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Ainge: Celtics one step closer

Danny Ainge sees his most recent trade paying off down the road.
Danny Ainge sees his most recent trade paying off down the road. (Globe Staff Photo / Robert E. Klein)

In most cases, you make a trade thinking it's going to improve your team. In the case of the latest Celtics trade, well, that is not the case. Not now, anyway.

The arrival of Wally Szczerbiak may, as the Celtics hope, open things up for Paul Pierce. The arrival of a first-round pick from the Timberwolves in 2008 or 2009 may one day bear fruit. Certainly, shedding the unhappy Mark Blount and his onerous salary helped drive the seven-player deal with Minnesota.

But, as we pass the one-week anniversary of the deal, are the Celtics a better team?

''I feel like we're closer to where we want to be," Danny Ainge, the Celtics' executive director of basketball operations, said yesterday. ''But I don't think we're necessarily a much better team right now, if that makes any sense. To me, it's kind of a sideways deal as far as winning basketball games right now. But I feel we're closer to where we want to be. I'll let you read between the lines."

We all know, ultimately, where the Celtics want to be. They want to get there with a nucleus of Pierce, Szczerbiak, Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West, and Al Jefferson. ''We feel that's a very strong, solid group of guys as we go forward," Ainge said. Additionally, after the deal, the Celtics own five first-round picks in the next three years, although one is Cleveland's (in 2007) and the other is the conditional pick from Minnesota, which can be exercised in 2008.

One reason Ainge feels the Celtics are closer is the addition of Szczerbiak for Ricky Davis. He thinks Szczerbiak is the best player in the deal and added that Davis, while having improved both on and off the court as a Celtic, still was, as he put it, high maintenance.

''Ricky grew up a lot here and, as I said before, this was not about Ricky," Ainge said. ''But things happen, and not always things off the court. People are talking about Wally's defense. Well, Ricky had his problems there, too."

That despite the public pronouncements of Doc Rivers, who once said Davis could be the best defensive player on the Celtics because of his size, quickness, and athleticism. When it was all said and done, Davis was in Boston for fewer than 26 months.

Ainge called the picks ''valuable chips." While he clearly wouldn't indicate if anything else was afoot, he did make it clear the picks added to the value of someone who otherwise might not be tradeable for whatever reason. Asked if Raef LaFrentz might be one of those ''untradeables," Ainge refused to comment.

On Wednesday, Ainge, in his weekly visit with Glenn Ordway on WEEI, hinted he felt the Celtics were only a player from being a contender in the conference. He backed off that yesterday -- ''I don't think I said that," he said by way of explanation -- but here's what he told Ordway: ''In some ways, we can be one move away from being a team that can contend in the conference." He wasn't saying he saw the future Detroit Pistons, but he did say he thought one potential move might make the Celtics a top four or five team in the conference. He also said the move might come sooner rather than later.

Big news for Gerald Green fans. The Celtics' No. 1 pick from the 2005 NBA draft should be activated for tonight's game against the Clippers, although Rivers thought it would be unlikely the rook would play. Then again, Rivers said the same thing a week ago about Szczerbiak. ''I'm not going to be scared playing him," Rivers said. ''It wouldn't kill us to play him. It might kill me." Green is going to spend a week with the Celtics, making the trip to Florida over the weekend, then return for a couple practices before, in all likelihood, heading back to the NBA Development League. Tonight will mark the second time he has been active for an NBA game; he has yet to play in one, however. Under the rules, a team can send a player to the NBDL no more than three times. Green, who was scheduled to play last night in Florida, was averaging 12.3 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Fayetteville Patriots. The Patriots have more than a week off before their next game Feb. 10, so the Celtics felt this was the perfect time to bring Green back. ''I think he's anxious to show what he's learned in practice," Rivers said . . . Rivers put the Celtics through a long workout, mainly to benefit Szczerbiak. The newcomer is learning, Rivers said. ''I know you don't get it all in one day," Rivers said. ''We really, really needed this practice and we need more." . . . Don't look for Brian Scalabrine to remain in the starting lineup. That was, as Rivers put it, ''a one-hit wonder" owing to the fact the Suns play small and quick. Rivers toyed with starting Ryan Gomes instead of Scalabrine, but eventually settled on the big guy. LaFrentz should be back in the starting position tonight.

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