Filling the Front Line, Part 1: Free Agency
Posted by Zach Lowe on Jun 21, 2010
Think about this: Right now, the Celtics are assured of starting their season with just two healthy front line players—Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis. Rasheed Wallace might retire, Perk will likely start the season injured, and Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine will either be playing elsewhere (Shelden) or be out of the NBA (perhaps Scal).
Suddenly, Boston needs bigs, and there are two ways they can get them:
• The draft. We’ll cover this later this week (and I’ll be at the draft to hopefully interview whoever the C’s pick), but for now, CelticsTown is going through a list of prospects that may be available when the C’s make the 19th pick.
• Free agency. If Paul Pierce remains with the team at his slated $21 million salary, Boston will be well over the salary cap, leaving them with only two ways to sign free agents:
1) The mid-level exception.
This gives teams over the cap the right to sign a free agent for a set salary equivalent to the league’s average salary—around $6 million in 2011. The exception can be split among multiple players, meaning the C’s could sign two players for about $3 million each under the mid-level;
2) The veteran’s minimum exception. A team over the cap can sign as many players as it wants to minimum deals. You can see the minimum salary levels here. The minimum salary for a 5th-year player will be about $993,000 next season; the minimum for a veteran of 10 or more years escalates to about about $1.35 million.
Here’s a list of big men free agents—with a short blurb about each—that will likely be available somewhere on the scale between the minimum and the full mid-level. (You can view the list of all free agents here). I’ll address each in more detail if reports emerge that Boston has interest in any particular player:
• Jermaine O’Neal: Had a rebound season in 2010 (his PER was a robust 17.9), and his shooting percentage jumped over 50 percent for the first time in his career. But as we saw when he pooped the bed against Boston in the playoffs, it’s unclear if he can score against elite defenses, and he’s become more a jump-shooting big as he has aged. His plus/minus numbers over the last three years show a player who is a neutral presence, at best.
• Shaquille O’Neal: At 38, Shaq’s statistical profile finally declined across the board. His shooting percentage (56 percent) was his lowest since his rookie season, he got to line less often per minute than ever before in his career, and plus/minus numbers—both raw and adjusted—portray him as an anchor. Cleveland’s offense especially seems to have suffered with Shaq on the court. Shaq was a helpful presence as recently as 2009, and a big guy who can hit 56 percent of his shots would seem to have value. But how much?
• Zydrunas Ilgauskas. At 34, all of Ilgauskas’ scoring and rebounding numbers are, not surprisingly, trending downward. After posting a PER of at least 18 every season since 2002, his PER dropped last season to a sad-looking 11.9. His raw plus/minus numbers were neutral, but adjusted plus/minus numbers have long been skeptical of how much of a role Z-man has played in Cleveland’s recent success. Still: The dude can hit an open jumper, and even the occasional corner three.
• Brad Miller. A former king of plus/minus whose numbers in that category—both in raw terms and the adjusted stats at Basketball Value—fell back to neutral last season. He has length and toughness Boston can use, but he’s 34, he shot a career-low 43 percent from the floor last season and his rebounding numbers were the worst of his pro career.
• Udonis Haslem. At 6’8” (according to Basketball-Reference), Haslem is as under-sized as Glen Davis, but you can count on him for 50 percent shooting on a ton of jumpers and solid defensive rebounding. The adjusted plus/minus system on Basketball Value absolutely hates him—he’s had one of the worst numbers in the league the last two seasons—and that’s probably because the system credits a lot of Haslem’s productivity to being on the court with Wade.
In any case, Haslem’s loyal to Wade and Miami, so he’s probably unavailable.
• Brendan Haywood. Probably too expensive for Boston, as some team will throw him more than the mid-level. And he deserves it. He’s a legit 7’0” center who knows his limitations (i.e. he doesn’t shoot jumpers) and improved his team’s defense in both Dallas and Washington, according to his plus/minus numbers on 82games (raw) and Basketball Value (adjusted).
• Ben Wallace. Don’t laugh. Yes, he’ll be 36 by the time the 2011 season starts, and, yes, the Celtics don’t want too many guys who can’t shoot jumpers. But there wasn’t a better offensive rebounder in the entire league last season, and we all know the Celtics could use someone with that skill set. He’s an elite defensive rebounder as well, and his plus/minus numbers over the last three seasons are so good you can’t dismiss them.
• Tyson Chandler. Chad Ford reported recently that Chandler might out opt out of the final year of his contract—which would pay him nearly $13 million—in order to become a free agent and sign a new deal under the current collective bargaining agreement. Perhaps Chandler thinks he’s worth more than the mid-level because of the residual power of Chris Paul alley-oop highlights. I’m not so sure.
His plus/minus numbers—solid in New Orleans—fell off a cliff without Paul to feed him. He’s an asset on defense, and it’s possible that another elite point guard could revive his ability to contribute in the screen/roll. Otherwise, Chandler is an offensive zero.
• Kurt Thomas. Teams will look at Thomas if he’s willing to sign for the veteran’s minimum or the biannual exception, which will be worth about $2 million next season. Of course, Boston doesn’t have the biannual exception, since the team used it to sign Marquis Daniels last season.
Thomas was a solid contributor in Seattle and Phoenix, but his numbers with Milwaukee indicate his game might be falling apart as he approaches age 38. He can still grab a defensive rebound, but the Bucks gave up about a half-dozen more points per 100 possessions with Thomas on the floor last season versus with him on the bench.
And while Andrew Bogut’s outstanding defense has a lot to do with that differential, it’s still troubling for a guy who held down the fort defensively well into his mid-30s.
One nice thing: Thomas shot 47 percent on jumpers last season, a solid mark for a big guy.
• Lou Amundson. One of the best offensive rebounders in the league two years running, and yet the Suns offense played much worse with Amundson on the floor versus with him on the bench. Playing a decent chunk of minutes alongside Goran Dragic instead of Steve Nash doesn’t help in that regard. Nor does Amundson’s lack of a reliable jumper, though he has progressed (slowly) in that part of his game.
The Suns defense has performed better with Amundson on the floor over the past two seasons. At 6’9”, though, he lacks the length Boston could use against bigger clubs.
• Etan Thomas. Thomas’s insane contract, which paid him nearly $8 million last season, will finally expire, and it does so at a moment where Thomas’s value is a total mystery. He played a bit more than 600 minutes combined in the last three seasons (he missed all of 2008), and his plus/minus numbers for his last two healthy seasons have been among the very worst in the league.
He was decent in 2007, when he put up a league-average PER, but that was a long, long time ago. Does he even have a place in the league anymore?
• Rasho Nesterovic. The poor man’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas? He played only 413 minutes last season, and the Raptors gave up nearly 10 more points per 100 possessions with Nesterovic on the floor versus with him on the bench. Yikes.
He’s still a semi-reliable shooter, but at 34, it’s fair to ask whether he has any value in the league.
• Ian Mahinmi. Everyone is excited about Ian Mahinmi. He has played 188 minutes in the NBA. I have no clue how good he is. Nobody really does.
• Ike Diogu. Always scores, never plays.
That’s it for now. Are their any free agent big men you think I’m overlooking?