The Celtics need to sign centers this summer, plural. Jermaine O’Neal remains their only center under contract; considering that his body works as often as my old Nintendo (and you can’t just blow on the game to make O’Neal work—pause), the Celtics need reinforcements, and preferably reliable ones.
Chris Forsberg examined the feasibility of adding one reliable center, Samuel Dalembert. Though Dalembert comes equipped with flaws, he has also played in 82 games for four out of five season, including 80 last year for the Sacramento Kings. He blocks shots, he rebounds, and he might (emphasis on might) be available for the mid-level exception, assuming the mid-level still exists under the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.
I’ll allow Forsberg to continue:
Dalembert’s rebounding numbers are enticing as well. Throw out the Sacramento season, where he lost his starting job for a stretch, and, in each of the previous two seasons, Dalembert finished third in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage. That included a gaudy 30.7 percent during the 2009-10 campaign (by comparison, Kevin Garnett finished a Boston-best 28.7 percent this season and no other healthy body on the Celtics’ season-ending roster was above 17 percent). Dalembert’s offensive rebounding numbers aren’t too shabby, either, finishing in the top six in offensive rebounding percentage from 2008-2010, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Celtics, even if they typically shun that area in favor of getting back on defense.
The concerns? Dalembert’s defensive rating (105 points per 100 possessions the past two seasons) is somewhat troubling, but could be a reflection of the team and not the player. Dalembert is one of the top shot blockers in the league, ranking third among active players in block percentage (5.6 percent) and 10th in blocks per game (1.9).
So let’s talk price tags? Depending on how the new collective bargaining agreement plays out, it’s likely the Celtics will have only the mid-level exception as big-money bait. Let’s also assume that stays near the $5.8 million value it was this past season. Is a three-year, $18 million package enough to lure Dalembert, who turned 30 last month? In a free-agent market that’s thin on quality bigs, might another team run up the price on Dalembert? Is Boston willing to commit that sort of money and length when the goal next offseason might be to use that impending cap flexibility to pursue a marquee big man?
The biggest problem? Money. Dalembert would help the Celtics succeed next season, I have little doubt. But signing him would likely hamstring Boston’s future cap flexibility, and I don’t know about you, but I would rather not have the C’s future cap flexibility limited by Samuel Dalembert. Dwight Howard, yes. Samuel Dalembert, no.
The Celtics are entering a strange stage. They are quasi-contenders; if they make all the right peripheral moves (see: the Dallas Mavericks) and everything goes right, they might extend their title window by a year or two. But the chances of this Boston nucleus winning another ring are very small. Say what you want about Miami and/or Chicago, but they should improve next season. Meanwhile, the Celtics will get one year older, one year creakier, one more year removed from their prime. They should spend this summer with that in mind, rather than chasing a title that only exists in the most far-fetched fantasies.
Damn it. I hate suggesting the Celtics should pass on a free agent who would help, just to position themselves for the future. But aging sucks, so I’m trying to realistically assess this situation, even if it hurts.
P.S. – Scal got victimized in that highlight. Long live Scal.