- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Boston Celtics' offseason checklist looked a bit like an overzealous 8-year-old's Christmas list for Santa Claus.
An Xbox 360 and an iPad? Oh, a pony, too?
Yes, all Danny Ainge wanted to do this summer was put the core of his team back together, bring back some of the key bodies that were lost during the 2011-12 season, and add additional depth to help this group make another title run.
Oh, and he wanted to stay under the luxury-tax apron ($74.3 million) to aid that process as well.
While admitting that the past month has been a nonstop whirlwind, Ainge continues to put red check marks next to many items on his shopping list. He has already assembled a deep, competitive roster that necessitates only a couple minor moves to cap the offseason process.
Yes, there was one big miss when Ray Allen signed with the rival Miami Heat. But if landing free-agent shooting guard Jason Terry wasn't enough to offset that loss (swapping out one 3-point-chucking bench scorer for another), Ainge on Friday finalized a three-team sign-and-trade deal that brought back 26-year-old shooting guard Courtney Lee.
We couldn't find an Xbox 360; will a PS3 do?
Holiday shopping analogies aside, Ainge has bookended his activity to this point with his shrewdest moves. Getting an immediate commitment from Kevin Garnett before free agency even opened set the dominoes in motion, and they've been toppling ever since, with Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Terry and now Lee in place.
The Celtics worked hard to facilitate a sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks that would have allowed them to utilize their midlevel exception to sign Lee outright. When that failed, Boston wasn't detoured. The Celtics simply got creative.
In the sort of trade that even video games have learned to reject, the Celtics cobbled together an end-of-the-bench package of E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Sasha Pavlovic and Sean Williams, then dealt them out with a trio of second-round picks in order to bring back a potential starter.
The cap-conscious Houston Rockets got Johnson, Moore and Williams, but they're expected to waive the latter two, according to a league source. (Before you ask: No, the Celtics can't get either one back.) So Houston gets a prospect and a second-round pick for helping the Celtics pump up Lee's salary, which will start around $5 million next season, based on Yahoo! Sports' report of a four-year, $21.5 million deal.
The Portland Trail Blazers got a pair of future second-round picks for absorbing Pavlovic (plus some cash to pay for his contract) and helping to facilitate the deal.
Boston gets a four-year veteran who has NBA Finals experience and averaged 11.4 points over 30.3 minutes per game last season in Houston. Lee shot 40.1 percent beyond the arc last year and is a capable defender at the other end of the floor.
Give credit to Ainge and his staff, which includes assistant general managers Ryan McDonough and number-crunching wizard Mike Zarren, along with director of player personnel Austin Ainge. While some teams have been stuck in the mud with roster construction, the Celtics motored through it with monster wheels and splashed everyone watching glumly on the sidelines.
But Boston's secret weapon has been head coach Doc Rivers. The Celtics have added two outside free agents so far, and it's no coincidence that Rivers went on the recruiting trail for both.
Terry raved about how Rivers phoned him at 12:01 a.m. when free agency opened on July 1. Rivers told him how much the Celtics wanted him -- whether Ray Allen returned or not -- and three days later they had a handshake agreement.
Just hours after Allen declared he was signing with the Heat, Rivers met up with Lee in Orlando to pitch him on coming to Boston. This came despite the fact that Boston had no obvious means of offering him a market-value contract, having already committed the midlevel to Terry and being thwarted by the Mavs in an effort to find a sign-and-trade with them.
It was merely a minor hurdle for Boston's front office. The Celtics essentially invented a second midlevel in the form of trading away players in roster spots Nos. 12-15, along with a couple second-round picks.
Even the NBA Trade Machine would laugh at such a proposal. NBA 2K12 would have offered an immediate rejection. But on Friday afternoon the Celtics formally announced the addition of Lee.
A decimated Boston team made it within 8 minutes of the NBA Finals last season before falling to the eventual champion Heat. Look at the Celtics' roster at this summer checkpoint and already it's hard not to suggest they are better overall.
The Celtics still have some work to do to fill out the roster. If you include second-round draft pick Kris Joseph, the team sits with around $70.6 million committed to 12 players. Having used the $5 million midlevel, the Celtics can't scale above the $74.3 million tax apron.
Boston could still benefit from a legit center, though it owns a $1.1 million qualifying offer on Greg Stiemsma. And a backup ball handler would help. Terry can aid that role, but would Keyon Dooling come back for the minimum? The guess here is that the Celtics will carry only 14 players into camp. Summer standouts like Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith could compete for a low-cost gig, or Boston could leave itself some wiggle room for a trade- or waiver-deadline deal later in the season.
The Celtics could also hang onto that biannual chip in order to lure an impact player without having to endure the usual midseason, minimum-contract tug-of-war with other contenders.
Either way, Boston has options and is under no pressure to make a move. The roster is already restocked and reloaded. There's no guarantee that these July moves will put them back on the cusp of playing for a title, but Ainge and the Celtics have done just about everything they can so far to put themselves in position to have a fighting chance.
It's hard to believe, but the Celtics' offseason wish list has come true.