Celtics draft sets tone for need to have a big (man) summer


BOSTON -- With the NBA draft a thing of the past now for the Celtics, the team’s focus turns towards what they hope will be a big summer - literally. 

Because if there’s one thing we can take away from the way the Celtics went about navigating through the draft Thursday night, is that they weren’t all that interested in the big-man prospects. 

The Celtics finished the night with a total of four draft picks - two in the first round, two in the second - with all being perimeter, wing-type players who are 6-foot-7 or shorter. 

And remember, this is a Celtics team that is reportedly on the verge of losing Al Horford to free agency.

Boston also came to terms on a trade with the Phoenix Suns that sent Aron Baynes and the Celtics' 20th overall pick (Virginia’s Ty Jerome) to Phoenix for a 2020 protected-pick via the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The move was done in part to create additional salary cap space that gives the Celtics more flexibility to go out and sign a player to help fill the void left by Baynes and the likely departure of Horford. 

Because right now, the Celtics’ big-man depth is about as shallow as we’ve seen this time of year in quite a while. 

Robert Williams III, at 6-10, is the team’s only true center. Boston also has 6-9 Guerschon Yabusele as well as 6-7 Semi Ojeleye, who has shown the ability to defend bigger players despite his height. 

That big-man rotation is simply not going to be enough to compete, let alone complement, Boston’s wing-friendly roster. 

And that has created a lack of clarity as far as what the Celtics will look like roster-wise, a roster that as of now is devoid of impact players in the frontcourt. 

While Danny Ainge acknowledges this offseason is one that roster-wise isn’t quite as set in stone as years past, he doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. 

“I’ve always said that, if somebody goes someone else gets a new opportunity,” said Ainge, C's president of basketball operations. “And we’ve seen that happen here many times. I’m very excited about what the possibilities are over the next month. We’ll be able to hopefully talk more about it in the next month.”

However the roster shakes down after free agency, there’s little doubt that it has to be one that includes at least one difference-maker in the frontcourt if the Celtics have any hopes of remaining at least within striking distance of the top teams in the East. 

Ainge said the team has a lengthy list of bigs that they are going to consider pursuing via free agency. And while he did not reveal any by name, you have to think that Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic will be on the team’s short list. 

The 7-foot Vucevic, coming off a season in which he was named to his first All-Star Game, is likely to garner a starting salary around $20-$25 million, which Boston is in a better position to absorb in part because of the Baynes trade. 

The C's might also look into trying to add a lower-salaried big such as DeAndre Jordan, Ed Davis or Dewayne Dedmon, in addition to potentially bringing back Daniel Theis.

There are those who believe that the value of having big men isn’t what it used to be in part because of the NBA becoming more about spacing and positional versatility and skills that don’t necessarily come to mind immediately when it comes to big men. 

And while the role of big men in the NBA may be different, there’s no getting around their importance if a team is serious about winning at the highest of levels or in the case of the Celtics, establishing a new foundation. 

We’ve seen in recent years here in Boston first-hand the importance of having a big man with difference-making ability. 

Kevin Garnett was a major factor that fueled a change in culture for the franchise, not to mention playing a pivotal role in Banner 17. 

The Celtics have been among the better teams in the East the past three seasons and the play of Horford and Baynes was one of the keys. 

In the NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard was brilliant in winning his second NBA Finals MVP. But the play of Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam was also important in bringing the Toronto Raptors their first NBA title. 

“We have no clarity in who we’re getting, right?” Ainge said. “We have a long list of bigs and we’ll make a priority list and go from there.’’

And that could lead to a big (man) summer for Boston - literally. 

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