Mar 21, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) is congratulated by forward Amir Johnson (90) after a basket during the second quarter against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
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As the early part of the NBA season continues into the winter months, the Boston Celtics are continuing to develop with their new additions. The addition of Al Horford has given the Celtics their first real front court presence since the days of Kevin Garnett. However, the power forward position has left something to be desired.
At small forward, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown are the only rotation players that can be properly labeled for the position. The Celtics are still relatively deep at small forward due to Smart and Jonas Jerebko‘s versatility in being able to guard multiple positions.
Horford’s arrival to the team provided depth to the center position by turning Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk into key reserves rather than starters. The center position does not have a ton of high quality backups that the guards do, but Horford makes up for that with his all star caliber play.
The power forward position is a very interesting one to me. In today’s NBA, the power forward can be anything. A point forward, a defensive rebounder, a stretch four, and more. That role all depends on the personnel. The Celtics do not have a strong power forward situation. In fact, it is probably the weakest area of the roster.
Amir Johnson, Olynyk, and Jerebko are the primary power forwards in the rotation. Johnson is a defensive minded player who makes his living off of hustle plays and defensive effort. Olynyk and Jerebko are stretch forwards but are different in the positions they play. Olynyk plays more center when not at the 4, while Jerebko can play as a small forward in certain situations.
So far this season, Johnson has provided similar production to last season with Horford now at his side. While Johnson is not a problem on this team, he is not a difference maker that the Celtics need. Olynyk and Jerebko are both key reserves who stretch the floor nicely, but do not play with the consistent physicality that the Celtics front court currently lacks.
Power forward is an important position to have effective players in that role, and the Celtics have a decision to make since the current players have not made significant production when given the opportunity. Let’s see what their options could be.
Feb 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) defends against Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Keep Everyone and Wait for Free Agency
The most likely scenario simply because making an upgrade is difficult to do as a contending team, without giving up the important pieces that make you so good in the first place. Johnson and Jerebko’s contract is up at the end of the season, which will give the Celtics added cap space to go after an upgrade at the position.
Olynyk is a free agent at the end of the year as well. He will be restricted, which gives the Celtics the option to match any offer another team makes. Still, the impending free agency of all of the power forwards on the roster makes it obvious that change is imminent to the position.
If this ends up being the situation at the end of the year, I predict that the Celtics will let Johnson and Jerebko sign elsewhere unless they are willing to take a lesser contract to return to Boston. Then the Celtics could go after the big name free agents at the position before they decide whether to resign Olynyk or not.
Mar 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) and Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) battle under the net during the fourth quarter of the game at the Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics won the game 120-105. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
Upgrade this Season through Trade
This scenario would be the most popular among fans since, I mean, who doesn’t love a midseason trade.
The worst kept secret in the NBA is that the Sixers need to resolve the log jam they have in their front court. Nerlens Noel,Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid are just three of Philadelphia’s multiple players vying for two spots in the rotation. Now I know minutes can be moved around to give all of those players ample time on the floor, but these are young, promising players that want to start and earn max level money. They cannot do that splitting time with other bigs.
The Celtics trading for Noel would be the most likely move under these circumstances. He has been very outspoken on his displeasure with his situation in Philly. The Celtics would also be a great fit for his skill set. Noel is a strong shot blocker and rebounder, and has impressive athleticism for a 7-footer. His offensive game is lacking, but Noel is only 22 years old and has a lot of time to grow.
I believe that a good package for Noel would have to include Rozier and a first round pick that is not a Brooklyn pick. Someone with Noel’s talent and upside would garner a higher return, but it is too well known that the Sixers have no use for him. So with the impending restricted free agency of the Kentucky product, the Celtics could upgrade their defense and overall starting lineup by trading for Noel while his price is low.
May 17, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas represents his team during the NBA draft lottery at New York Hilton Midtown. The Philadelphia 76ers received the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Look to the Draft
The NBA draft is the best place to build a championship team, and the Celtics have the ability to swap first round picks with the lowly Brooklyn Nets.
The 2017 class is a strong one, but not particularly strong at power forward. Harry Giles is the best power forward expected to come out. He would be absolutely perfect for the Celtics with his defensive ability and versatility. Giles also has a nice touch shooting the ball and could become a serviceable three point shooter. The only problem with Giles is that he has had three serious knee surgeries already in his basketball career. This is a big red flag for a Celtics team needing to hit on their Brooklyn picks.
Of course there is another way to look at the draft. If the Celtics cannot strike a deal this season to upgrade the power forward position, then they can always use their assets on draft night. The Brooklyn pick the Celtics own this season’s value will probably not be known until after the lottery. Once that date has passed, the Celtics will be able to dangle it in front of teams for superstar players if they do not choose to select a prospect.
Nov 1, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) defends San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
I do not believe that Danny Ainge is satisfied with the current roster. I especially believe that Ainge knows how important the power forward is to a championship team, and that he needs an upgrade over his current group.
The important thing to remember is that the Celtics continue to have flexibility with their assets and cap space. Danny Ainge does not make deals he thinks will not improve the team in some way. This is a luxury Celtics fans have that not many other fanbases do.
I expect the Celtics to do what they always do. They will search for deals and do everything they can to build a team that can win a championship. The Celtics are close. I think that the next move other than acquiring a superstar caliber player, should be upgrading the power forward position.