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Celtics’ pursuit of Courtney Lee gets tougher

07.18.12 at 5:08 am ET

LAS VEGAS — It’s not like the Celtics don’t want to wrap up their roster renovation, it’s just that free agent guard Courtney Lee wisely listened to the advice of his agent, Dan Fegan, who told him to be patient.

Once the Celtics lost Ray Allen to Miami, they set their sights on acquiring the versatile Lee to shore up their backcourt. They made no secret of their intentions, as coach Doc Rivers visited with Lee in Orlando the morning after Allen signed with the Heat.

There was a good reason for their speed. The Celtics knew that the longer this played out, the more competition they would have for Lee. Sure enough, more than a week has gone by since Rivers’ impromptu sitdown and Lee is still available and very much in demand.

Lee may have to be a little more patient, but it seems that Fegan’s message will pay off. Someone will have the cap room to make a straight pitch for Lee and with O.J. Mayo off the board, he’s suddenly the best backcourt wing player left in free agency.

In addition to the Celtics, the Suns, Timberwolves and Bulls reportedly have expressed an interest, and there could be others as well.

The Suns have cap room. The Wolves could have room depending on whether the Blazers match their offer for restricted free agent Nic Batum. The Bulls are sitting on a $5 million trade exception and also staring at a loaded offer sheet from the Rockets for their own restricted free agent in Omer Asik that provides its own set of complications. The Asik offer sheet is not expected to be signed until the end of the week and then Chicago would have three days to match.

The Celtics, however, will not have cap room, or a rich extension to offer.

On Tuesday, they decided to use their mid-level exception on Jason Terry, which makes pursuing Lee that much harder. They tried to get a third team to facilitate a sign-and-trade agreement for Terry but couldn’t find one to facilitate the deal with Dallas.

Using the mid-level exception on Terry also ensures that they will stay below the hard cap line of $74.3 million established in the luxury tax apron. Contract details are not yet fully known, but a reasonable estimate is that they have a little more than $59 million committed to 10 players, counting Terry. That doesn’t include a new contract for Jeff Green, who hasn’t signed his deal yet.

Adding on an additional $9 million in the form of the first year of Green’s new deal worth a reported $36 million over four seasons brings the total to around $68 million, although that number is subject to the structure of Green’s contract. All that cap math is important because it shows that the C’s could make a competitive bid for Lee and still have have enough room — barely — to flesh out the roster with minimum contracts, particularly rookie minimum contracts.

If, and it’s a big if, they can pull off a sign-and-trade deal for Lee.

A Houston official deftly changed the topic when such a scenario was broached, but the Rockets are willing to listen to offers. Draft picks and non-guaranteed contracts are the coin of the realm in sign-and-trade agreements, and while the Celtics have a stash of second-rounders, they have only two non-guaranteed contracts to throw into the pot with E’Twaun Moore and Sean Williams. The Celtics have until midnight Sunday to decide whether to make the second year of Moore’s deal guaranteed.

It’s not even clear how much the Celtics would be willing to put in, or even if such a scenario would entice the Rockets. Time and the realities of the salary cap are not on their side, and Lee’s patience may have ultimately priced him out of the Celtics’ range.

Here’s a look at some other options if the C’s pursuit of Lee comes up empty.

1. Re-sign Mickael Pietrus

Because Pietrus is a non-Bird free agent, the Celtics can only offer him a 120 percent raise on the veteran minimum salary — about $1.4 million — or the bi-annual exception worth a little less than $4 million over two years. That’s all the Celtics can offer under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement.

2. Let the kids have a chance

Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith have opened eyes with their play both here and in Orlando. Just because they haven’t been in the NBA doesn’t mean they’re not NBA-caliber players. Smith is an excellent shooter, conjuring up images of an Eddie House-type player. Christmas, meanwhile, has been one of the Celtics’ steadiest players during summer league.

“Every night he does something different,” C’s coach Ty Lue said. “He might have assists one night, he might score one night, he guards the best player every night. He does a little bit of everything. He’€™s always been a scorer. If you take away his scoring what else can he do? He’€™s showing guys and teams that he can do that.”

At the very least, the two should get a shot in training camp, and there could be the opportunity for more.

3. Use the bi-annual exception on a proven veteran

The free agent market for bi-annual players is typically the last one to form, long after agents have sought richer deals. At the moment, the majority of players on this list would fall into the “looking for more” category, but someone could slip through.

Shannon Brown, Phoenix: After a slow start to his career, Brown has emerged as a solid bench scorer who can create his own shot. He’ll likely be out of the C’s price range, however.

Ronnie Brewer, Chicago: He’s an offensively challenged but defensively sound swingman who also will be looking for more than the bi-annual.

Brandon Rush, Golden State: A restricted free agent, Rush is a solid perimeter defender who made 45 percent of his 3-pointers last season. A younger, healthier Pietrus, basically. There’s very little chance the Warriors let him walk.

Randy Foye, Clippers: Officially a Celtics draft pick in 2006 — he was traded for Sebastian Telfair — Foye averaged 11 points per game playing alongside Chris Paul. Again, may be too rich for the bi-annual.

Jodie Meeks, Philadelphia: A solid stationary shooter, Meeks started 114 games for the 76ers the last two seasons. Meeks’ shooting took a slight step back last season, but he’s more well-rounded than usually given credit for.

Martell Webster, Minnesota: Recently waived to make room for the Batum offer sheet, Webster is two seasons removed from playing 82 games with the Blazers and averaging almost nine points per game. Injuries have hurt his career.

Josh Childress, Phoenix: Once upon a time Childress was a dynamic open-court player for the Hawks. That was four years ago. Since returning from Europe, he has been a major disappointment and was recently put on waivers via the amnesty rule.

Read More: Courtney Lee, Dionte Christmas, Jason Terry, Mickael Pietrus
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