As always, the Boston Celtics want to add a big name. That’s completely understandable, and Danny Ainge has the goods to strike such a deal. But you don’t always have to land a star in order to make sizable improvements. Sometimes, key role players can make all of the difference in the world in taking a team to the next level.
Right now, the Celtics are a pretty good team with some noticeable flaws. While their defense has not surprisingly improved considerably since the return of Al Horford and Jae Crowder, they are still struggling to rebound the basketball. Boston ranks just 26th in the league in rebounds per game, and its lack of prowess on the glass has probably cost it a win or two thus far.
The good news is there is plenty of time for the C’s to rectify this problem, and there should be plenty of available options to turn to. Let’s examine some affordable big men the Celtics could pursue to help address the rebounding issue.
Kosta Koufos, Sacramento Kings
Kosta Koufos has long been one of the more underappreciated centers in the game.
Of course, part of that is due to the fact that he has played in small markets for his entire career and, outside of a two-year stint with the Memphis Grizzlies, has never really been on a team worth watching.
Koufos is still just 27 years old and is under team control through 2018 at a great price. He is making a hair over $8 million this year and will make $8.3 million next season before a player option for 2018-19.
The seven-footer is averaging 5.9 rebounds in just 20.2 minutes per game this year, but translated over 36 minutes, that comes out to 10.6 boards, right around his career average of 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes.
While Koufos is not exactly a huge offensive threat, the Celtics would not need him for that. He would simply provide Brad Stevens with a big body off the bench who could grab some boards, defend the paint and use some fouls. The Ohio State product would fit very well next to Horford or Kelly Olynyk due to the latter two’s ability to spread the floor.
He wouldn’t cost all that much in return, either.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers have a lot of young bigs, and rumors have been swirling for months about a possible trade. With Joel Embiid now finally on the floor (and producing) and Ben Simmons potentially making his debut before the All-Star break, the 76ers will probably move one of Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Noel would prefer to be dealt, and Boston has expressed plenty of interest in the center in the past. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com reported interest from the C’s as recently as this summer.
Now, Noel underwent arthroscopic knee surgery right before the season and has yet to take the floor, but he is progressing and is expected to return at some point this year.
Looking at it from an on-court perspective, the 22-year-old would be an absolutely perfect addition to the Celtics’ frontcourt on both ends of the floor. He rebounds, blocks shots and has incredible athleticism that would allow him to be a potentially phenomenal pick-and-roll partner with Isaiah Thomas.
However, there is a catch here.
Noel will be a restricted free agent this summer, and while that may decrease his trade value, it also means Boston could end up with a rental. Given his youth and skill set, Noel will probably get paid when he hits the market. Of course, some teams may be scared off by his injury history, but there will be others who salivate over his defensive potential and offer him a lucrative deal.
Can the C’s take the chance of trading something of value for him and then losing him after a few months?
It’s definitely debatable, but Noel would be a heck of an upgrade for the Celtics’ frontcourt for the foreseeable future.
Kyle O’Quinn, New York Knicks
Kyle O’Quinn has not really been given much of an opportunity with the New York Knicks since arriving in the Big Apple ahead of last season. His minutes are down since his time with the Orlando Magic, and his playing time has been sporadic.
However, one thing we know for sure about O’Quinn is that, when he does play, the man can rebound. The former Norfolk State standout owns a career line of 10.8 boards per 36 minutes. In addition, he is a solid rim protector, averaging 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes.
The good thing about O’Quinn is that he plays his role. He does not try to do too much offensively, instead focusing on crashing the offensive glass and getting garbage points. He is merely a big body who can rebound, block some shots and provide some toughness on the interior.
The capper is that the 26-year-old is incredibly cheap, making just $4 million per season over the next two years before a player option for 2018-19.
The Celtics could probably nab O’Quinn relatively easily, as the Knicks are investing most of their frontcourt stock into Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah.
Alexis Ajinca, New Orleans Pelicans
Alexis Ajinca is a big man. The 28-year-old stands at 7’2″, and unlike many other players around that height, he actually moves his feet very well and has some smoothness to his game.
With Anthony Davis, Omer Asik and Terrence Jones roaming the frontcourt for the New Orleans Pelicans, playing time has been hard to come by for Ajinca.
That doesn’t mean the man isn’t useful, though.
The Frenchman has averaged 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes throughout his career, and while he isn’t exactly Dikembe Mutombo in terms of swatting shots (1.7 blocks per 36 minutes), he has the length and athleticism to help guard the rim.
Including this season, Ajinca has three years remaining on his deal at around $5 million annually. That’s what you call a bargain.
Given the fact that the Pelicans have numerous other bigs blocking Ajinca, he should not be too costly.
Andrew Bogut, Dallas Mavericks
While Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban insists the team won’t tank despite its 3-13 start, per Tim Cato of SB Nation, it would actually be pretty silly of him not to entertain trading some of his veterans.
Let’s face it: the Mavericks stink, and while the return of Dirk Nowitzki will surely make them better, it won’t elevate them to the level of a playoff contender. That could make Andrew Bogut a prime trade candidate, in which case the Celtics would almost certainly be calling.
We know what Bogut can do. He was a part of the Golden State Warriors’ championship team in 2014-15, and he has been a steady contributor throughout his entire career.
Yes, he has had some health issues, but when he is on the floor, the Aussie produces. Bogut is a fine rebounder and a terrific defender. He isn’t too shabby offensively, either, possessing terrific court vision and some slick passing skills for a seven-footer.
Bogut is making $11 million this season and will be a free agent at year’s end.
Still, so long as the asking price is not more exorbitant than it should be, Bogut would make a very solid addition to Boston’s roster.