Wednesday, March 2, 2011 Updated: March 3, 9:48 AM ET
This Celtics team is finally set
By Peter May ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- There are now effectively two in-season NBA player-movement deadlines. There's the one for all 30 teams, which this year fell on Feb. 24. Then there's the one for the half dozen or so teams that have a legitimate chance to win. That one began Tuesday night and is still ongoing.
Miami, Boston, Chicago and Dallas all availed themselves of the pool of players who successfully executed buyouts. (Or, in the cases of Mike Bibby, Troy Murphy and Corey Brewer, players who got traded and then executed buyouts.) Miami got Bibby, who cannot guard his position. Dallas got Corey Brewer, whom the Boston Celtics very much wanted. Chicago added much-needed shooting in Rasual Butler.
And now that the dust has settled in Boston -- we think -- can we look at the composition of the current squad and the one on Feb. 23 and not come away with any other conclusion than that this one is demonstrably better?
Troy Murphy officially signed with the Celtics on Wednesday afternoon and played 14 minutes with the team that night (one point, two rebounds).
Here's who left: Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody and Marquis Daniels. At the trade deadline, only two of those guys were poised to play any significant minutes in the playoffs; and, with Robinson's, er, quirkiness, you could make a case that only one player -- Perkins -- fit that category.
Here's who arrived: Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic. All of those players are likely to see minutes in the postseason.
If this were one jumbo deal, it would be classified as an outright heist.
"We're deeper,'' general manager Danny Ainge said before the 115-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at TD Garden. "We've got a lot of experience on the bench, a lot of players who used to be starters and who are in the primes of their careers."
The bench has been a source of concern all season because not for one single game did Doc Rivers have his five, preferred guys available. Now, if Shaquille O'Neal or Jermaine O'Neal come back healthy -- and Ainge said he is "very encouraged" and "very optimistic" that they will -- then Doc will have an almost embarrassingly deep group of reserves from which to choose.
He'll have two legit 7-footers -- an O'Neal and Krstic. Or two O'Neals. He'll have a 6-11 power forward, Murphy, who can spread the floor with his shooting and has shown an ability and aptitude for rebounding, particularly on the defensive end. He'll have a versatile 6-9 forward, Green, who can play either forward position and is capable of dropping 30 on you. And in Pavlovic, he has a tough, tested wingman, a legit 6-7, who can give Doc 10 minutes if need be.
Throw in Delonte West and Big Baby Davis (assuming he's OK after hurting his left knee in the final minute of Wednesday's game, and he said he was) and you have the makings of exactly what Ainge was talking about: a deep, professional, seasoned group of players, one of whom (Murphy) will be excited just to see what an NBA playoff game is all about.
"Sometimes, when you are in the hunt for the playoffs, a lot of coaches find it hard to trust young players,'' Ainge said. "I think you could see that with Semih and Luke. I understand that. But you look at who's there now and there's not one player you can't not trust. They may not play well, but it's not because you can't trust them."
Here's what else is great about this reshaping: Ainge got three legitimate rotation players going forward, assuming the Celtics want to keep them (and can re-sign them). He's not only made them better in the here and now, he's made them better in the future. That's a real coup.
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Before this deal, a Celtics team of, say, 2012-13, based on the existing roster, looked to be composed of Perkins, Rajon Rondo, Big Baby, Avery Bradley and, possibly, West. (We could also add Ray Allen, who seems to be doing the Benjamin Button thing.) Now, we can look at that same roster and see Rondo, Green, Krstic and Murphy, along with Baby, Bradley and West.
"We have options,'' Ainge said, adding that the team also has a No. 1 pick from the Los Angeles Clippers in the next couple of years.
Ainge sacrificed Perkins because he wasn't certain he could re-sign him and because he saw what a lot of us saw: that Perkins was a diligent, well-liked player who knew his role and played it to the hilt. But he was a role player. Perkins could have stayed in Boston but rejected what the Celtics could afford to pay him. He eventually made out with a sweet, new deal in Oklahoma City. It was a smart move. The Celtics simply didn't have that kind of flexibility.
Ainge saw the opportunity to add two players for Perkins (forget Robinson, he was never part of the big picture) in Green and Krstic. Both are in their mid-20s. There will be pressure on the Celtics to re-sign both of them, lest the Perkins deal look bad in retrospect. Green, whom the Thunder unsuccessfully tried to re-sign, will become a restricted free agent as long as the Celtics make the required "tender offer" by June 30. They will. But he can't sign it until July 1, which is when the NBA's Nuclear Summer (aka lockout) would begin. Krstic's deal is up at the end of the season.
Whatever new collective bargaining agreement emerges will govern their situations. The same goes for Murphy and Pavlovic. And, for that matter, Big Baby and West. That's at least six free agents. (Doc makes seven, but that's another story for another day.) It would give Ainge a potential bonus coming out of a lockout because it's additional flexibility.
So not only has Ainge made the Celtics better for the stretch drive, he has made them much better down the road. That is part of his job description, and it isn't an easy thing to pull off. But he has managed to do it.
He vowed when he accepted the job of rebuilding the Celtics that he not only would make them a success -- which he did -- but that he would also make Boston, with its bad weather, terrible drivers and astronomical cost of living, a preferred destination for free agents.
He's done that, as well -- and this time, he did it without any help from Kevin McHale.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.