Celtics know their limits

Draft won’t help them very much

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 23, 2011

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WALTHAM — In a perfect world, Celtics coach Doc Rivers would walk into the office of the team president Danny Ainge, tell him how much he likes that Kyrie Irving or that Derrick Williams, and Ainge would have them both gift-wrapped and ready to play long minutes next year.

Then Rivers would ask for the best available free agent. Or better yet, for Dwight Howard in a trade.

“Coaches never stop wanting,’’ Rivers said. “We want to get the best player in free agency, we want to get the No. 1 draft pick.’’

The problem?

“You can’t get all those things,’’ Rivers said. “Obviously, we understand that. You get some of them and you don’t get some of them.’’

A month after exiting the playoffs in the second round — as deflating a development as it was unexpected, for a team that had every intention of returning to the Finals — Ainge and Rivers have the Celtics’ needs pinpointed.

They’re most certainly looking for size to fill the holes where Shaquille O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Nenad Krstic, and Semih Erden used to be. They’re looking for shooting, because if the Mavericks proved anything by beating the Heat in the Finals, it’s that you can never have enough shooting.

The Celtics are aware that they’re not likely to instantly address those issues in tonight’s draft; they are realistic about how much help they can get with the 25th and 55th picks.

“When we’re drafting where we’re drafting — I’m not trying to put a negative spin on this, I’m trying to be realistic — the 25th pick in the draft is probably not going to help us immediately,’’ Ainge said.

“But there are some players that we’re thinking can fill our roster, will fit in with the personality of our team, and have a work ethic and make our team better in practice and add depth to our roster.’’

The general opinion is that this year’s talent pool isn’t particularly deep. The Cavaliers will likely use the top pick on Duke’s Irving, who played all of 11 games for the Blue Devils last season. There are no clear franchise-changers. No Derrick Roses, no Blake Griffins.

“There are only a certain amount of superstars born,’’ Ainge reasoned.

The Celtics aren’t expecting a quality 7-footer to fall into their laps so late in the first round.

“If size is available at the 25th pick, I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad sign,’’ Rivers said.

“We have to address size in the offseason for sure,’’ Ainge said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the draft.

“We have a busy offseason this year, with a lot of free agents and a lot of roster spots to fill, and as soon as the draft is over, we’ll be focusing on that.

“We’ve been focused on free agency and preparing for that and talking to teams about trade possibilities and all the deals that come in the offseason.’’

But even then, Ainge doesn’t expect any moves to shake up the team’s makeup in a major way. The core is intact with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics intend to bring back Jeff Green. They have to make decisions about Glen Davis and Delonte West. Jermaine O’Neal will likely return — presumably healthier — to fill the starting center spot.

So the players they bring in will have to slide into roles.

“I think that we’ll be able to add some good pieces to our team, but I don’t see starters,’’ Ainge said. “We’ll add some good role players, hopefully.’’

Like the rest of the league, the Celtics are waiting on the players and owners to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. Until then, they have no idea how much money they’ll have to spend on free agents.

“We have a long list of guys that will be our priorities,’’ Ainge said. “In free agency, the challenge is to get out of the gate fast and to try let everybody know how much you like them and how much you want them to come.

“With our contractual obligations with players, we don’t have a lot to go chase free agents. We have to try to get free agents that want to come play here for maybe a little bit less money in some cases and chase a lot of minimum contracts like we did last year with Shaq. Free agency is a challenging ordeal, and we’ll be prepared for it.’’

Though the draft is right in front of them, the Celtics are looking beyond it. They have the Clippers’ first-round pick in next year’s draft and have no intentions of trading it to get better position tonight, as they expect next year’s draft to be better stocked.

“You can’t just look at tomorrow, you have to look at the future with our team as well, and Danny and I have done that,’’ said Rivers. “We don’t have a lot of signed players right now on our rosters, but the ones who are are really good. We know that. We just have to keep putting the right pieces around them.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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