Top 5 free agent big men Celtics could target
BOSTON – Even as the NBA continues to venture closer towards being a position-less league, there’s always a need and desire to some extent for size.
And in that regard, the Boston Celtics are not all that different than most teams.
However, Boston has leaned in the past on power forwards and centers with a certain skillset in which their size wasn’t necessarily their strength.
Kevin Garnett could rebound with the best of them, but his ability to roll to the basket in addition to hurting teams with his pick-and-pop shooting, were just some of the skills on display that will someday land him a spot in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Fast forward to today where you have centers with legitimate 3-point shooting range like Kelly Olynyk who connected on a career-high 40.5 percent of his 3s last season.
As Boston embarks on free agency which officially begins at midnight tonight, the Celtics will give some thought to adding at least one big man whose strengths in this league revolve around one or more of the aforementioned traits.
And with that here’s a look at five free agent big men worthy of being on the Celtics’ radar this summer.
5. Jon Leuer, PF/C, Phoenix
This isn’t one of the sexier free agent targets for the Celtics, but he certainly would be a good, relatively inexpensive pick-up that would provide some depth and versatility along Boston’s frontline. The 6-foot-10 forward saw his most significant action in the NBA this past season for Phoenix and for the most part made the most of it. In 67 games (27 starts), Leuer averaged 18.7 minutes while scoring 8.5 points and 5.6 rebounds on 48 percent shooting from the field and 38.2 percent on 3s. By no means is the 27-year-old Leuer a player you’ll see Boston lock up early in the free agency process. But as they continue to move more and more towards being a position-less team, Leuer’s shooting and rebounding skills seem an ideal match in Brad Stevens’ system.
4. Roy Hibbert, C, Los Angeles Lakers
My oh my how the mighty have fallen. Not that long ago, Hibbert was among the top centers in the NBA. Today the 7-foot-2 center stands as an example of what used to be expected from an NBA center. It’s just hard to see where Hibbert would fit on a Celtics team that’s looking to run more and seeks defensive versatility. Hibbert still has the skills to do a decent job of protecting the rim, but beyond that his defense hasn’t looked close to being as dominant as it was when he was an All-Star two years ago. But for the right price, the Celtics could add him to the roster albeit it most likely in a limited, coming-off-the-bench kind of roll.
3. Al Jefferson, C, Charlotte
One of the trickier players among free agent big men to gauge, the former Celtic still has a bag full of low-post tricks that have value in the NBA. But getting a feel for how much that’s worth in this day and age isn’t easy. Teams are more inclined than ever to go with bigs who can stretch the floor which creates major problems for Jefferson defensively. Combine that with his age (31 years old) along with the wear and tear that his body has absorbed through the years and it’s understandable how teams are having a tough time balancing his body of work against what he can do now in this era of NBA basketball. Still, if you are the Celtics and he’s open to having a reduced role on the roster, he could easily morph into a low-post scoring “specialist,” a big man equivalent to what the Celtics have done in the past with guards off the bench like Eddie House, Nate Robinson and upon his arrival in Boston in 2015, All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas.
2. Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami
Whiteside is coming into free agency off a stellar season which in itself, made him a big man who justifiably should expect a max-salaried offer in the four year, $94-plus million neighborhood. His timing when it comes to blocking shots is exceptional. He’s a solid rebounder and in addition, has shown promise that he can be a solid scorer from the center position in this league. But far too many times he floats in and out of games which is why his minutes tend to be in the mid-to-high 20s – not exactly the playing time you expect from a max player. But he will get the fat payday he’s looking for from some suitor like the Dallas Mavericks who were spurned a year ago by DeAndre Jordan and seem as motivated as anyone to land Whiteside this summer. As for the Celtics, they like Whiteside talent-wise but like a handful of playoff caliber teams contacted by CSNNE.com, the Celtics are not convinced he’ll continue to play at the level he’s at now, let alone elevate his game with a higher salary. The last thing the Celtics are looking to add right now, is a max-player with inconsistent effort.
1. Dwight Howard, C, Houston
No longer is he viewed as the league’s “Superman,” Howard is still considered a big man in this league with value. Even at this point in his career, Howard still has the kind of strength and talent around the basket that the Celtics have not had in the Brad Stevens era. Last season was considered a down year for Howard and yet he still averaged a double-double of 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds. Plus, the 6-11 big man is a rim-protector who also averaged a solid 1.6 blocks per game last season. But in keeping with Stevens’ desire for a position-less lineup, Howard doesn’t seem like the most ideal fit. He is an NBA center who lacks the shooting range and versatility the Celtics seem to be desiring. Plus, Boston has shown a longing to run more than ever, something that they couldn’t do as much with Howard who still can get up-and-down but not nearly as quickly or consistently as the Celtics would be wanting him to. If the Celtics are indeed serious about adding Howard to the mix, it would most likely be on a short-term (two, maybe three year) because long-term, Howard does not seem like an ideal addition to this roster.