Jermaine O’Neal’s days in an NBA All-Star uniform are far behind him, but he is also the only center on the Celtics’ roster (I refuse to consider Kevin Garnett or JaJuan Johnson as centers in any fashion). This means the Celtics and their fans alike will have to rely on O’Neal to give them something, really anything, this season.
Ryan, Brian, and Hayes attempt to tell you what that something may be:
1. Will Jermaine O’Neal have any kind of resurgence? Or will be able to give the Celtics less than he did last year?
Ryan DeGama: Sometimes it seems like O’Neal is the oldest player in the league even though he’s only 33. Am I cynical if I expect him to arrive at camp overweight and then miss a long stretch with some sort of mysterious leg injury? Because unless he’s slimmed down to reduce the impact on his knees, I expect the C’s will again find him unreliable.
Brian Robb: If by resurgence, you mean being able to stay out on the floor for more than 3/4 of the season, I’d say yes. This will likely be the final year of O’Neal’s career and while he showed flashes during the postseason last year, what you saw there when he was out there last year is probably what you are going to get. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing. For much of the Knicks series he was the team’s star defensively, especially in Game 1, prior to breaking his left wrist. For the C’s to compete for a title, they are going to need a lot more on the offensive end from JO, but expecting him to deliver on that at this juncture of his career seems foolish. If he can continue to bring the defense and weak-side shot blocking ability, Doc Rivers should be content.
Hayes Davenport: “Less than last year” is pretty ambitious. He only played 24 games. So I’m going to predict Jermaine to gloriously rise from the ashes and play at least 30 games, which is only barely south of his 40-game average for the last five seasons. As for his actual play, I think we can expect him to be tall and smart under the basket on defense for about 20 minutes a game. Pretty much the same as last year.
2. Will Jermaine O’Neal be the starting center for the C’s this year? If not, who do you think will play the most minutes at the 5?
Ryan DeGama: O’Neal starts until his body breaks down. Then Doc Rivers will find himself turning to whoever is occupying the backup spot. Right now, that’s nobody. Soon it might be Glen Davis, Kwame Brown or Reggie Evans. Which tells you all you need to know about Boston’s advantage at center over Miami and Chicago: there is none.
Brian Robb: Yes. For the same reason he won’t be amnestied this year—there are really no better options out there for the C’s. With only the mid-level exception (3 million) and veteran’s minimum deals to work with, you aren’t going to find a more starter worthy player out there at that price compared to O’Neal. As far as the minutes go, I expect JO to see 20-25 a game, in hopes to keep him healthy. Look for Big Baby to take the bulk of the other minutes at the 5, along with Player X (veteran’s minimum player) to fill in the gap.
Hayes Davenport: I don’t think Jermaine is going to start at center for the whole year, no. I think Glen Davis is gone, so when Jermaine’s bones finally stage their bloody coup three months from now, the Celtics need to have signed somebody. I think they know that, but I’m really not sure who they’ll end up with. Maybe Chuck Hayes, but I think the most likely option is Kwame Brown, who seems like he’ll respond really well to being screamed at by KG every day.
3. Despite what Danny Ainge says to the contrary, do you see any upside to amnesty-ing JO?
Ryan DeGama: None, unless Ainge thinks he can bring in younger, better guys for the veteran minimum. What we’re learning about the amnesty clause is that it’s only useful if it gets you far enough underneath the cap to sign a better player and the cost of doing so isn’t prohibitive.
Brian Robb: No, not for the way this team is currently constructed. If JO was amnestied, the only thing the C’s would gain is five million dollar MLE as opposed to the mini (3 million) one they hold now. Without JO, Ainge would be down to just seven players under contract, and no centers on the roster. Would doing that be worth the two extra million dollars the C’s could throw at a free agent? I think it’s safe to say the answer is no.
Hayes Davenport: Not really. Wouldn’t free up enough space to land anyone of actual value, except maybe another center, but then there’s still no backup center. I honestly want them to hang on to the amnesty because I’m worried Danny will sign Jeff Green to what will be an untradeable contract a year from now, and then he’ll at least have to consider undoing it before he ultimately decides to stick with Green for three more years. That’s pretty much where my confidence level is at these days.