Retooling won’t be an easy fix

Celtics face some tough decisions

Like Miami’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas (left), the Celtics want to hold on to the versatile Jeff Green. Like Miami’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas (left), the Celtics want to hold on to the versatile Jeff Green. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 19, 2011

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The goal for the Celtics is to put pieces around the Big Three, younger ones that live for 40-yard dashes and high jumps. The question is, how will they do it?

This year’s draft class isn’t overflowing with game-changers. And the free agent class isn’t flooded with stars. And even if it were, with some $56 million tied up in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce, the Celtics have only so much money to work with.

Retooling will take some creativity.

First, they’ll have to decide which of their seven free agents to bring back.

Jeff Green is the obvious investment. To get him, the team traded Kendrick Perkins, seeing value in the 24-year-old Green and his ability to play three positions, from the paint to the perimeter. But if anyone on the roster meets the job description in the Celtics’ current classified ad — young, athletic, salary negotiable — it’s Green, who was like a Christmas gift for Rondo, giving the point guard someone to run the floor with and throw lobs to.

Celtics president Danny Ainge said he intends to extend Green the $5.9 million qualifying offer before July 1.

The looming lockout will throw a monkey wrench into free agency as teams wait to learn what the new rules will be, and Green may weigh security in the form of a longer deal. Or he can ask for a one-year deal, hoping for a breakout year with a full training camp and then a chance at unrestricted free agency.

Green’s situation will be somewhat similar to Trevor Ariza’s two summers ago with the Lakers. At 23, Ariza was a long body (6 feet 8 inches) who could play multiple positions for a team that won a title. He scoffed when the Lakers offered $5.6 million, so they instead signed Ron Artest. Ariza signed with the Rockets for the mid-level exception of $5.9 million.

Glen Davis can test the waters as an unrestricted free agent. Ainge has said he wants to bring Davis back, and will judge him on his body of work over four years in Boston and not just a disappointing nine games this postseason.

Still, as soon as the Celtics were eliminated, Davis made it known he wants to be a starter (and haul in starter’s pay). Beyond that, his relationship with coach Doc Rivers is father-son at best and love-hate at worst. All those factors will play into his decision.

Aside from his preseason fight with Von Wafer, Delonte West was on his best behavior. He was just snakebitten. First it was the broken wrist in a game against New Jersey in November, then the sprained ankle in a walkthrough on a West Coast trip in February. The Celtics have to expect more than 24 games out of him next season.

The Celtics got West for the veteran minimum this season, but he’ll almost certainly ask for more. Still, with his off-court issues, he may be a tough sell around the league, and his priority will likely be security.

Adding pieces through free agency will take some mining. Last summer was the star-studded class. This year, there is Jamal Crawford, a former Sixth Man of the Year, and Carl Landry, a former All-Rookie teamer with some upside. Or J.R. Smith, a serial scorer who got more comfortable in Denver once Carmelo Anthony left for New York.

Rivers is a coach players want to play for, but selling them on a team in transition will be difficult.

It’s been a while since the Celtics have had to cash in with draft picks. Their starting lineup has been veterans-only territory since they assembled the Big Three. First-round picks Avery Bradley and J.R. Giddens have gotten their most minutes in the D-League.

When Ainge says that Bradley, the team’s first-round pick last season, would be a top-five pick this year, it’s a compliment, but it’s also a testament to the depth of this draft.

The Celtics have the 25th and 55th picks, and Ainge has been evaluating talent for weeks. With a 2012 lottery-protected pick from the Clippers, Ainge has a trade chip to work with should he decide to swing a deal.

This offseason is the first step in determining the Celtics’ next direction. Will they try to position Allen, Garnett, and Pierce to make one more run at a title? Or will they come up with a new formula as they transition into an era without the three stars?

Right now, they’re straddling the two options. Ultimately, they’ll have to choose one.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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