Friday, August 6, 2010 Updated: August 7, 11:45 PM ET
Offseason analysis: Celtics all good
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge wrapped up the signing of free-agent center Shaquille O'Neal this week while trying to squeeze in a vacation out west.
At this point, the Celtics will be fine whether Rasheed Wallace chooses to retire or not.
Now maybe it's time for a real retreat.
Boston's addition of another impact big man is the latest check mark on Ainge's offseason to-do list. The Celtics' roster is at a point where the team could sign second-round draft choice Luke Harangody -- an anticipated move that would bring Boston to the maximum of 15 players under contract for next season -- and call it an offseason, yet still be comfortable heading into training camp in October.
Yes, there remains the lingering uncertainty about what exactly the team plans to do with Rasheed Wallace. But having not only reassembled but reloaded (borrowing last year's catchphrase) a roster that came six minutes shy of winning a world title in June, Ainge and the Celtics can maintain their wait-and-see approach with Wallace's contract and simply monitor what develops moving forward, particularly as other teams finalize their rosters.
That's a luxury that's been afforded the team by not needing to utilize Wallace's contract in roster construction thus far (an offseason victory in and of itself). The Celtics expect Wallace to formally announce his retirement at some point, potentially walking away from the $13 million and two seasons remaining on his contract. But until he follows through on that plan, Boston has the freedom to trade him (offering other teams potential salary cap or luxury tax relief) in exchange for another piece to its 2010-11 puzzle.
Wallace could walk away for nothing at this point and it wouldn't be much of a detriment to the Green. It's undeniable, however, that the Celtics could benefit from another reliable wing, a known commodity that could aid a thin reserve group of Marquis Daniels and Von Wafer behind starters Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
At the moment, that spot might be the only true weakness Boston displays, due in large part to the departure of Tony Allen. That's not to say that both Daniels and Wafer don't have the potential to rebound from last season's struggles to find what made them both so valuable to their former teams in 2008-09, or that other weaknesses won't be exposed during the season.
But it surely wouldn't hurt to add depth at that spot, and Boston can monitor the free-agent pool (Larry Hughes' name continues to pop up this offseason) or see what becomes available in the trade market.
Then there's a young player like Tony Gaffney, who boasts a non-guaranteed contract for next season and, if given the opportunity, could prove his value during training camp and earn a spot amongst those backup wings.
And there's no saying Boston must absolutely add another swingman if it feels a better value in retaining an extra point guard or big man. Yes, the Celtics are in a fine position to round out their roster. Unlike some teams that will find themselves desperate to plug holes as the offseason nears completion, Boston can fill out its squad on its own terms.
One line of thought suggested the Celtics should keep a roster spot available moving into training camp to foster competition amongst the likes of Gaffney, Oliver Lafayette (non-guaranteed contract) and any other camp invitee. But Boston could just as easily max out its roster before camp and confidently head to Newport knowing it has the 15 players who give it the best chance of winning entering the 2010-11 season.
From there, any further tweaks to the roster could always be made during the regular season, particularly as once-hopeful teams that weren't willing to part with players at the start of the year become in-season sellers.
So sit back, Mr. Ainge. Maybe even turn off that cell phone for a bit. The heavy lifting is done.
To be sure, before the acquisition of Shaq, Boston's offseason lacked a certain pizzazz compared to its Eastern Conference brethren such as Miami and Chicago, which added big-name free agents to talented cores.
But Ainge and his staff have to be commended for their ability to retain players like Pierce and Ray Allen, particularly in a market of deep-pocketed suitors at the start of free agency. Tony Allen's departure surely threw an unexpected wrench in Boston's plan, but the team compensated by utilizing its non-Bird Rights to bring back Daniels and Nate Robinson at modest raises.
The additions of the O'Neals -- Jermaine and Shaquille -- will seemingly improve a thin frontcourt exposed after Kendrick Perkins' knee injury in the NBA Finals.
The addition of Shaquille O'Neal was a smart move.
Past success doesn't guarantee results, but, on paper, the Celtics appear to have put together a solid offseason, particularly given the salary constraints the team faced. But we won't know until the new season begins if it truly was as shrewd a haul as it seems to this point.
Boston's offseason was governed by a low-risk, high-reward mentality. There were times last season when it seemed like Daniels and Robinson had no chance of coming back. But the market dictated Boston give them a second look and, knowing both likely underperformed for much of their time in Boston, it was worth the sticker price to hope they bounce back this season (particularly in more defined roles).
In a market particularly thin on perimeter players, the Celtics likewise hope that Wafer can find the game he displayed in 2008-09 with the Rockets. For a minimum salary, it's worth the gamble.
Even veteran players like the O'Neals and even Ray Allen offer some risks given their NBA mileage. But Boston pins its hopes on the fact that these past All-Stars still have gas in the tank, something they all showed at stretches last season (even if they also struggled at times).
What's more, the Celtics didn't mortgage their future in order to remain competitive. Pierce is the only player who received a contract of more than two years this offseason, and there's reason to believe he'll remain effective into the twilight of his career, lending his talents even when this roster is overhauled.
For sure, there's still work to be done, particularly in integrating the new faces and ensuring that all these big egos fit into Boston's locker room. But consider the alternatives to how this offseason played out: Imagine if Boston didn't retain Pierce or Allen. Imagine how the team would be struggling to fill those sort of holes, especially with limited resources, much of which were devoted to simply plugging the void presented by Perkins' absence to start the 2010-11 season.
The urgency of the offseason is waning as Ainge's checklist nears completion. It's time for everyone from Ainge to the fans who stayed on this Celtics roller coaster straight through the 2009-10 season into free agency to enjoy the lull that August and September should provide.
The roller coaster will start back up again before you know it, and it's sure to be another wild ride. One that the Celtics hope won't offer another break until late June of 2011.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com who's checking in from Patriots training camp this week. Follow him on Twitter.