The Boston Celtics' biggest need this coming free-agency period hasn't changed in quite some time.
Ever since the name Kevin Garnett disappeared next to the "C" on Boston's depth chart, this team has needed a center. The best available big during this 2014 offseason should prove to be Greg Monroe.
The Detroit Pistons big man is averaging 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season. When all the biggest names which could technically be available this summer wind up re-signing with their current teams, Monroe will quickly become the most attractive client on the market.
With factors in his corner like those numbers, his 6'11", 250-pound frame and the fact that he turns just 24 in June, Monroe will be looking at quite the hefty payday. If he doesn't get a max contract offer from someone, he will surely be in the ballpark.
Technically, Monroe is a restricted free agent. Playing out the remainder of his rookie contract, the Pistons will have an opportunity to match any offer sent the way of their former No. 7 overall pick. The trouble there is how much Detroit wants to invest in a frontcourt which already features highly compensated Josh Smith and breakout youngster Andre Drummond.
Detroit will have the money to keep all three, since Drummond isn't up for an extension until 2016. However, that setup hasn't worked well in its first year. The team is 29-49 in a season they entered with sights set on a middling playoff seed.
With massive turmoil high up inside the Pistons organization, the franchise may choose a different direction under new leadership. Head coach Maurice Cheeks was fired earlier this season, and John Loyer became the fourth head coach Monroe has seen in his four-year career.
Now general manager Joe Dumars, who has been with Detroit since 2000, is rumored to be stepping down in the near future. According to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News, Dumars could resign as soon as this week.
With that much turnover around him, there won't be a ton tying Monroe to Detroit anymore. A kid who grew up in Louisiana, went to college in Washington D.C. and has played four NBA seasons in Michigan, he is no stranger to new and different places.
With the Boston Celtics, he could find a stable organization with a longtime ownership and general manager, as well as a head coach with a confident six-year contract (five years remaining). There is also no Drummond or Smith sucking up all the frontcourt minutes and possessions.
Over their respective careers, Detroit point guard Brandon Jennings (under contract for two more years) averages nearly six more field-goal attempts per game than Rajon Rondo. Jennings has never averaged more than the 7.7 assists per game he is right now for a full season, while prior to his injury Rondo was working on three straight years of 11-plus assists per game.
While both franchises have rather storied histories, the Pistons are working on their fifth straight lottery season. Boston's last rebuild took a brief two years and immediately brought the city a championship.
Neither situation is an easy road to success, but the Celtics do appear to be in somewhat better shape. They offer more organizational stability and an definite All-Star whose sole mission is to put teammates in a good position to score.
Rondo's game is really elevated with a quality offensive big man. Over a short period of time, he has developed a rapport with the undersized Jared Sullinger. With a bigger interior player, that offensive style could really blossom. Having that big man is also becoming a prerequisite for success in the NBA.
Recently, we saw Mason Plumlee, a rookie center on the Brooklyn Nets, defeat the Miami Heat with some key big-man plays down the stretch, including a layup in traffic and a pair of blocked shots. The rest of the NBA's playoff teams are similarly well-equipped at center.
We've seen a slew of teams like the Charlotte Bobcats (Al Jefferson), Houston Rockets (Dwight Howard), Portland Trail Blazers (Robin Lopez) and Washington Wizards (Marcin Gortat) get centers last offseason. Now all four are set to make some noise in the postseason.
Whether the Celtics will have the necessary capital to keep up with some of Monroe's other suitors may be another question entirely.
While they will clear a sizable amount from their books this offseason, immediately bringing in a max contract will put them in a position to flirt once again with the luxury tax.
Boston will immediately duck about $20 million under this current season's payroll with the expiration of contracts for Kris Humphries, Jerryd Bayless and Keith Bogans. However, if Avery Bradley gets a $4-5 million raise and Boston keeps both first-round picks, somewhere between $10 and $15 million of that freed-up cap space is spoken for.
Suddenly, you're looking at a team that is already at the NBA's salary cap.
In order for Boston to create the space for a Monroe-type player, Danny Ainge must get creative with other moves. That obviously means shedding one of their bigger contracts. Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass make a combined $26.2 million next year. It is likely that all three are overpaid to varying degrees, and if Boston could eliminate one of them, there may be enough money to squeeze Monroe in.
In order to convince an opponent to take on one of those big salaries, Ainge would have to incentivize the deal. Adding picks is the easiest way to do that. Boston's GM has enjoyed discrediting the highly touted 2014 NBA draft class.
"I think it’s maybe a little bit better by comparison, but it’s not even close to one of the best draft classes in the last 10 years," Ainge said when asked to compare the 2014 and 2013 groups by The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes.
If those truly are Ainge's feelings, then perhaps he wouldn't shy away from dealing one of his 2014 picks to either help shed salary or get involved with an extend-and-trade for Monroe directly. It is unlikely that Ainge deals a pick and incredibly likely that he is just trying to defer tanking rumors. However, this is the type of thing that must happen to get Monroe to Boston.
There are a few centers being mocked to go in the lottery this summer, per DraftExpress.com. However even the biggest prize, Joel Embiid, has a serious health red flag. Even so, the odds of Boston getting a low enough pick in June to draft him are slim. The alternative is winding up with a Noah Vonleh or Willie Cauley-Stein, both of whom will likely never be as good as Monroe is right now.
Drafting in the lottery just to draft in the lottery is a dangerous game. Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and even Detroit can get stuck in that rut looking year after year for some kind of franchise savior. If Boston believes they are closer to success, then using a pick to leverage a proven player isn't a bad route.
Monroe isn't the shot-blocking rim-protector you continually hear coaches and fans craving. However, he is an elite rebounder with an excellent interior scoring game. His defensive ratings are not good. However, a lot of that can be indicative of his team, which gives up 104.2 points per game. In a better system like Boston's (100.3 points per game with no center) those numbers would improve.
Also, they say the defensive possession isn't over until someone grabs that rebound. For that, there are few players in the NBA better than Monroe.
If Boston is willing to make the necessary moves to make room for him, that opportunity will present itself in Celtic green.
Salary and cap information courtesy of Basketball Insiders.
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