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Helping themselves looks to be Celtics’ move

Ex-Cavalier Ryan Hollins is high on the Celtics’ radar. Ex-Cavalier Ryan Hollins is high on the Celtics’ radar. (Amy sancetta/Associated Press)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 22, 2012
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The past few days could be a sign of things to come for the Celtics this summer.

J.J. Hickson was claimed off waivers by the Trail Blazers. Ronny Turiaf turned down the Celtics and signed with the Heat. And rail-thin Chris Johnson, whom the Celtics considered a fall-back plan, was nabbed off waivers by the Hornets.

Boston’s search for a productive big man has been problematic, with Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox both out for the season and facing surgery.

Coach Doc Rivers acknowledged that the search would be difficult but said the requirements are minimal:

He has to be 1. over 6 feet 7 inches, and 2. breathing.

While Turiaf, a 6-10 center, would have fit in perfectly with the Celtics’ defensive mind-set, the Heat are the sexier choice at this point. They are a team in their prime and prepared to make a legitimate run at the NBA title.

The lure of playing with the Celtics has decreased over the past few years. While success stories such as Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown may have sold some on joining the Celtics at midseason for a playoff push, that was four years ago. The Big Three are aging, and the Celtics are 24-21 and wildly inconsistent.

The opportunity to team with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh in South Florida is a more attractive opportunity. The Celtics have had to fight with the Heat over the past two years for free agents, though they believed they scored with Troy Murphy last season.

But Murphy was out of shape, fell out of favor with Rivers, and acknowledged that he hadn’t completely healed from ankle surgery.

Carlos Arroyo, signed from the Heat, helped in a few games but not the playoffs.

The Celtics have tried to boost their team through these means for the past few years, with little success. So to expect a player cut loose from another organization to suddenly become a productive member of the Celtics is unrealistic.

The Cavaliers waived Ryan Hollins at his request, and he has soared to the top of the Celtics’ priority list because he is a legit 7-footer and defensive-minded, but his weakness is rebounding.

In 362 minutes this season with Cleveland, Hollins grabbed 56 rebounds; that’s 7.42 per 48 minutes. His potential impact for the Celtics may be on defense and with blocked shots, but fans should not expect a miracle.

NBA teams have until Friday to sign players to be eligible for playoff rosters, but it looks as though the Celtics are going to have to battle with the players currently in their locker room. Selling free agents on Boston is difficult.

The Celtics haven’t had a front-line center since they traded Kendrick Perkins last year. O’Neal was able to give them only 49 games over the past two seasons. Wilcox was one of those players who languished in other places but bought into the Celtics system, and he was beginning to make an impact.

His loss was more devastating than O’Neal’s because he was rebounding off the bench and injecting the team with athleticism. Finding that type the next 24 hours will be nearly impossible.

It hasn’t helped that a slew of lockout injuries has kept players like Atlanta’s Jason Collins and Philadelphia’s Tony Battie working.

This has been a difficult season in Boston. The Celtics reported to camp out of shape. Paul Pierce battled a painful heel injury. Rajon Rondo was fighting the trade-rumor demons, and Jeff Green needed heart surgery.

Yet as of Wednesday, they were just 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Regardless of whether Hollins joins the team today - and that is a decent possibility - the Celtics are going to have to finish this journey with their aging core, plus contributors such as Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma.

Winning 9 of 13 games since the All-Star break has injected some enthusiasm and confidence into the locker room, and the organization is resigned to the fact that another Brown or Cassell is not walking through that door.

Help will have to come from within. Navigating this season and flourishing in the playoffs with a banged-up roster may be the biggest challenge for Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers in the Big Three Era.

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