By A. Sherrod Blakely
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.