Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Will Be The Center Of Attention If Darko Days Are Over For The C's?

Over the past few days, a lot of the Celtics blogs and basketball sites have been all atwitter (literally, since the news came via Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter) about the possibility of Darko Milicic leaving the Celtics to be with his ailing mother in Serbia and also to escape the Hell that apparently is the end of the Boston bench.

In leaving the Celtics for Serbia, Darko would also, presumably, find a squad to play on (man’s gotta eat, right?), thus rendering his services to the Celtics null and void for the current season and beyond. While it is understood that the health of his mother would be the primary reason for Darko's return home, he was reportedly unhappy with his role (if you can call checking the bench for termites and modeling team warmups a "role") with the Celtics, which helped to crystalize his intended defection (or, since he’s actually from there, reinfection?) to his home town.

In any case, much has been written and rewritten about the “hows” and “whos” the C’s would replace his substantial 7’ 0” 275-pound frame with on the bench.  Scenarios about the “who” have ranged from willfully deranged -- “Anderson Verajao!!” -- to the blindly hopeful – “Marcin Gortat!” -- To the optimistically cautious  -- “Kenyon Martin?” to the abjectly underwhelmed -- Ben Wallace?!? Kyrylo Fesenko??!? Erick Dampier??!!?!!?     

But, of all the names being churned out of the rumor mill, "Gortat to the Celtics" has gone the most viral. Stories with quotes from Gortat that serve to illustrate his displeasure with the way in which the Phoenix Suns are utilizing him (or should I say underutilizing him?) have led folks to speculate about Gortat's imminent arrival to the Emerald City (uh, that's Boston, in case you didn't get the whole "green" reference...) to save the day with is rebounding, shot-blocking, scoring and general big guy-ness.

And you know, I would fully support such a trade, granted that the pieces that we exchange for him are reasonable. One of the many scenarios about what the C's could offer to the Suns for "The Polish Hammer" had the Celtics giving up Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and a pick to get him. Let me say right here, right now that any trade package that includes Bradley in it at this point in the season better yield more than a 28-year old slightly-above journeyman center with career averages of 8 points and 6 rebounds. Yes, I know in the past four years he's picked up his scoring and rebounding averages (thanks, Steve Nash!), and yes, I realize that playing with Rajon Rondo feeding him alongside Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and company might lead him to a career year, but before we overvalue Gortat and undervalue Bradley, let's understand what the Celtics are getting from each.

Gortat is a 6' 11" big-body who can score effectively inside and from midrange, bang on the boards -- occasionally rebounding into the double digits -- and is one of the better shot-blockers in the League, which he is currently leading by rejecting 3 shots a game. That said, he's not the second coming of The Chief or even Big Al, though an argument could be made about whether his offensive skills and shot-blocking ability would finally allow people to lay the ghost of Kendrick Perkins to rest (if only after getting Banner # 18 under the Gortat regime). 
Avery Bradley is the kind of defender that only comes along once in a very blue and very full moon. When NBA talking heads and coaches refer to him as "an elite defender" they're not just blowing smoke. He's the real deal. The kind of defender that may someday be lumped in with the Bobby Jonses, the Dennis Rodmans and the Joe Dumarses (Dumarses? Oh, what the Hell...) as defenders who could, at their respective positions, change the game as surely as a great offensive player could. Scoff at this comparison if you will, but we've already seen what he can do to some of those great offensive players (Dwyane Wade...take a seat) and decent ball-handlers (Jameer Nelson had to wash his jersey three times after this game just to make sure that Bradley wasn't still in it!), and on this particular team, with this particular point guard on it, Bradley becomes essential. I could explain this point more, but John Karalis of has already done it exquisitely.

Now, if I heard something along the lines of, say, perhaps “Sullinger and Courtney Lee for Gortat” I MIGHT be tempted to at least get in the car and check out the interior package while listening to the satellite radio. If that offer turned into Sullinger and a pick for Gortat, I MIGHT just have to reach across to the other seat and shake hands on the deal. In my completely unprofessional opinion, losing Sullinger would be a difficult proposition to swallow because there is great potential written all over him. In just his 10th and 11th games, he's gone for 12 points and 11 rebounds in one game and then 16 points on 7-12 shooting in the next. Granted, he's an undersized non-leaper, but he still finds a way through positioning and sheer will to rebound and get his points, either by maneuvering under the hoop, upfaking and getting to the line for foul shots or stepping out and shooting at near three-ball range.

But, as much as it would pain me to see Sullinger come back at us in another uniform like Big Al, Perk and even Tony Allen before him, if you're Danny Ainge, you make this move for one simple reason: Banner # 18. Do the Celtics have the personnel to get it done this year without making a move? I actually believe that they do, once the team really gels with each other and the defensive/offensive game plan. Landing Gortat for a commodity that we have somewhat in abundance -- Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, and KG, once he slides back to his natural position -- could potentially be the kind of player that tilts the scales against the centerless Miami’s and the centerfull LA Lakers, Pacers and Sixers (once they can get Andrew Bynum to stop bowling) of the league. Jason Collins can come in and capably fill in as a defensive center, and the C's can still ball with smalls if Doc wants KG in the middle for matchup issues. And, for added protection at the power forward slot, we can still go grab K-Mart as insurance (even with his chronic knee issues, he's not a bad gamble for a 15th roster spot).
Of course, none of this talk becomes relevant until late December/early January because league rules prohibit recently signed free agents from being traded until then, and a trade for Gortat would likely require at least one of the C's new signees with whomever else the Suns would covet (Bradley? Step off, Sun!) in exchange for their disenchanted center.

By then, though, the Celtics might already be lounging back atop the Atlantic Division, blowing bad teams out and manhandling the good ones as they strike fear into hearts of fan and player alike from South Beach through Oklahoma City and out to Los Angeles.

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