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Shop 'til you drop

Posted by Scott Souza February 26, 2009 05:55 AM

The list of suitors is small, the list of candidates even smaller. For title contenders,
the buyout season — nestled between the NBA trading deadline in mid-February and the March 1 buyout deadline for players to be eligible for the postseason — is like a whirlwind tour through the mall on Christmas Eve.

In the past two years, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has dodged and weaved around the parking lot, then feverishly darted through the last-second sale items. Last season, he emerged with P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell, who both played significant playoff minutes in the title run. On Tuesday, he won the tug of war for 7-footer Mikki Moore. The C’s have one remaining roster spot open, which is expected to go to Stephon Marbury on Friday.

Like most of his competition, Ainge faced tough choices this week. Should he jump at the first big man he sees — in this case, Moore, whom the Kings released Feb. 18 after the trade deadline passed — or hold out for someone potentially more appealing, like, say, Thunder forward/center Joe Smith? Of course, if Smith doesn’t become available or chooses another team (his former club in Cleveland, perhaps), then Ainge risks showing up at the playoff stretch party with no gifts for his team.

“You try to gauge what might happen and then do your best to be ready to move quickly on those things,” he said after confirming the Moore signing. “We know we are going to have to compete with several teams when these players become available because every team is doing its best to fill its roster.”

With a payroll that includes three very large salaries and is not conducive to trades, the C’s real deal time has become the buyout season. But in the climate of concern regarding finances around the NBA, sagging teams offer few guarantees about what they might do when it comes to veteran players who are of little use in their long-term plans. So shoppers play the waiting game at their own peril.

“We thought some other bigger guys might become available over the next few days,” said Ainge, apparently referring to Smith. “But we like Mikki and what he can bring to us with his length, energy, and enthusiasm.”

Last year, Ainge resisted the chance to fill his final roster spot with a point guard until the right one — Cassell — became available at the last moment.

“We waited last year because we felt Sam would be out there even when a lot of guys, like Damon Stoudamire and Tyronn Lue, were available to us,” he recalled. “But we felt Sam was the type of guy who would best fit in with our team and help us go on our run.

“But the key is to be in position to do that. We went into the last year feeling that, if we didn’t find what we were looking for out there, we wouldn’t be disappointed going the rest of the way with the guys we had. Just like this year, we are not desperate when we are doing this; we like the guys we have.”

Although it never hurts to have quality bodies to stuff into the roster stocking.

Packing them in
Unfortunately for senior VP of ticket sales and marketing Shawn Sullivan and his staff, the country’s recent economic woes have made banging out the TD Banknorth Garden much more difficult, even with the defending champions as bait.

Sullivan said he feels ownership reacted appropriately with the announcement on Feb. 5 that it was freezing season ticket prices for loge and balcony seats next year. He said he hopes the resulting good will allows the team’s sellout string to continue.

“The demand has remained as strong as last year,” Sullivan said. “We have analysis out there that tells us the renewals will be strong too, and that is, in part, due to the decision to keep prices steady.”

Sullivan said the C’s may have caught a break, with renewals and most single-game sales coming before the market began to sink rapidly in September. He said he doesn’t think the reinvigorated fans will cut out the champs.

“We looked at the landscape across the sports and decided pretty much right away that holding ticket prices the same was the right thing to do,” he said. “There are incredibly loyal fans out there, and we thought it would be right to reward that loyalty.”

Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at ssouza@globe.com

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