Thursday, July 8, 2010 Updated: July 9, 12:18 PM ET
Ainge happy with offseason so far
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sat at the end of his team's bench punching away at his cell phone as the Green tangled with Indiana Thursday afternoon in a summer league game.
While the NBA offseason is barely three weeks old, Ainge joked that it's already felt like a two-month process. But Ainge has simply jammed two months worth of activity into little more than a week and was probably wrapping up more business via text message and email while observing the players who could help fill out Boston's 2010-11 roster.
Ainge said he couldn't comment on impending deals with free agents Jermaine O'Neal, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce until the paperwork was official, but admitted the team intended to sign the trio, which would add three checkmarks at the top of his offseason to-do list.
Danny Ainge, who has had a very busy start to his offseason, takes in some potential future Celtics in summer league play.
"I think our priorities to start the offseason, obviously, were Paul, Ray and then the strength of our center position in lieu of [Kendrick Perkins' ACL] injury," said Ainge. "Those were our priorities and hopefully by [Friday] we'll have those three things taken care of."
Thursday is the first official day players can sign with teams following a weeklong moratorium in which many verbal and handshake deals were agreed upon.
Not only did Ainge and the Celtics pull off three of those deals, they did so in shrewd fashion, negotiating contracts that ran counter to a money-gushing market and didn't compromise the future of the organization while maintaining a "win now" philosophy with a group that came six minutes shy of securing a world title last month.
Pierce (four years, $60 million) and Allen (two years, $20 million) essentially took hometown discounts to keep the Big Three intact for the near future, while O'Neal settled for the mid-level exception (about $5.76 million for each of two years) when players of far less stature were netting comparable money (see: Darko Milicic's four-year, $20 million deal in Minnesota).
What's more, Ainge helped recruit coach Doc Rivers back to the bench, which may have been the top priority of all this offseason.
For a Celtics team that faced so much uncertainty just two weeks ago, questions have been answered in short order. Maybe even quickly enough to allow Ainge to squeeze in a round of golf or two before the new season arrives.
Here's a handful of offseason observations Ainge could talk about Thursday:
• Ainge said it wasn't just Boston's run to Game 7 of the NBA Finals that convinced him to keep the core intact. It was the level of play during the entire postseason run.
"How our team played in the playoffs, it was a sign that they have a lot of basketball left," said Ainge. "During the course of the year, we were struggling through injuries. I was very encouraged by what I saw out of this team [in the postseason]. How they were moving and physically, how they were capable of defending and rebounding."
• Asked about the progress with Boston's remaining unrestricted free agents -- a group headlined by Tony Allen and Nate Robinson -- Ainge said he'd been in touch with the group and planned to focus on them more once the Pierce/Allen/O'Neal triumvirate was officially inked.
"I've been working on them," said Ainge. "We've had conversations. We're just trying to fill our roster. Once we get [Pierce, Allen and O'Neal] taken care of in a couple days, then we'll work on our next group of guys."
Ainge pointed to Tony Allen and Robinson when identifying key members of last year's team he hoped to bring back.
"We like Nate and Tony," he said. "I'm sure they are still looking at the market and the market is crazy right now. We'll be patient, but we do have interest in both both of them, we always have."
• Ainge said there was nothing new to report on the Rasheed Wallace front.
The team has maintained all along it expects Wallace to retire, even as reports suggest he might be reconsidering his initial inclination to walk away. Even if Wallace does retire, the team must wait and see how he proceeds with the process, and whether he will seek a buyout that could take valuable dollars away from this year's payroll. There's also the potential to trade Wallace to a team eager to shed cap space (possibly netting some talent in return), but Boston (and its potential trade partner) would seemingly have to be assured he's walking away before exploring that avenue.
• Kendrick Perkins is scheduled for surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Monday.
• Echoing sentiments expressed by Rivers on Wednesday, Ainge didn't seem overly concerned about where LeBron James ended up, even if it's in Miami with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. He did understand the magnitude of the King's decision, particularly among Eastern Conference contenders.
"Depending on LeBron's decision, a lot of franchises could be changed for a long time -- for better or worse," said Ainge.
"We are the Eastern Conference champs and we think we're going to be better. I have a great deal of respect for all of those guys, they are all top-notch free agents. We know that whatever happens, the East is going to be a challenge; the East is going to be stronger."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.