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Friday, July 16, 2010
Celtics bolster bench with Robinson

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

Bringing back Nate Robinson might not have been Plan A for the Boston Celtics. It quickly became Plan B.

While president of basketball operations Danny Ainge suggested early in the offseason that Robinson was one of the free agents Boston had interest in retaining, his value to the Celtics increased exponentially after Tony Allen agreed to a three-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies earlier this week.

Boston moved quickly to lock up Robinson, agreeing to a reported two-year deal that will pay him around $4 million per season with incentives to drive the value of the deal higher.

Had Boston brought back Allen, likely committing in the neighborhood of the $3 million per season he commanded from Memphis, the team might have sought a low-cost option to serve as a backup to Rajon Rondo and/or provide a scoring punch off the bench.

But when Allen threw the Celtics their first curveball of the offseason, Boston was facing the unenviable task of potentially trying to replace both Robinson and Allen, two key bench contributors by season's end, with only minimum contracts to offer.

With non-Bird Rights that allowed Boston to spend as much as 120 percent of Robinson's 2009-10 value, the Celtics locked up a known commodity, with Ainge suggesting Wednesday that waiting on other options might have hindered Boston's ability to retain Allen.

"It's a challenge -- if you have a bird in the hand, sometimes you need to take it, because, if you're waiting for something you see better, it might not be there if you wait too long," said Ainge earlier in the week. "There are a lot of players still waiting for something."

One day after captain Paul Pierce, fresh off officially inking a four-year deal that he believes will allow him to retire as a Celtic, questioned Boston's lack of impact moves this offseason, the Green shelled out a little extra money to get Robinson. Pierce said he wanted the money the team is saving from his lower cap number this year to help bring in established players. Robinson's addition surely adds to Boston's escalating luxury tax bill, but offers more potential than what the Celtics would have found offering a minimum deal to another free agent.

Few could have even envisioned Robinson returning after he slid to the end of the Boston bench late in the regular season. He was used sparingly to start the playoffs, then popped off the pine to contribute 13 points over 13 minutes in the Celtics' Game 6 win to eliminate Orlando from the Eastern Conference finals.

Robinson never lost confidence before that point and noted that he heard Celtics coach Doc Rivers telling the media that Robinson would win a game for them at some point of the postseason. He always believed that as well.

"I just kept listening, I heard [Rivers] say it to the media and heard him say it to me," Robinson said after the Game 6 win over Orlando. "I just kept waiting, waiting patiently. Games were chipping away and I'm thinking, 'When's it going to happen?' It happened today."

Robinson then averaged 10.3 minutes per game in the NBA Finals, highlighted by a 12-point effort in Game 4 in which Rivers leaned heavily on his bench in the fourth quarter. The game produced one of the season's signature moments when Robinson leaped onto the back of a celebrating Glen Davis, and after the game dubbed the energetic bench duo "Shrek and Donkey."

Robinson should benefit from spending an offseason in the Boston system. He was thrown into the fire at the trade deadline after being dealt from the Knicks with Marcus Landry in exchange for Eddie House, J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker, and Rivers actually let Robinson teach a few of New York's offensive sets to his new teammates in order to feel more comfortable on the court.

But Robinson struggled at times to decide between his natural role as a scorer and his new role as a facilitator. Rivers stressed that he didn't want Robinson's role as backup point guard to stifle his aggressiveness, but it did. Robinson thrived in trash time situations where he didn't overthink his position, highlighted by when he scored 13 points in seven dizzying minutes against the Washington Wizards on April 9.

It will be interesting to see if the Celtics continue to use Robinson in a backup point guard role, or if they'll attempt to let him play more off the ball. The team selected Avery Bradley with the 19th overall pick in this year's draft and, while they'd surely prefer to bring him along slowly, the 19-year-old guard might get an opportunity to log time as Rondo's backup.

If that happens, Robinson might be able to boost his scoring output from the 6.5 points per game he averaged in 26 regular-season contests with Boston, back up toward the 12 points per game he's averaged for his career.

And one of Boston's biggest needs last season was a bench scorer. With a more defined role, Robinson could flourish over a full season in green. Which might leave the Celtics glad that Plan A didn't work out.

"Who knows," Ainge admitted Wednesday while discussing Allen's departure, "sometimes things turn out better than your initial plan."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.