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14 games into the 2012-13 season, the Celtics are dead last in the NBA in rebounding, and it’s not even close. At 36.9 boards per game, Boston trails the next worst team, Portland, by nearly two full rebounds, and the first-place Pacers by an outrageous 11.5.
It’s not just a case of the Celtics games having fewer possessions than most, as the Celtics are also last in rebounding differential, being out-rebounded by 4.9 boards per contest. The problem isn’t new, either, as the Celtics have ranked in the bottom two each of the last three years, and hasn’t been in the top half since the 2008-09 season.
With the Celtics giving up more points than we’re used to seeing (at least 100 in each of the last four games), improved rebounding figures to be an important factor in returning Boston to the league’s defensive elite. Let’s take a look at different ways they could bring those numbers up, from most to least likely:
This path became more viable last Wednesday, when Darko Miličić was released, leaving the Celtics with just 14 players on the roster. The main candidate would appear to be Kenyon Martin, who has averaged 7.1 rebounds per game for his career. The 34-year-old Martin, however, has also been linked to other teams including the Lakers and Knicks, and his extended stay on the free agent market is reportedly due to his refusal to sign for the veteran’s minimum. Since the money doesn’t seem to be there this year for Martin, it’s likely he waits it out to see which team might give him the best shot at winning a championship.
The Suns’ Marcin Gortat has been mentioned in numerous rumors over the past week, nearly all of them involving the Celtics. The Polish center, who is averaging 9.1 rebounds this season, would be a tremendous addition to Boston’s frontcourt and also averages 11.9 points and 2.4 blocks.
Atlanta’s Josh Smith has always been known as a solid rebounder and is averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest, and is also a potential target as he is a good childhood friend of Rajon Rondo. Smith seems more of a long shot at this point as the Lakers have reportedly been offering the Hawks a package that includes Pau Gasol in order to get him. Smith is a better scorer and passer than Gortat, averaging 15.2 points and 3.5 assists.
The issue here, of course, is what the C’s would have to give up in return. The Suns are in rebuilding mode after trading Steve Nash, and the Hawks would be too if they let Smith go, which means they would both want to get young players to move forward with. The Celtics reportedly will make it a point to keep Avery Bradley off the trading block, but in order to acquire Gortat or Smith, they would almost surely have to part ways with a couple of players who were meant to be a part of the team going forward, with likely candidates including Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger. But given that Boston’s top rebounder, Kevin Garnett, is averaging 7.4 a game, it may well be worth paying the price.
In essence this would mean Fab Melo. There’s no indication that Bass, Garnett, Sullinger or Chris Wilcox are going to improve their numbers in a hurry, and Jason Collins isn’t going to provide the solution. Melo was recently assigned to the D-League, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be recalled any time soon. From a physical standpoint, he no doubt has the potential to be a solid NBA center (he had 14 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes Sunday for the Red Claws), but he’s very raw, and the Celtics could risk turning him into a complete bust if they promote him before he’s had the chance to hone his skills.
Turning to the open market is the low-risk route, and the veteran Martin would surely be a good fit. But Danny Ainge has been known to take risks, and the fact that the C’s haven’t made a push for a free agent yet could suggest that they’re already working on a trade with Phoenix. Ainge also typically thinks long term, and because of that Gortat, who is 28 and will have two more years on his contract after this season, could have the advantage over Martin in Ainge’s mind.