A time for patience, not panic

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 11, 2011

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Celtics management has exhibited great patience this season, unlike Orlando general manager Otis Smith, who traded four players for four new ones when his team began struggling in early December.

Team president Danny Ainge understood that injuries would be part of the fabric of his team. And he showed little reaction as players were shuttled on and off the inactive list.

Jermaine O’Neal went down. Kendrick Perkins came back.

Delonte West broke his wrist. Kevin Garnett strained his calf.

Ainge has maintained his confidence in the roster.

But Sunday may have marked the end of his inactivity, as Marquis Daniels was felled with a bruised spinal cord that could cost him this season, and Nate Robinson hopped off the court with an apparent knee injury in last night’s 92-86 loss to the Lakers. Ainge is still waiting, this time on Daniels’s test results and probably on Robinson’s condition. Doctors have projected that the versatile swingman could return in one to two months, but that’s optimistic.

The Celtics should find out more about Daniels’s prospects next week. The roster is full at 15, but as Monday’s loss to the Bobcats displayed, the Celtics could use some fresher legs.

Doc Rivers was relegated to using Von Wafer for scoring punch off the bench against the Bobcats, and with Robinson erratic and now hurt, and Glen Davis playing mostly starter’s minutes in the absence of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal, it’s apparent that the Celtics could use a bench boost.

With a full roster, it’s not that easy. Ainge likes Wafer. And If Daniels cannot return this season, the Celtics are likely to buy out his contract to create roster space.

With less than two weeks until the trade deadline and a March 1 deadline for added players to be playoff-eligible, Ainge would have to act quickly.

It’s troubling that the Celtics have no true backup for Paul Pierce, as Daniels was; Ainge said the alternative is having Ray Allen, Luke Harangody, or Wafer play those minutes.

Allen is a true shooting guard and cannot defend physical small forwards such as Carmelo Anthony effectively. Harangody is an undersized power forward who would have issues checking small forwards, and he is a rookie. Wafer is a scorer who has improved immensely defensively — but not enough for a championship-caliber team.

Various players could become available as the deadline approaches: Sacramento’s Carl Landry, Washington’s Josh Howard (a player the Celtics have coveted), Cleveland’s Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker, Denver’s Arron Afflalo, Detroit’s Tracy McGrady and Chris Wilcox, the Clippers’ Rasual Butler and Craig Smith, former Milwaukee All-Star Michael Redd, and New York swingman Roger Mason.

The Celtics have very little to deal unless they wanted to part with Avery Bradley, which is not happening. They do have draft picks to offer, but their best option is to sign a player who has already been released or waived.

So Ainge is carefully observing the transactions of other teams, hoping to find a capable scorer who won’t cost the Celtics a portion of their future. There are plenty of veterans, such as Detroit’s Richard Hamilton, who would love to come off the bench and drain mid-range jumpers for the Celtics, but salary cap issues restrain Ainge from really being a player for them.

“The bottom line is every team goes through these situations,’’ said Ainge. “Right now, I can’t say anything. I have to manage our future payroll. I have to manage our team next year. There are a lot of things to weigh and there will be a lot of things that come across my desk.

“Just because a guy plays small forward doesn’t mean he’s better than the guys we have. We want to add quality to our team.’’

Ainge has great confidence in the roster he compiled, even as it crumbles around him. Harangody and Wafer will get their opportunities to produce in the spotlight, regardless of how ill-fitted they appear for their new roles.

The best-case scenario for the Celtics is that Daniels can recover from his injury in time to provide depth for the playoffs while the other reserves respond immediately with improved play.

If not, Ainge will keep his ears and eyes open, ready to do anything to win a title. The current group deserves the effort.

“It’s a good time for us to be maybe down a man or two, even though we are playing some pretty good teams,’’ said Ainge. “This is just part of what happens to every team. Nobody cares what goes on with the Celtics as far as injuries. It’s going to be fun.’’

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