Celtics have questions at center

Boston Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal was all smiles at practice despite uncertainty at his position.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Boston Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal was all smiles at practice despite uncertainty at his position.

WALTHAM -- The Celtics currently have one center with NBA experience on their roster, and experience is something Celtics fans worry about with Jermaine O’Neal. Entering his 16th NBA season, O’Neal has seen more wear and tear than most.

NBADL standout Greg Stiemsma has the opposite problem, lacking NBA experience entirely, and his partially guaranteed deal is more of a flier than a sure thing.


That leaves Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, and rookie JaJuan Johnson -- none of whom are true centers -- to back up O’Neal. Should O’Neal get hurt -- which is probably more of a foregone conclusion than a longshot -- one of those players may have to fill the starting role at a position they’re not used to.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he isn’t worried.

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“We have a bunch of guys,” said Rivers. “Kevin can play center. Kevin has played center before. I think he can absolutely play center. Brandon Bass can play center and he’s done that as well.”

Two things stand out about Rivers’s statement: the mention of Garnett, whose minutes are bound to decrease again this year, and the lack of a mention for Wilcox. More about Wilcox in a second. Do you really want Garnett banging with Dwight Howard or Andrew Bogut for 15 minutes per night?

Rivers said those guys are few and far between.


“It’s not like there are a lot of great centers out there,” said Rivers. “You’ve got Dwight [Howard] and [Andrew] Bynum and a couple more. After that you’re not exactly throwing the ball down to fives at that position. The important position is really the power forward position.”

That’s where Wilcox comes in. At 6-feet-10-inches and 235 pounds, Wilcox isn’t built to be a banger. He’s carved out a nice career for himself with his athleticism and with his tenacity around the rim, though he’s not built for going up against players the size of Howard. Glen Davis made up for a lack of height with his mass. Wilcox is of a more athletic build, making him perfectly suited for a power forward role.

“Wherever I’m needed that’s where I’m going to go,” said Wilcox. I played center when I was in Seattle, a little bit when I was in Detroit, so I’m used to it.”

Wilcox echoed his coach on the lack of difference between the positions in today’s NBA.

“Fours and fives are switching anyways, so there really isn’t much of a difference,” said Wilcox. “I just try to bring energy and a lot of hard work, do a lot of dirty work under the basket.”

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