Commentary

C's mailbag: One more hole to fill

In search for backup swingman, perhaps Boston should use patience

Updated: August 18, 2010, 5:39 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

One topic dominated the mailbag this week: wings.

And while we'd just as soon devote an entire 'bag to the hit '90s sitcom, the McCartney-fronted band or Buffalo's tastiest treat, readers wanted answers on how the Celtics plan to address the lack of depth behind Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

It's no secret that Boston covets another wing. On paper, it might be the team's lone remaining weakness after the offseason departure of Tony Allen. Everyone from Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to head coach Doc Rivers to Pierce has opined over the past seven days that the Celtics need another shooter to cap off the 2010-11 roster.

So let's dive into this week's mailbag and try to provide some answers.

Q: Everybody knows (and agrees) that the Celtics would like (and need) another backup swingman that can shoot. Who do you think they should or would most likely pick up? -- Kenyatta (Jackson, Miss.)

A: The key here is patience. The question is whether Boston can afford to practice such a virtue.

[+] EnlargeHughes
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireLarry Hughes has been discussed as a possible Celtics backup, but his shooting charts from last season are downright woeful.

With Rasheed Wallace's buyout, the Celtics sit at 14 players with guaranteed contracts for the 2010-11 season. Barring the chance to add a known commodity, I think it behooves the team to simply be patient and see what develops as other teams finalize their rosters.

Larry Hughes has been a popular name, but his shooting charts from last season (and, well, much of his career) are downright woeful. Hughes shot a mere 17 percent from 16-23 feet in 14 appearances with Charlotte (and only 34 percent from that range in 31 games with the Knicks). He shot only 30.9 percent from beyond the arc for the season, and 35.5 percent from the floor overall. But …

The one thing Boston lacked last season was a bit of a selfish chucker. Put Hughes on a good team where, even on the second unit he could get open looks, and I don't think the results would be as bad as people think. He's averaged 14.2 points per game through his 12-year career and has potential to provide a spark off the bench.

What's more, Hughes is a former NBA All-Defensive first-teamer (2004-05), so he's not a complete liability at that end of the floor.

Regardless, I think the team should examine all options before committing that final roster spot. It wouldn't even be the worse thing to keep that spot open into the regular season, offering roster flexibility straight through the trade deadline. The trouble is whether Boston can afford to wait, as any injury could force them to settle for the best available body.

Q: Looking at next year's roster, it seems to me what we're lacking is a guy like a 2008-09 Mickael Pietrus, a 3-point specialist who can also play defense and really spell Ray Allen (whose age and minutes, in the top 10 in the NBA last year at age 34, really caught up to him). Seeing that Von Wafer is a big gamble and unproven, do you take Rasheed Wallace's final roster spot and try to shore up the shooting guard slot? Nate Robinson is too small to play defense. I was thinking of Rashad Anderson (UConn alumnus disclaimer), or someone of his mold, to play for low money but with young legs and insurance in case Wafer doesn't pan out. Thoughts? -- Grandjordanian (San Diego)

A: There's no disputing the fact that the Celtics are most vulnerable at that backup wing position right now. Both Wafer and Marquis Daniels could totally exceed expectations with bounce-back years, but if they don't, Boston is mighty thin behind Allen and Pierce.

The best available options right now all carry risks. Do you roll the dice with Hughes and his questionable shot selection? Are you comfortable adding Delonte West and his off-court troubles, particularly in an ego-filled locker room? Fans are salivating over a player like Rudy Fernandez, but there's no easy salary match to facilitate a trade (even if the team was willing to sacrifice a future pick), so that seems unlikely to happen.

If the Celtics really want to push their AARP rep, they could replace one departing North Carolina guy with 15 years of experience (Wallace) with another in Jerry Stackhouse, who proved to be both a good locker room guy and quality contributor late in the season for Milwaukee. Alas, older shooters don't always pan out in limited roles (see also: Michael Finley).

With only the veteran's minimum to work with, Ainge will have to be creative in filling that final roster spot. That's why the trade deadline might be the best bet if the Celtics can afford to wait that long (plus, that gives them time to evaluate the rest of the roster and find other needs).

[+] EnlargeKendrick Perkins
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesWill Kendrick Perkins have to earn his starting job back once he's recovered from surgery next season?

Q: What did you think about Danny Ainge's comment about Kendrick Perkins having to earn back his starting role after he returns from knee surgery? -- Kristina (Boston)

A: I didn't get to touch on this much last week given that it came the same day of Shaq's signing, but for those who missed it, here were Ainge's comments about Perkins during a conference call:

[The addition of Jermaine O'Neal and Shaq] does take pressure off of Kendrick. He has a very bright future and he knows we think very highly of him. We're not certain, though, when he [will be] 100 percent and this allows us to be patient with Kendrick. At the same time, I'm sure he's going to be worried and nervous since we are going to win games with this front line even when he's not playing. I'll be sitting with and talking with Kendrick throughout this whole process and hopefully he can just focus on getting himself healthy and competing for his job back.

Jermaine O'Neal already said all the right things at his introductory news conference last month when noting that it's Perkins' starting job when he returns. Rivers will undoubtedly remind you that Boston's familiar starting five -- a lineup that includes Perkins at center -- has been to two NBA Finals in three seasons and hasn't lost a series when all five players are healthy.

I'm guessing Perkins won't have to "earn" his job back, so much as simply "ease" his way back into it. I think what Ainge might have been suggesting is that Perkins simply won't step back on the court in February and regain a starting role. It stands to reason that the Celtics can slowly reintegrate him and, when he's near full health, the switch can be made. With the O'Neals, there's no need to thrust him directly back into the fire.

That said, if the Celtics are something like 38-10 at the All-Star break and Shaq is playing at some sort of turn-back-the-clock level, it will be interesting to see how smoothly the transition becomes for all of Boston's big men.

In the end, it might also be a bit of contract posturing. Perkins is entering the final year of a four-year, $16.7 million extension inked in September 2006. Already working his way back from a major knee injury, it surely wouldn't help his bargaining position if the Celtics suggest he'll have to earn his job back over two proven All-Star centers (both of whom boast two-year deals). Remember that Ainge wasn't exactly tossing verbal bouquets toward Rondo before inking what now seems like a bargain five-year extension at the start of last season. Could he do the same with Perkins?

Q: Your thoughts on Rajon Rondo playing for Team USA? Pros? Cons? Where do you stand on the matter? -- Zain (Davis, Calif.)

A: Considering Rondo played more than 100 games last season between the playoffs and regular season, I don't think it would have been the worst thing for Celtics fans if he was among the early Team USA cuts. But listening to Rivers offer his blessings last week sold me that this could be a good experience for Rondo.

Rivers noted that Rondo's minutes will be limited (15-20 per game) and that some of the defensive sets that Team USA plans to utilize will be integrated into Boston's system next season as well. Sure, the potential for injury is probably elevated given the competitive nature of the world championships, but it's also a good experience for Rondo to be around some of the game's other top young players.

Let's just say that no one seems to be fretting Semih Erden's participation for Turkey.

In the end, if Rondo emerges unscathed and earns a few "SportsCenter" appearances with his razzle-dazzle play, then everyone will call it a success -- particularly if he helps Team USA earn gold at the FIBA World Championships. But if he injures himself, we'll all second-guess the decision, even though it could just as easily happen in a pickup game in Kentucky.

Q: ESPN Boston is still showing the Game 7 box score in the Celtics blog. It was painful enough when it happened, but to be reminded every day is torture. Please remove it! Please! -- Stan (Lincoln, R.I.)

A: It's funny, we had received a bunch of notes in the mailbag reminding us to remove Shelden Williams from the Twitter feed on the Celtics blog, and while I was reminding my boss about that, I joked how it was weird no one had complained yet about the Game 7 box score right below it. Sure enough, Stan and a few others called it out last week.

It reminded me of the aftermath of Super Bowl XLII. At my previous employer, we had a "last game" feature in the upper right-hand corner of the Patriots team page and we must have gotten 20 e-mails a day after the Giants' victory asking us to remove it. When we finally replaced it with a "Countdown to training camp," many were pleased.

You guys might have to deal with the Game 7 box score a bit longer, but just think: A glossy new Celtics vs. Heat matchup will appear there soon enough to tip off the 2010-11 season. Let that loss stand as a reminder of what this year's team hopes to atone for.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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