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A game of 'what if?'

Stoudamire with Spurs, not Celtics

Email|Print| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / February 10, 2008

When Damon Stoudamire walks on the parquet floor at TD Banknorth Garden today wearing silver and black, he won't be surprised if he briefly ponders what it would be like to wear green for the home team.

In search of a veteran point guard, the Celtics recently had conversations with the 13-year NBA veteran after he was waived by the Grizzlies. Boston, however, wasn't in a rush to make an offer. Instead, the reigning NBA champion Spurs quickly signed Stoudamire. Today, he is expected to start for them against the Celtics in a nationally televised showdown of NBA elites.

"I might think about 'what if' for one hot second when I get on the floor," said Stoudamire. "But as soon as I get into the game, that's about it. After getting into the game, I'm looking forward to helping the team win.

"I'm with San Antonio. I like the guys. I like the atmosphere. Once we get to Boston, it will be a big game for us and a big game for them."

Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge has said he is on the lookout for the right veteran to back up Rajon Rondo. With Boston's NBA-best record in mind, the likes of Stoudamire, Clippers guard Sam Cassell, and ex-NBA players Gary Payton, Travis Best, and Randy Livingston all have expressed interest in being that player. It has been speculated that the Celtics have interest in Cassell, but a buyout likely would have to occur for him to be acquired.

Stoudamire has 850 regular-season games under his belt with Toronto, Portland, Memphis, and San Antonio. The sharpshooting 5-foot-10-inch, 174-pounder has career averages of 13.7 points, 6.3 assists, and 1.1 steals as well as a .359 3-point percentage. The 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year also has played in 46 playoff games.

Stoudamire averaged 7.3 points, 3.9 assists, and shot .383 from 3-point range for Memphis in 29 games this season. With the Grizzlies preferring to groom their young point guards, their captain went to the sidelines at the start of the New Year and agreed to a buyout Jan. 28.

Stoudamire said he received feelers from Boston, Phoenix, Toronto, and San Antonio. While he never expressed a clear favorite, he professed strong interest in playing for the Celtics, with their star trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.

"Obviously, they had the best record in the league, 'The Big Three,' " Stoudamire said. "That was a lot to entice a veteran to want to go there with the success that they've had."

Stoudamire said he received calls from Ainge and coach Doc Rivers about coming to Boston. While intrigued by Stoudamire, the Celtics told him they were not in a rush to make an offer.

"I learned through all my years in this business that nothing is guaranteed," Stoudamire said. "I respect both of those guys. I respect Danny in a number of ways. I respect Doc as a player and as a coach a whole lot. Now he has a chance to be successful as a coach.

"I respect what they are doing right now. But sometimes the timing isn't right and maybe the timing wasn't right for me to be in Boston at that time."

Said Rivers, "He's a great guy. I've always liked him as a player. We just decided to wait, but I clearly would have loved to have him on our team and I told him that."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich quickly showed Stoudamire how strong his interest was. On an offday between Spurs games at Seattle and Phoenix, Popovich came to Memphis to make an offer face-to-face Jan. 30. The Spurs were desperately in need of Stoudamire with Tony Parker out indefinitely with left ankle inflammation.

Eager to get back on the floor, an impressed Stoudamire signed with San Antonio a week ago.

"He made a big impression," Stoudamire said. "He really didn't have to do that for me to make my decision. At that time, I started to lean toward them. But when he came out, that was really big of him and he showed me he wanted me to be a part of this team and organization.

"That sealed the deal for me in wanting to be a Spur. He went all the way and it was pretty much a done deal after that."

Stoudamire is averaging 7.7 points and 2 assists in 21 minutes in three games for San Antonio while making 5 of 9 3-pointers. And even as talented and deep as the Western Conference is, Stoudamire likes his chances of winning his first championship ring.

"We're below the limelight and radar, and that's fine," Stoudamire said. "That's fine with them. They've been there. They know what it takes.

"It would be a culmination of my basketball career to get a ring. Getting back on the stage I am right now is big for me so I can show people I can still play on the big stage after being away for a little bit. Winning a championship would be icing on the cake, and I have a good chance with these guys right now."

Celtics center Kendrick Perkins left Friday night's win against Minnesota with one minute left in the third quarter with a strained left shoulder. While Rivers expressed concern after the game, Perkins didn't appear to be in serious pain when he left the locker room. An MRI yesterday confirmed the injury was a strain and Perkins is listed as day-to-day . . . The Celtics are 15-0 against the Western Conference. The Spurs are 13-3 against the Eastern Conference . . . Rivers said Garnett is expected to miss his seventh straight game today with an abdominal strain . . . The Spurs are in the midst of their annual rodeo road trip and will be playing in the seventh of nine games over 17 days on a trip that will cover 8,182 miles. San Antonio is 4-2 so far, having won the last four . . . Over the past 10 seasons, San Antonio's 591-245 record is the best in the NBA.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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