks upon weeks of trade rumors earlier in the season, before ultimately the team decided to keep him for the remainder of 2013-14. Now 27 years old, Asik is one of the true defensive anchors in the NBA and has the ability to be an All-NBA defender if given the opportunity to start. He is just one year removed from a season where he averaged 10.1 points, 1.1 blocks and 11.7 rebounds per game which was good for third in the NBA. Asik would come at a price, being in the last year of a big, back-loaded contract but Ainge has shown interest in the Rockets center before and it could be re-explored in the offseason.
Larry Sanders – Milwaukee Bucks
After experiencing a breakout season in 2012-13, it all went pear-shaped for Larry Sanders in Milwaukee this season. After signing on to a big four-year, $44 million deal that kicks in next season, Sanders had off-court incidents and multiple injuries that have cut his season down to just 23 games. His 7.7 points and 7.2 rebounds is will down from last season’s effort where he produced 9.8 points, 9.5 boards and 2.8 blocks per game which was second in the NBA.
He is among the elite rim protectors in the NBA and has the potential to be a defensive anchor if he can stay focussed and continue to improve. After this season and with the long-term money committed to Sanders, the Bucks may re-think their position and look to move the talented 25-year-old in the offseason. If Ainge believed in the coaching, environment and fit alongside the likes of Rondo and Sullinger, he could make a play for Sanders while his value is seemingly at a low point.
JaVale McGee – Denver Nuggets
Much like Sanders, JaVale McGee has seen his 2013-14 campaign torn apart by injuries and after undergoing surgery on his left tibia, he will play just five games for the Nuggets this season. The 26-year-old McGee has career averages of 8.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks and boasts possibly the most impressive mix of length and athleticism in the entire league. He has finished in the top 10 for blocks per game on three occasions and has the ability to fill up the stat sheet with points, boards and blocked shots.
There are question marks over his basketball IQ, often finding himself out of position or on a “Shaqtin’ A Fool” blooper reel, but there is no question that the athletic ability is there for McGee to become a force on the defensive end. He may not be a true defensive anchor but alongside stronger teammates the length and rim protection of McGee could make a huge difference to the overall defense of the Celtics next season. McGee is signed for two more seasons at just over $23 million.
Bismack Biyombo – Charlotte Bobcats
Far from an established defensive anchor, Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo is still very raw at 21 years old but has shown signs of being a difference maker on the boards and blocking shots. He may not develop into a full-time starter in the NBA, but he has appeared in the top 10 for blocks per game twice and has a good rebounding rate. Biyombo has career averages of 4.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, though he has seen his role and numbers dip this season with the acquisition of Al Jefferson and other young players in the Bobcats’ frontcourt. With one year remaining on his rookie contract for $3.8 million and after a disappointing third season, perhaps the Celtics could take a look at Biyombo for cheap in the offseason and hope to push his development to the next level.
Joel Embiid – Kansas Jayhawks
It appears that Kansas freshman Joel Embiid will be entering the 2014 draft and with a little luck from the basketball gods the Celtics could find themselves in a position to take the impressive big man on draft day. Currently with the fifth worst record in the league, the Celtics would almost certainly need to jump into the top three to have a chance at Embiid, if not the top overall pick, but there is a chance. Embiid has shown the ability to become a legitimate two-way big man in the NBA and has tremendous defensive potential. While Embiid may not have the immediate impact of an established NBA player, the long term rewards could be huge and the Celtics would be jumping for joy if the lottery is kind enough to give them a chance to take Joel Embiid on draft day.