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Celtics’ free agent options at backup small forward

A month into the NBA lockout, commissioner David Stern [1] just declared war against the players [2], but can’€™t we still examine which free agents should be available to the Celtics [3] for the (fingers crossed) 2011-12 season once Stern and players association executive director Billy Hunter kiss and make up? We’€™ve profiled the C’€™s biggest needs — at center [4] and shooting guard [5] — as well as another critical position (backup point guards [6]), so we move to what coach Doc Rivers [7] called a pressing concern during the 2010-11 season: Backup Small Forwards.

The Celtics began last season with starter Paul Pierce [8] and only swingman Marquis Daniels [9] to spare the nine-time All-Star from playing heavy minutes at the 3. Once Daniels went down in February with a season-ending spinal injury, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was forced to make a deal for depth behind Pierce. Enter Jeff Green [10], who remains a restricted free agent after the Celtics extended a $5.91 million offer in June.

As we’€™ve noted  before, the Celtics have six players under contract in 2011-12 for a combined $64.3 million (Kevin Garnett [11], $21.2 million; Paul Pierce, $15.33 million; Ray Allen [12], $10 million; Rajon Rondo [13], $10 million; Jermaine O’€™Neal, $6.23 million; Avery Bradley [14], $1.53 million) and should match any offer Green receives.

The Celtics would be wise to pick up another player capable of spelling Pierce to ensure they aren’t handcuffed by the lack of depth at the position again, even if they re-sign Green. Obviously the C’€™s won’€™t be dedicating much more money beyond those two to small forwards, but they need to find as many inexpensive versatile options (2-3 or 3-4 guys) as possible to eat up minutes for their three aging stars.

Without further ado, let’€™s take a look at the options that should be available to the Celtics at backup small forward (barring overseas exports), separating the current free agent players into four categories ‘€¦

THE PAUL PIERCES

At different points past their prime, like Pierce, these capable veterans would bring extensive resumes that include success as key contributors to playoff teams. Unlike Pierce, obviously, they are not actually Paul Pierce ‘€¦

BLUE-COLLAR MAN: GRANT HILL [15]

POOR MAN: TAYSHAUN PRINCE [19]

BANKRUPT MAN: SHANE BATTIER [20]

INDIGENT MAN: PEJA STOJAKOVIC

HOMELESS MAN: VLADIMIR RADMANOVIC

THE JEFF GREENS

Established but still fairly young, like Green, they’€™ve shown (few) flashes of brilliance and (some) potential as reliable rotation players. Their ability to play multiple positions would give Rivers versatility off the bench ‘€¦

COMMON MAN: THADDEUS YOUNG

POOR MAN: REGGIE WILLIAMS

BANKRUPT MAN: AL THORNTON

INDIGENT MAN: JAMES JONES [27]

HOMELESS MAN: SHAWNE WILLIAMS [29]

THE MARQUIS DANIELSES

Daniels may not be ready to start the season after spinal surgery in March, but colleague Paul Flannery made a sound argument for bringing him back [35] into the fold next season. Like Daniels, these alternatives are coming off serious injuries but could prove worth the risk as potential double-digit bench scorers ‘€¦

RICH MAN: CARON BUTLER

COMMON MAN: JOSH HOWARD [37]

POOR MAN: KELENNA AZUBUIKE

THE SASHA PAVLOVICS

Either not worth the asking price or not worth any price, like Pavlovic, these guys are a dime a dozen and wouldn’€™t be much of an upgrade over anybody at the league minimum (NOTE: Butler [39], Moon [40] and Kapono [41] might be longshot exceptions, considering the Celtics eyed all three around the buyout deadline). Thanks, but no thanks ‘€¦

*Restricted ($1.1 million qualifying offer)

The Celtics almost have to match whatever offer Green receives (unless some team makes a ridiculous offer, which I don’€™t see happening). It’€™s the only way the team can save face from the infamous Kendrick Perkins [43] trade, especially after Nenad Krstic [44] said ‘€œDo svidaniya!’€ and signed a two-year deal in Moscow.

That leaves Pierce and Green as a stellar 1-2 punch at small forward. So, what do the Celtics do beyond that? Depending on whether they dedicate dollars to a shooting guard or power forward, the C’€™s must sign the best available forward who will sign for the veteran minimum and is versatile enough to spell Pierce and Allen (if Glen Davis [45] returns) or Kevin Garnett (if J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford [46] or someone else signs on).

Ideally, Grant Hill, Tayshaun Prince or Shane Battier would be that guy. If not, it’€™s worth taking a flyer on Marquis Daniels, who has already resumed workouts in hopes of returning healthy for the 2011-12 season, since the Josh Howards and Kelenna Azubuikes of the world are equal risks.

Not much needs to be done here, but upgrades at backup small forward could go a long way in solidifying the Celtics’€™ depth and completing the necessary task of dialing back the minutes for The Big Three.