Here's Danny Ainge's response to all those out there trying to foist a point guard upon him: Don't bother.
Here's Troy Hudson's agent's response: "I'm mystified."
Hudson is one of a handful of free agent point guards looking for work, and his agent, Bill Neff, targeted the Celtics as his No. 1 priority. His client has experience. His client will sign for the veteran minimum (having already received a lucrative buyout from Minnesota, where he clashed with Kevin McHale). His client is tight with new Celtic Kevin Garnett. His client played well for coach Doc Rivers in Orlando. His client says his days as a gunner are over and that he wants to lead a team.
What's not to like?
Well, Ainge doesn't want Hudson - or anyone else right now - as a point guard. He said he is committed to Rajon Rondo as his starter (no surprise there) and that he is just as committed to a group of players as Rondo backups. Those players all happen to be on the Boston roster: Ray Allen, Tony Allen, and Gabe Pruitt. The two Allens are hardly your prototypical point guards, while Pruitt is a rookie.
"I'm very confident in all of their abilities," Ainge said.
To which Neff says, huh?
"I remain mystified," he said. "Why not bring Troy in and work him out? If you don't want him, fine. I just think he is the perfect fit for Boston. He's exactly what they need."
I guess it says that the Celtics' roster is pretty well solidified (and solid) when you're talking about backup point guards in the first week of September. But when your projected starter has only one year of experience and when the backups are not classic point guards, well, it's only natural to wonder. What happens if Rondo rolls an ankle and goes down for a week?
"When Ray Allen got here, he told me and Doc that he had played some point for George Karl in Milwaukee and that he wanted to do that here," Ainge said. "Tony Allen, two years ago, played the point and our offense was the most efficient of the season. Gabe Pruitt can defend and get us into our offense. And a lot of the offense is going to run through KG and Paul [Pierce] in the high post anyway.
"I really like our depth, our strength, our power, our speed, and our athleticism at the point guard position. And we have great ball-handling bigs."
So, there it is.
Now, if Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or Jason Kidd suddenly became available, Ainge might think again. But they won't, so he doesn't have to. And he's right when he says, "I don't think there are more than a handful of those kind of guys in the league. They're rare."
And it's not as if he's anti-point guard. When asked why not go for the gold and try to recruit John Stockton, especially in the wake of his pursuit of 40-something Reggie Miller, Ainge laughed and said, "Actually, I talked to John a couple of years ago. But his family situation made it clear to me he wasn't going to play."
In the end, like just about everything, time will tell. Neff is convinced that Ainge is making a mistake, not so much in not signing his client, but in not signing a conventional point guard to back up Rondo. (Frankly, you could make a case that Rondo is anything but a conventional guard.)
Ainge is just as convinced that he has plenty of capable people to play the position when Rondo is not in the game. He can plug in Tony Allen for defense. He can plug in Ray Allen for offense. He likes the options.
Neff will now target the Cavaliers (who appear to need help at the position) after Hudson decided not to accept an offer to join San Antonio, where he would have been behind Tony Parker and Jacque Vaughn. But in the back of his mind, he still thinks Boston is the ideal landing spot. But the guy who makes the calls doesn't see it that way.
Don't cry for them
A new Argentina! A new age about to begin!
Those lines from "Evita" also apply to the country's basketball team at the Olympic qualifier in Las Vegas. (Hopefully, for Argentina's sake, the hoop squad will have more success than Juan and Eva.)
The defending gold medalists were without Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, and Walter Herrmann, and still made it to the finals, beating Brazil yesterday. It says a lot about the lack of competition in the tournament as well as Argentina's continuing development of high-level players.
"They're still in the same system," noted US coach Mike Krzyzewski, "and they have continuity in their coaching staff. They really have it going for them. And when they get all their guys together, they'll be even better."
This Argentina team was led by mainstay Luis Scola, who will finally join the NBA next season (Houston), and Carlos Delfino, who is with the Raptors and has been a sub on the national team.
"I feel proud every time I put on my national team jersey," Delfino said. "And I respect the decisions of the guys who didn't come. We're trying to play the same way as the gold-medal team."
Scola is the eminence grise of the team, continually egging on the younger players while also submitting his customary, efficient game. Asked why he elected to play this summer, Scola shrugged and said, "It's good to play. You get in shape easier. I love the experience I have playing in the Olympics and I want to repeat that. And to do that, you have to qualify, so here I am.
"It's still just basketball. You get the ball and try to do something good with it."
Whistling an unhappy tune
NBA commissioner David Stern spent a good amount of time Thursday night in Las Vegas talking about officiating in the wake of the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal. There were no new developments; Stern said the league is interviewing the entire officiating crew to determine if there are any proverbial skeletons in the closet. But he also had some, well, stern words for a couple of former officials who have come down hard on their former profession.
Hue Hollins, who refereed 27 years, told the Philadelphia Daily News that the league's refereeing system is "in a state of degradation" and that the NBA doesn't want people "who can make referees better. They want people they can control."
Mike Mathis, meanwhile, said "the NBA fails miserably" in its hiring and training practices. He worked for 26 years.
Needless to say, Stern didn't take kindly to those potshots and offered a few of his own in return.
"Mathis and Hollins at the end of their careers were not model referees," Stern said. "As a staff, the quality is a lot better than when Mr. Hollins and Mr. Mathis were roaming the floor, certainly toward the end of their perhaps otherwise distinguished careers.
"I'm very protective of our existing officials and their staff and their development, and I doubt very much that our existing staff would do to their younger colleagues what Mathis and Hollins now [are doing].
"So, when you talk about officials, you should make the point that those are disgruntled former officials."
Points for Celtics, assist to Billups
So, if the Celtics do rise up in the East and beat the Pistons in the playoffs, can the Detroit players turn on Chauncey Billups and blame him? It was Billups's counsel that helped persuade Kevin Garnett to agree to play for Boston. The two were teammates in Minnesota for a couple of seasons and, as Billups noted, "Not a lot of people know that I'm one of the main persons who pushed him to do it." Billups said he didn't want to see Garnett retire and never get another chance to play deep into the postseason. "It wasn't just about Boston," Billups clarified. "It was about him. I know what a competitor he is, and he deserves a chance to play in June. I felt like in Minnesota he wasn't going to get that opportunity. And I didn't want to see him look back on his career one day and say, 'Damn, I should have just got out of there.' It's a great move for him. Hopefully, he takes advantage of it, except when he plays the Pistons."
A tossup in Europe
While the Americas Zone Olympic qualifier was pretty much a one-team domination, that is unlikely to be the case when the European qualifier opens tomorrow in Spain. Two teams will make it out of that bloodbath to Beijing, which means there are going to be a lot of disappointed players given the level of competition - France, Italy, Greece, Lithuania, Russia, Germany, Serbia, Turkey, not to mention the hosts, who already have qualified by virtue of their win last year at the Worlds. The Russians are being led by renowned European coach David Blatt, who grew up in Framingham and attended Princeton. As for the Spaniards, they got an insurance policy on Jorge Garbajosa, who is recuperating from a serious knee/leg injury last March. The Raptors last week said they would not allow Garbajosa to play (and, really, why should he, given that Spain already is in the Olympics?), but on Friday Toronto hoops boss Bryan Colangelo said no final decision has been made. The championship game is Sept. 16.
A good sign for NBA
Commissioner David Stern was happy to see the Milwaukee Bucks finally were able to get Yi Jianlian signed and sealed. Yi's status had been in doubt given that Milwaukee was not deemed to be the proper place for him by some of his handlers/enablers. But Bucks owner Senator Herbert Kohl journeyed to China, met with the appropriate people, and got Yi's name on the dotted line. "I couldn't be happier," Stern said. "Our representative met the senator when he landed in Hong Kong and we helped facilitate some of it. I applaud the senator. It was a bold step to say, 'OK, we'll get it done if I go there,' and he went there and got it done. I think it's terrific for Milwaukee and it's fascinating for us because here's another Olympic player. China is going to be a factor. They are going to have 60 percent of their starters as NBA players - one of six or seven teams with that kind of percentage." He didn't elaborate, but can we assume he didn't mean Angola, Iran, or Australia?
In two largely underwhelming seasons in Atlanta, Esteban Batista, a 6-foot-10-inch center/forward from Uruguay, appeared in 70 games. He averaged a shade more than 8 minutes a game. If you weren't a Hawks zealot, assuming such a person even exists, you may not have known he was in the league. Batista is now a free agent and he certainly turned some heads in Las Vegas, averaging 20.8 points and a tournament-best 12.4 rebounds for Uruguay. (He had 20 points in 24 minutes against the United States.) "This tournament was important for me," Batista said. "I didn't play too much in my two years in the NBA. Now, I feel like I've done a good job." But did he do well enough to get a job in the NBA? His new agent, Marc Cornstein, said he's confident Batista will land something. (Cornstein even text-messaged Danny Ainge about Batista, but got no satisfactory response. "Don't they need size?" Cornstein asked of the Celtics.) "That's why this tournament was so essential because so few teams knew enough about him and he got the opportunity to show what kind of a player he is," said Cornstein, who counts Darko Milicic and Sasha Pavlovic as clients. "He was phenomenal. The thing I was happiest and proudest about is that he showed no fear. He played the same against [Dwight] Howard or [Amare] Stoudemire as he did against Venezuela or Panama. That's the mark of a good player." Batista turns 24 today.
New Celtic James Posey hasn't played a full NBA season since 2003-04, and that won't change this year, with the Friday announcement of his one-game suspension for pleading nolo contendere to a charge of reckless driving. Posey has the distinction of pleading to the charge even though he wasn't driving. His car was waiting for him outside a Miami club and police officers arrested him while he was talking to pedestrians en route to the vehicle. He refused a breath test and told police he was not intoxicated, but he was charged nonetheless when police said he was "unsteady and swayed on his feet" and had slurred speech. As part of the plea agreement, Posey paid a $250 fine, was put on six months probation, and agreed to attend DUI classes, do community service, and make a $25 donation to a Miami trauma center, according to the Miami Herald.
Peter May can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.