|Larry Bird vs. Danny Ainge for David West||12.11.11 at 2:45 am ET|
It’s not true that it’s part of the new NBA bylaws that everything has to happen after midnight on weekends, but once again the league descended into chaos after the Lakers pulled out of the Chris Paul sweepstakes. While the Celtics could try to get themselves back in, it’s unclear how they could improve their offer to New Orleans after the Hornets resisted overtures throughout the process. The Clippers also reportedly emerged as the frontrunners for Paul.
Of more immediate concern is the Celtics other deal with New Orleans for free agent forward David West. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported early Sunday morning that the Celtics competition for West is none other than Indiana, whose team president is Larry Bird.
According to Woj’s report, the Celtics have offered Jermaine O’Neal along with possibly JaJuan Johnson and/or E’Twaun Moore in a sign-and-trade for West. Neither rookie has practiced with the team yet or signed their contracts, making them eligible for a deal. O’Neal essentially confirmed the reports when he spoke candidly about not wanting to play for a team that isn’t a contender after Celtics practice on Saturday.
“If I go somewhere else it won’t be a losing team,” O’Neal said. “That wouldn’t make any sense. If it was a deal with New Orleans, I’m sure there would be a third team. My stop wouldn’t be to New Orleans. They’re not trying to get older.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers talked gingerly about the possibility of a deal after practice on Saturday but wouldn’t comment on any specifics. “I hope there’s a possibility of that but I don’t know it,” Rivers said. “Some of the decisions are in the player’s hands.”
Here’s where it gets complicated. According to Wojnarowski, the Celtics offer is a 3-year deal in the $24-25 million range with the fourth year likely only partially guaranteed. The Pacers, meanwhile, have offered a 2-year deal for a higher annual salary. Resolution is expected as early as Sunday.
The 31-year-old West had surgery on a torn ACL suffered last March that cost him the final 12 games of the regular season and the playoffs. When healthy, West is a skilled offensive player who averaged 19 points last season and has made two All-Star appearances. He would provide an inside-out threat that includes an underrated post game.
The Celtics have been loading up on power forwards, acquiring Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox and seemed content to move away using a traditional center. Rivers said on Saturday that he was would pair Kevin Garnett up with forwards more this season.
“Kevin will play some five this year, which honestly I don’t think is a problem at all,” Rivers said. “You can play him and Bass together. Either one can guard the five or the four so it makes us pretty versatile.”
Asked if the team needed a center, Rivers said, “If we don’t have one, I’m not upset by that. I’ll always take one so if you can find one for me please help out. If we have enough fours who can play both [positions] and we have enough fouls we can get away with it.”
A healthy West would help cement that strategy, which could be an effective counter against teams like Miami, who also don’t use a traditional center. Additionally, an ESPN.com report said that the Lakers have turned their attention to acquiring Dwight Howard, who earlier in the day told the Magic that he would like to be traded to New Jersey.
Short of acquiring both Paul and Howard themselves, which seems like an extreme longshot, if the Celtics add West and the two superstars wind up on different teams in the Western Conference, that ultimately might be the best-case scenario for the Celtics in this chaotic environment.
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