Saturday, December 10, 2011 Updated: December 11, 4:27 AM ET
Center of inattention
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Doc, you do need another center, don't you?
That was the question posed to Celtics coach Doc Rivers on Saturday, given Boston's growing surplus at the power forward spot. The Celtics currently boast only one true, established center on their roster in Jermaine O'Neal, and he had just gotten done acknowledging rumors that he might be on his way out of town in a deal to bring David West -- yes, another power forward -- to Boston.
So the Celtics most certainly would need a legitimate big man, no?
"We do, we don't," an indifferent Rivers said. "If we don't have one, I'm not that upset by it. I'll always take one, so if you can find one for me, please help out. I just think if we have enough 4s that can play both [big-man spots] and if we have enough fouls, we can get away with it."
If Jermaine O'Neal leaves Boston, KG will have to step into the 5 spot.
Less than 24 hours after acknowledging that he told Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to simply stockpile talent over position-specific bodies, Rivers essentially suggested the Celtics are confident they can counteract a center-free lineup with skill, athleticism and insane depth at the power forward spot.
Rivers explained that position flexibility, particularly up front, is increasing in a league without many dominant big men.
"I think it used to just be at the wings; now [position flexibility is] migrating over to the 4s and 5s, partly because there's no 5s that can play," Rivers said. "There's [only] two or three of them that are dominant anymore. I'm lucky -- or unlucky, you could look at it either way -- to have played in the center era. I don't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Right now, there's just not a lot. Dwight [Howard],
[Andrew] Bynum. After that, I'm just saying as far as a team featuring and going to their guy, there's not a lot of others."
The way Rivers sees it, the Celtics aren't putting themselves at a disadvantage by not having a legitimate big man. Heck, last season, when healthy, the team thought it had an advantage when 39-year-old Shaquille O'Neal was on the floor. Given the collection of bigs the Celtics are putting together, you could make the case that their frontcourt will give them a potential advantage against the likes of Miami and, to a lesser degree, Chicago.
So who needs a center?
This isn't exactly new for Boston. Shaq and his backups were so injury-plagued last season that the team often employed undersized big man Glen Davis in the hybrid role up front alongside the likes of Kevin Garnett.
Rivers said Saturday that Garnett likely will see time as the de facto center this season.
"Kevin will play some 5 this year," Rivers said. "Which, honestly, I don't think is a problem at all. I thought when he was younger, that would have been a problem. But now I think it's a pretty good place for him."
"He's older, bigger, stronger," Rivers said. "He can play both positions. He can spread the floor for us at that position. Play him and [Brandon] Bass together, both of them can shoot the ball. Either one of them can guard the 5 or the 4. It makes us pretty versatile."
And versatility is exactly what the Celtics were striving for this season. It's not limited to the frontcourt, either. Boston also acquired backup guard Keyon Dooling, a 12th-year veteran who likes the "combo guard" tag (saying it's better than the "tweener" label he endured in his early days in the league).
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With Dooling able to handle the ball behind Rajon Rondo, the Celtics believe second-year guard Avery Bradley could flourish while playing primarily at the shooting guard spot.
"I think what [Dooling has] done, it's also really helped Avery," Rivers said. "Avery has no ballhandling responsibilities; he's just playing the pure 2 right now. And that's freed him up to just play and defend. So, to me, Keyon has created us two players, because Avery is better this way."
Marquis Daniels, re-signed for a third go-around with the team, has shown the versatility to play any of the three smaller positions. Jeff Green, who officially inked a one-year, $9 million pact Saturday, has the ability to back up Paul Pierce at the 3 or shuffle up to the 4 in a smaller lineup.
Rivers loves the idea of all these options and combinations. Now he simply wants to see it on the floor.
"I'd just like to use them," said Rivers, who had only nine available bodies at practice Saturday as the team awaits final league approval on a handful of deals. "I'd like to see them. I'd like to see them before the 25th. The way [the league logjam for transactions] is going, the first time I may see the whole team together will be on Christmas Day. It's frustrating right now. But like I told our guys, this is what it is. It's for everybody, so we'll just deal with it."
The rest of the league will have to deal with Boston's versatility this season. And the Celtics are hoping to show that you don't need a true center to be successful anymore.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.