Commentary

Will same old Celtics be enough?

True, the bench is deeper and healthier, but Ainge's big misses may haunt his team

Updated: December 13, 2011, 10:31 AM ET
By Peter May | ESPNBoston.com

David West? Gone. Chris Paul? Still available, but probably out of reach. What started out as a potentially intriguing preseason, with Paul at the top of the Celtics' wish list, is now turning into a nuclear December for Danny Ainge & Co.

This season's Celtics are going to look a lot like last season's Celtics, especially the top six, where there has been no change in personnel. The three new additions after that (Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox and Brandon Bass) theoretically replace Delonte West, Nenad Krstic and Glen Davis.

Not inspired? OK. How about this? This season's Celtics, as of now, are deeper than they were last spring when they walked off the floor in Miami, starting their offseason vacation well ahead of schedule. In addition to the three newbies, Coach Doc Rivers will have a supposedly improved Avery Bradley and a supposedly healthy Marquis Daniels at his disposal.

Deeper? As of now, yes. Better? Who knows?

Which leads to the obvious question, with apologies to Roger Waters: "Is There Anybody Else Out There?"

Ainge's options are few. The Celtics are well into Luxury Tax Land so there's not much to offer a prospective free agent. Rajon Rondo is really the only tradeable player Ainge has, and as good as Rondo is, he isn't enough to get the estimable Chris Paul to Boston. The Big Three aren't going anywhere and it would be counterproductive to use the amnesty clause on Kevin Garnett, because it (a) deprives the team of its defensive anchor and (b) wouldn't give the Celtics any meaningful cap room or flexibility to pursue a cast of underwhelming free agents.

[+] EnlargeDanny Ainge, JaJun Johnson, E'Twaun Moore
AP Photo/Josh ReynoldsDanny Ainge, with rookie draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, is finding his options increasingly limited.

So WCDD (What Can Danny Do)?

Well, let's see what he has and hasn't done.

He has taken the Ellis Island approach with Wilcox and, to a lesser extent, Dooling, both of them former lottery picks who have bounced around the league. Wilcox is a certifiable bruiser who has appeared in 539 games with five teams over nine years -- but has never cashed a playoff check. Dooling isn't much more playoff-tested; he's appeared in 675 games with five teams over 11 seasons and has 29 playoff games to his credit, half of them (15) as a 12.7-minute-a-gamer for the 2005 Miami Heat, which made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. His last playoff game was in 2008 with Orlando.

Both of those guys should be hungry with a capital H, especially Wilcox. Ditto for Daniels, who established himself as a reliable rotation player last season until that awful collision that led to his season-ending spinal cord injury. (It also probably led to the Kendrick Perkins trade.)

But keep in mind that the team used the taxpayer mini mid-level exception of $3 million to sign Wilcox at the start of the free agency period. There was some speculation that he might have signed at the veteran minimum to join a winning team, but the healthy salary explains his decision to sign so quickly.

Bass for Davis looks like an even swap, although the former was invisible the last time Orlando and Boston met in the playoffs. As aggravating as Davis could be on offense, especially when he forced his shots, he was a tireless offensive rebounder and he came to understand the Celtics' defensive schemes while being among the league leader in charges taken.

As for what Ainge hasn't done, there's the case of the Missing Hornets. Going after Paul was absolutely the right and proper thing to do. Then, you look at what the Lakers were willing to surrender in The First Trade That Wasn't (Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol) and you look at what the Clippers were willing to surrender in The Second Trade That Wasn't (Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and an unprotected No. 1 in 2012 belonging to Minnesota, a price the Clips ultimately found too steep) and it's not hard to see why Rajon Rondo and the other assorted bits and pieces simply weren't enough.

Ainge tried to get creative with West, offering Jermaine O'Neal to make the deal work. It was written at the time that West was very interested in coming to Boston and willing to take less money to play for a contender. He ended up getting $10 million per -- about a 20 percent increase from last year -- from Indiana, which has won one playoff game in the last five years. So much for that.

Aside from trades, there appear to be a couple other places where Ainge might find help. We will know this Friday which players have been waived via the amnesty clause and, already, there's at least one interesting name out there in Chauncey Billups. Would Mr. Big Shot consider finishing his career where it all began? (He is tight with Garnett.) Gilbert Arenas also is out there. There could be some other interesting fellows (Baron Davis?) by the time the amnesty period comes to an end.

Under the rules, teams with cap room get the first crack at a player let go under the amnesty clause, and Billups would appear to be a valuable piece. But this is the NBA and players like that tend to go where they want to go, so we'll see.

There also could be the new Gang of Four available in March after playing in China this season. ESPN reported that players must be on rosters by March 23 to be eligible for the postseason -- and the Chinese regular season ends in mid-February. Only the two teams playing for the Chinese championship are likely to be in action in mid-to-late March.

Wilson Chandler, Aaron Brooks, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin all signed to play in China this season. The first two, arguably the most desirable, are restricted free agents, with Phoenix (Brooks) and Denver (Chandler) holding their rights. Smith and Martin are unrestricted. If those players want to compete for a title, they likely would have to settle for a prorated version of the veteran's minimum unless the team was sufficiently under the cap.

That's about it. What you see now is probably what you're going to get. Right now, the Celtics look to be good enough to be a top-tier team in the East. In what may very well be the last run for this group, is that going to be enough?

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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