Shaq! Rudy! Delonte! Eddie!
It's pretty clear what the top question on everyone's mind is in this week's mailbag: How will the Celtics cap off their roster for the 2010-11 season? Will it involve signing or trading for [enter player's name here].
Unfortunately, we're still in wait-and-see mode as the team explores all options, though today's report about Boston being in the mix for Portland's Rudy Fernandez certainly adds some intrigue to the downshifted offseason proceedings.
Before we dive into the bag, let's examine Boston's roster building to this point and get your friendly letter carrier's take on how things might play out from here.
The Celtics don't technically have to ink second-round draft choice Luke Harangody until September, but after his impressive summer showing, there seems like no reason to wait around. A deal will get done sooner than later. That will push Boston's roster to 13 players under contract for the 2010-11 season at roughly $81.1 million. (For a full player/salary breakdown, check out the latest Roster Reset).
It would surprise me if, in the absence of a trade, Boston went into October's training camp with 15 players under contract. Why? What's the motivation for players like Oliver Lafayette, Tony Gaffney or anyone else the team invites to camp (Matt Janning, etc.) if there's no immediate roster opening to play for? The Celtics seemingly need to have a spot (or two) open in order to promote competition, even if they ultimately settle on filling it with a veteran over guys like Lafayette and Gaffney, who have non-guaranteed contracts for next season.
After signing Harangody, Boston would, under that scenario, have just one remaining roster spot to play with this offseason, assuming Rasheed Wallace is either traded or returns to the Celtics next year (if Wallace retires without being traded, it could free another roster spot heading toward camp).
How Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge proceeds from here will be dictated by Wallace. We'll get into potential scenarios as we tackle your questions. So let's dive in.
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Q: I keep hearing so much about Shaquille O'Neal -- He wants to play here; It's not likely he will; He would be a good fit; He wants too much money; Trade Wallace's contract for him … So on and so on. What if anything is going on and could the Celtics get Shaq? -- Armen (Belmont, Mass.)
A: Let's start with what we know: Sources confirmed to ESPN.com that the Celtics have discussed Shaquille O'Neal, and according to reports, there is interest from the player as well. What's unclear is what the Celtics are offering and what Shaq is willing to settle for.
The buzz early in free agency was that O'Neal was interested in playing for a contender, wanted a large role with the team and sought upward of $8 million per season. With the Celtics, O'Neal would find a contender able to offer a decent amount of minutes, even in a reserve role, but Boston probably wants to see that price tag slashed way down.
So what's feasible? The easiest way for both sides to unite is for O'Neal -- an unrestricted free agent -- to sign at the veteran minimum ($1.4 million for a 10-plus year veteran). That's probably not enough cash for the big man's liking -- even though he's made roughly $291 million in basketball contracts alone, he's never earned less than the $3 million he played for as a rookie with the Magic in 1992.
The Celtics could facilitate a sign-and-trade with the Cavaliers, Shaq's last stop. Why, you ask, would Cleveland have any interest in helping out the team that ended its season two of the past three years (and helped drive LeBron James out of town in the process)? Because otherwise the Cavs stand to let O'Neal walk without compensation.
So the Celtics and Cavaliers could feasibly work out a deal like this: Boston sends Rasheed Wallace and a 2011 first-round draft pick for O'Neal (re-signed at $3 million for one season) and Player X (the likes of Anthony Parker or Jamario Moon, perimeter players with contracts that could work salary-wise in a trade).
Whether the Cavaliers are willing to part with the likes of Parker or Moon is unclear, but those are merely examples of players that would make the deal work if O'Neal took that salary range. The deal might be a bit too sweet in Boston's favor to work without more going to Cleveland.
Q: Any chance that the Celtics wind up with Shaq and Rasheed returns? -- Adam (Wayne, N.J.)
A: Now you're getting greedy. It's not impossible -- O'Neal would have to sign at the veteran minimum and Wallace would simply elect not to retire. Alas, it would further crowd the frontcourt, which might become an issue when Kendrick Perkins returns from injury.
Q: Do you think that Shaq is willing to accept a reserve role because the C's already have to nurse the veteran Big Three and I think they shouldn't have to make time to nurse Shaq also? -- Noorpaul (Covina, Calif.)
A: Here's why I've thought it could work from the beginning: Even when Kevin Garnett and Perkins are healthy, the Celtics do not give either player extended minutes. Garnett averaged 29.9 minutes per game last season (the lowest since his rookie season), while Perkins averaged 27.6 minutes. That leaves roughly 38.5 minutes per game for frontcourt reserves. Last season, Wallace (22.5 minutes per game) and Glen Davis (17.3) split those up. With Perkins out for the first half of the season, you could easily commit a similar split to Davis and Shaq to start the season. Sure, things get murkier when Perkins comes back, but the frontcourt depth would prevent Boston from rushing Perkins into the lineup. The way last season ended with Boston being devoured on the boards by the Lakers in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals, I think it's a good problem to have.
Q: Are the Celtics considering any other centers? -- Lea (Jackson, Miss.)
A: If the Celtics ultimately decide it's not worth the headache to bring in Shaq, they could easily go the cheaper route and settle for a low-cost veteran free agent -- someone who simply fills the emergency void previously held by Shelden Williams (though, we must remember that Semih Erden is set to fill a similar role already). Under this scenario, it's likely the Celtics would kick the tires on someone like Josh Boone, the former Net (with a connection to new top assistant Lawrence Frank), whose focus is on rebounding and defense.
Q: There have been a lot of rumors/discussions regarding the Celtics acquiring Shaq to fill the needs on the boards. However, the Celtics have spent the last three years building the best team defense in the league (Just ask LeBron, Kobe and Wade). Won't Shaq's lack of versatility/mobility create an even bigger void there than the one he is filling with rebounding? -- Darwin (East Dundee, Ill.)
A: No doubt that O'Neal can be a defensive liability at times, but his defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) actually dipped to a respectable 102 this past season, which is exactly what it was when he won a title in Miami in 2005-06 and just a point more than his rating when the Lakers won a title in 2000-01. With the likes of Garnett alongside, I actually don't think defense would be a concern. What he gives you on the glass, plus denying second-chance efforts and clogging up the lane, would likely be more valuable. Those worried about him bogging down the offense should remember Boston needs players that can finish around the rim, especially as Garnett's game becomes more reliant on the outside shot.
Rudy! Rudy! Rudy?
Q: What do you think of a potential Rudy Fernandez addition to the Celtics' roster? I think he could be a great get, if not for a bit of a cluster of guards forming on the roster. Could this even be achieved with Boston and Portland's tight financial situations? -- Nathan (Perth, Western Australia)
A: I touched on this a bit in the Celtics Blog this morning, but I do think it would be hard financially to make something happen. What's more, I'm left wondering what Fernandez's desire level to come to Boston as a reserve is, if he's already disgruntled by his role behind Brandon Roy in Portland.
But, Fernandez is exactly the type of player the Celtics covet: An offensive-minded wing who can get to the rim and create while excelling behind the arc. What's more, he's a bargain at his price ($1.25 million).
Alas, that's what is complicating matters for Boston. The Celtics would seemingly prefer to facilitate a move utilizing Wallace's contract ($6.3 million), but Portland has a huge salary gap with nothing between Jerryd Bayless' $2.3 million and Greg Oden's $6.8 million.
If Boston is in love with Fernandez (a player that, coincidentally, was chosen with its draft pick after the Suns nabbed him following the Rajon Rondo deal), the Celtics could consider a move involving a lower-priced player like Davis ($3 million). Trouble there is you thin out a frontcourt by taking away a young player that Ainge has suggested will take a big step forward in his development this year.
The flip side to that is the Celtics would still have a trade asset in Wallace, which could be used to go after someone like Shaq (with more reserve minutes freed up as well). The danger is that O'Neal is likely a one-year option, and while Davis is an unrestricted free agent after this season, the team could have long-term plans for him in Boston.
Given the Paul Pierce-dubbed "slim pickings" on the free-agent market, Boston will have to think long and hard about a potential deal for a proven NBA wing, particularly a young one who could be groomed for a starting role when Ray Allen's playing days are over. Those type of players are not easy to obtain, especially not for cash-strapped teams like the Celtics.
Q: Is Delonte West an option as a backup? I mean, most teams would be scared of his baggage. Do you think there's a chance Boston can get him for cheap? -- Shaun (Melbourne, Australia)
A: Wait, two questions in a row from Australia? Who knew our biggest market was Down Under? We're totally up for a trip to Brisvegas.
There's a lot to like about West, particularly his mid-range game, an area the Celtics could certainly use improvement on from their backup guards. But his checkered past is most certainly going to give teams pause. When the 2009-10 season opened in Cleveland, Celtics coach Doc Rivers talked at length about West and his situation, hoping the Cavaliers could reach out to him and help him. A veteran Boston locker room would seemingly be a good situation for West, but are the Celtics willing to take on that baggage for a reserve player when their focus is so clearly on a title run this year? Again, the lack of impact options on the open market will at least force Boston to consider it.
Another House call?
Q: I keep hearing reports that the Celtics are still talking to Eddie House. Do you think the Celtics will pick him up again? -- Lance (San Diego)
A: The Celtics would really be living up to the "putting the band back together" theme if they signed House.
Alas, my gut tells me that House's chances of returning to Boston were all but squashed with the re-signing of Nate Robinson. I don't doubt the Celtics considered him early in the offseason and are probably keeping him in mind should they end up with an extra roster spot and a thirst for another shooter before (or during) the 2010-11 season. But for now, Boston's focus is likely on what it can obtain in the trade market with Wallace's contract. The team can always check back in with House if it needs to recross that bridge.
Want a Wafer?
Q: Heard a rumor last week about the C's pursuing Von Wafer. Haven't heard much since. Can you confirm if it was just a rumor or if Boston really has been in discussions with him? -- Zain (Davis, Calif.)
A: Tip of the cap to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld for the Wafer note. But here's my take on all the names that have (and will) bubble up: The Celtics are practicing due diligence in kicking the tires on all available wings who could potentially interest them. Say the team ultimately trades Wallace for an impact big man but thinks it's lacking a shooter heading into the regular season; it can dial up the likes of Wafer and debate that sort of low-cost roster addition.
Here's the thing with guys like Wafer: He put up decent numbers in 2008-09 with a Houston team that made a nice little playoff run (falling to the Lakers in seven games in the Western semis). He cashed in with Olympiacos in Greece but was waived after four months. He signed a 10-day contract with Dallas and couldn't get on the floor. What's the market for a player like that?
Someone could give him a chance, but, especially with a contender, is he going to get the sort of playing time that allowed him to flourish in Houston? If it comes down to a situation where the C's need a shooter and it's down to Wafer or House for the veteran minimum, they're going with the known commodity.
Wafer certainly has more potential, but I'm not sure Boston is a location he could blossom in. On the positive side for Wafer, he did make Page 2's All-Dessert team.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.