Celtics free agent primer: Centers

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Celtics free agent primer: Centers

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

The Boston Celtics went into last summer in desperate need of size.

They came away with a pair of O'Neals (Jermaine and Shaquille), which gave them the kind of inside muscle they so desperately coveted.

Since then, they added Nenad Krstic (a free agent this summer) who came from Oklahoma City as part of the Kendrick Perkins trade.

And here they are a year later with the center position once again in a bit of flux.

On Wednesday, Shaquille O'Neal announced his retirement after 19 NBA seasons via social media.

But the news isn't all bad for the Celtics at the center position.

Jermaine O'Neal, who was giving strong consideration to retiring as well, told CSNNE.com that he'll be back next season.

"The way last season went for me and for the Celtics, it left a bad taste in all our mouths," said J. O'Neal, who played a career-low 24 games last season. "I'm definitely coming back, because I think I have a lot more to offer than what fans and you guys in the media saw last season."

As for Krstic, he might opt to play overseas instead of wait around for what is expected to be an NBA lockout that will surely push back the start of the NBA season.

"We're going to weigh all his options when the time comes," Krstic's agent, Marc Cornstein, told CSNNE.com earlier. "Ultimately, Nenad has to do what is best for him and his family."

That leaves Boston in need of some serious add-ons in the middle.

And while this summer's crop of free agent centers isn't particularly deep or impressive, there's enough talent at the position to where the C's should be able to acquire a player who could at the very least, become a contributor next season.

Here are some names to keep an eye on heading into free agency.

Top available centers (team they played with last season): Jason Collins (Atlanta); Etan Thomas (Atlanta); Nenad Krstic (Boston); Kwame Brown (Charlotte); Nazr Mohammed (Charlotte); Joel Przybilla (Charlotte); Tyson Chandler (Dallas); Yao Ming (Houston); Dan Gadzuric (New Jersey); Shelden Williams (New York); Tony Battie (Philadelphia); Samuel Dalembert (Sacramento); Francisco Elson (Utah); Kyrylo Fesenko (Utah);

Best of the bunch: Chandler, Dalembert, Ming, Krstic and Brown.

Best fits for the C's: Brown, Krstic or Mohammed.

Why Brown? Say what you want about Kwame, but the one thing you can count on with this former No. 1 overall pick is that he's going to do a good job defensively. Remember, he would have been a Celtic last season instead of Shaquille O'Neal if he didn't balk at the C's initial offer - the veteran's minimum - that ultimately went to Shaq. Considering Chandler and Dalembert are likely to sign with their respective teams or a big-dollar contract elsewhere, Brown is one of the few reasonably priced big men who has a skillset that would easily fit in with this current crop of Celtics.

Why Krstic? When he was healthy, Krstic was a force in terms of scoring as well as grabbing offensive rebounds - something the Celtics have been horrible at the past few years. But with a likely lockout on the horizon, Krstic may very well look more closely at returning to Europe and play which would be a big loss for the C's. In addition to his offensive rebounding, Krstic has a nice perimeter game for a center that helps space the floor better for Boston.

Why Mohammed? He's a veteran who has played for some of the best coaches in the game, including one of Doc Rivers' mentors, Larry Brown. Mohammed doesn't do any thing exceptionally well. But he can score around the basket, he plays decent defense and while he's not a great rebounder, he doesn't suck, either. Mohammed wouldn't be the Celtics first choice at center. But when you consider the C's will likely add at least two veteran centers - and that's assuming that both O'Neals call it quits - Mohammed wouldn't be a bad center coming off the end of your bench.

Others deserving strong consideration: Collins, Williams, Gadzuric and Elson.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!