Commentary

Celtics carry on as planned

Boston adds Jordan Crawford but will rely on same core group down the stretch

Updated: February 22, 2013, 1:46 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

LOS ANGELES -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge huddled Thursday morning at the team hotel in Beverly Hills during the final hours before the NBA trade deadline, and, confident in how the day would unfold, Ainge advised Rivers to keep his off-day plans.

So as Ainge grabbed the soon-to-be-needed power cord for his iPhone, Rivers gathered his golf clubs and ventured off to prestigious Bel-Air Country Club for a rare opportunity for 18 holes in February.

If Rivers was consumed with the future of his ballclub, it didn't show on the links. He chuckled while noting he actually played pretty well. Rivers did sheepishly admit to being unable to divorce himself from his own phone.

"I had to break the rules because, at Bel-Air, you cannot have a cellphone on the course," Rivers said. "Each hole, I had it and the caddie kept holding it up. That was my day."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bass
Geoff Burke/US PresswireAfter squaring off in November (above), Jordan Crawford leaves the Wizards to join Brandon Bass and the Celtics.

Rivers' personal Danny Noonan, whoever it was, probably has some amazing tales if he peeked at those text message updates from Ainge (KG waived his no-trade clause!!!! JK, LOL). If you believe Rivers, who had maintained in recent days that his team wouldn't make a big splash, the day unfolded just as quietly as he and Ainge suspected it would.

Boston made a relatively minor move, acquiring third-year guard Jordan Crawford from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa.

In desperate need of guard depth -- and unsatisfied with what they've found on the free-agent market -- the Celtics brought in the offensive-minded Crawford to replace what Rivers has dubbed the "wild card" role that Barbosa held before tearing his ACL earlier this month.

Collins, the 12th-year center who had most recently served as Boston's first big off the bench, was a victim of the collective bargaining agreement, tossed in late in order to make the salaries match up.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Celtics first attempted to send Chris Wilcox to Washington, but he utilized his impending early Bird rights to veto that swap, forcing Boston to send Collins instead.

Wilcox, a former NCAA champ who has never tasted the NBA playoffs, is instead thrust into a key big-man role. Rivers not so subtly suggested Thursday that the Celtics need more than they've gotten from him thus far.

But it was an otherwise quiet day for Boston, which engaged in due diligence while exploring all potential trade avenues but ultimately elected to keep its core together.

The Celtics' locker room showed no signs of consternation after Wednesday's loss to the rival Lakers, which suggests that players were at ease about an uncertain future. Amid injury woes and inconsistent play, many observers wondered whether Ainge would trade away veterans such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to facilitate a future-looking overhaul.

But Rivers remained adamant that any discussions surrounding his veterans were nothing more than exploratory, even as reports suggested Boston would have pulled the trigger on a long-rumored swap with the Los Angeles Clippers had Garnett been willing to waive his no-trade clause.

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For his part, Rivers said he didn't feel the need to sit down with Pierce or Garnett, because he always assumed they'd still be with the Celtics after the deadline passed.

"Nothing really was going to happen -- I didn't think it was," Rivers said. "There's always talk. The difference between now and 10 years ago is that people know about the talk now. It hasn't changed; it's just people know about it now."

To Rivers, all that stuff is in the rearview mirror anyhow. There's no sense sweating what didn't happen. The Celtics now are focused on what lies ahead, even if there's still work to be done to fill out the roster.

Already thin on big men, Boston forfeited a key big in Collins -- a move that left Rivers conflicted given the veteran center's presence in the locker room -- and now there's an even more glaring need to add at least one more frontcourt body moving forward.

Rivers said the Celtics will monitor the buyout scrap heap to see whether any noteworthy names are released by teams after this latest batch of roster shuffling. Rivers lamented that the buyout pool has thinned in recent years. Boston also will eye the D-League for potential depth up front, although nothing appears imminent.

Both Rivers and Garnett have hinted that the 36-year-old is battling some in-season injury woes. Rivers said Thursday that he would ponder sitting Garnett for an entire game as the Celtics prepare to play three contests in the next four days to wrap up a five-game West Coast swing with stops in Phoenix, Portland and Utah.

An inconsistent Boston squad has to figure out how to navigate the final 28 games of the regular season while best positioning itself for the postseason. The Celtics sit as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but the eighth-seeded Bucks added J.J. Redick, who could make them a threat to climb higher (and Milwaukee owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Boston after winning three of the four matchups earlier this season).

A streaky Boston squad is thirsty for more consistency, particularly on the road, where it's a mere 8-17 this season (including 0-2 to start this post-All-Star trip).

The Celtics don't have to worry about the roster uncertainty any longer. Speculation had run wild in recent weeks, particularly after Boston lost three key rotation players, including All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo and rookie rebound machine Jared Sullinger.

Whether by design or simply a lack of desirable trading partners, Boston's roster remains largely intact for another quest for that elusive second title in the Garnett era.

The Celtics obtained some depth they needed at the guard spot, but their title chances depend heavily on the eight-man core that has carried them since Rondo went down.

Ainge has maintained that he enjoys watching this team, that he thinks this team has something special when it plays as a cohesive unit. It's one of the reasons he's giving this core another shot at a playoff run instead of moving his veterans at a discount price.

Ainge clearly believes a team with Pierce and Garnett can still challenge in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, these Celtics haven't changed their goals of competing for the conference crown after falling minutes shy of securing it last year.

Yes, while Ainge encouraged Rivers to get out on the golf course Thursday, he's probably hoping his coach doesn't get another chance to play 18 holes until mid-June when those playoffs end.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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