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Kevin Garnett’s future determines Celtics’ ability to be competitive next few seasons 05.10.13 at 10:27 am ET
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If next season’s Celtics team does not start Kevin Garnett at power forward, prepare for a long, dark stretch. Without KG patrolling the middle in green and white, feel free to reintroduce yourself to the lottery, long losing streaks and the empty promise of rebuilding.

Doc Rivers bids farewell to Kevin Garnett in Game 6 but will it be the last time they're together? (AP)

If Kevin Garnett walks away from the Celtics following their first-round playoff loss to the Knicks, it’s going to mark the beginning of a long rebuilding era for the team. (AP)

While you miss the scowls, intensity and blocked shots after the whistle, remember that the decline of the Celtics is more complex than the team simply aging. The major problem is the Celtics actually ask Garnett to do more now than they did during the NBA finals run in 2010. Despite his age (37 on May 19) and contract (2 years, $24.3 million), Garnett still is a premier power forward and a critical piece for a team chasing a championship.

“Back in Minnesota, Kevin used to say, ‘I want to live beyond my contract,’ ” new Timberwolves president (and former coach) Flip Saunders told WEEI.com. “That meant whatever he was getting paid, whenever someone would see him in a game or in a practice, he wanted to live up to that contract and then play beyond that.”

Garnett has done exactly that in his six seasons in Boston. His playoff averages (35 minutes, 12.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, his highest playoff average since 2004) against the Knicks also demonstrated that quality basketball remains afloat in his veins. Surrounded by the right players, Garnett still can help Boston contend for a championship. After watching Garnett for 18 seasons, Kevin McHale — who drafted Garnett in Minnesota with the No. 5 pick in 1995 — still is amazed by his former student. Garnett was the first player in 20 years to go directly to the NBA from high school, and McHale recently reminisced about Garnett’s rookie training camp in Minnesota, when the 19-year-old was only a couple of months removed from his senior prom.

“I loved the kid the first day of practice,” McHale said. “He laid on the floor after his first training camp — laying on the ground with nothing left — and I said, ‘We’ve got to go again tonight.’ He went, ‘Huh?’ I said we did two-a-days, and he was like, ‘Oh my.’

“But that night he came and he laid it on the ground, played on the line, laying on the ground, playing on the line. At the end, he was laying on the ground, and I said to him, ‘Now we do two again tomorrow.’ He looked up at me and said, ‘Man, this is going to be a job.’ He hasn’t changed since then, he’s just got better.

“His ability to compete at a high level for such a long time, his love of the game, his competitive nature,” marveled McHale, “it really is fun to watch.”

Competing at a high level for an extended period of time in the National Basketball Association takes a rare talent. It is a skill that is difficult, but far from impossible. The highest standard of excellence has been set by the Spurs, a team with an aging superstar in soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan. Far from the best of friends, Garnett and the 37-year-old Duncan share very similar basketball philosophies, a fact not lost on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“They can look in the mirror and realize they’re both the same in so many respects as far as how they run their lives in the NBA and how they’ve run their careers,” Popovich said during his last trip to Boston. “They’re both competitive as hell, they both understand the game, they both love being on the court, and neither one of them is really that excited about the hoopla that is all around it, but they’ve also endured by taking care of their bodies and what they do in the summertime to take care of their bodies.”

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Danny Ainge sees Celtics stars returning next season 05.09.13 at 5:04 pm ET
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Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

On his final weekly appearance on Salk & Holley of the 2012-13 NBA season, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge called the recent Stephen A. Smith rumors “silly,” indicated Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett will return next season, reaffirmed Rajon Rondo should be back for training camp and called Paul Pierce‘s future the first tough decision of his summer.

On Pierce: “There’s a lot that will go into it, but it hasn’t even started yet. We have until June 30 to make any decision. Listen, Paul’s been one of the greatest Celtics of all-time, and that will play a part in it. We love what he’s done for us, but ultimately we have to do what we think is the best for us from this point forward. And I think that Paul still has a lot of basketball left in him.”

On Rivers: “”Doc is always unsure. Coaching is very, very draining. Every year with Doc, he’s had to go home and sort of recharge and ask himself that question, ‘Is this something that I’m passionate about and want to continue doing?’ I understand that. And we sort of give him time to unwind and relax, and after a couple of 92′s on the golf course, he usually comes back.

“I think Doc will be coaching the Boston Celtics.”

On Garnett: “I’ll touch base with KG probably some time next week. He puts so much into the game. He invests as much as any player I’ve ever seen. He just needs time to chill and contemplate his life, and then we’ll talk at some future time, but I do anticipate that KG will play. Just like I did last year, I feel the same this year. I don’t know for sure, but we’ll know more in the next couple weeks.”

On Rondo: “So far, he looks good. Him and [Leandro] Barbosa have both been rehabbing and both have looked good from their ACL [injuries]. From everything our medical staff has told us, Rondo is doing great, and he should be ready by training camp.”

The Barbosa mention seemed strange, considering the C’s dealt him to the Wizards in the Jordan Crawford deal. Ainge said not to read too much into the veteran rehabbing in Boston (but still …). Here are more highlights from the fantastic interview by Salk & Holley — a must listen for anyone looking for a summer Celtics primer:

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Irish Coffee: Six Celtics steps for this summer 05.08.13 at 2:33 pm ET
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Danny Ainge (AP)

Danny Ainge (AP)

Not even a week after their season ended with a wondrous failed comeback against the Knicks, the Celtics have already entered full-blown offseason mode. They’ve since lost wunderkind assistant general manager Ryan McDonough to the Suns, and the ridiculous rumor mill is churning like never before.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers stated the obvious after the Game 6 loss on Friday night when he explained team president Danny Ainge “has already worked on stuff.” Here’s the “stuff” facing Ainge over the next few months.

Step 1: What to do with Paul Pierce?

A decision on one of four options for Pierce must be made by July 1:

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Stephen A. Smith on D&C: Some in NBA circles question ‘whether or not Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers desire to continue to coexist’ at 9:44 am ET
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Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith talked with Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday about trade rumors involving the Celtics and Clippers, and what he believes the Celtics will do in the offseason.

Smith said he thinks the Clippers, who were rumored to be interested in Kevin Garnett at the trade deadline, still would like to acquire Garnett, and that the Celtics might try to use that interest to get Blake Griffin from them. To get Griffin, though, Smith said they might have to allow Doc Rivers to go to Los Angeles.

“The Clippers, I know for a fact, were interested in Kevin Garnett,” Smith said. “[Chris Paul] isn’t necessarily happy right now. He wants to stay with the Clippers. I think he’s planning on staying with the Clippers because they can offer him close to $30 million more than anybody else. But he also looks at the Clippers and has reached the conclusion that he needs help on the front line, because neither Blake Griffin nor DeAndre Jordan has the requisite post-game skills to really make room for him to operate. They’re incapable of pulling guys away from the basket and being a threat on the perimeter and therefore giving Chris Paul space to operate.

“From that standpoint, once again, the Clippers have to be willing to let go of one of those guys. They would prefer it to be DeAndre Jordan, because clearly Blake Griffin has a better upside. Plus, he’s a better player. … As a result, in an effort to keep CP3, who’s a guy that approaches free agency and they’re looking to re-sign, they are entertaining a plethora of possibilities.”

One of those possibilities, Smith said, could involve Rivers heading to Los Angeles along with Garnett and Paul Pierce.

“According to guys that I’ve spoken to in NBA circles, the Boston Celtics would look at a guy like a KG, willing to unload him, and who knows, they may be willing to market [Garnett and Pierce] as a package deal,” Smith said. “If you’re the Clippers, obviously that’s not enough to let go of somebody like a Blake Griffin. But if you combine keeping CP3 as a priority, knowing that he wants legitimate help on his front line for the immediate future, combined with the fact that even though I believe Vinny del Negro has done a good job, there are others that don’t believe so. … If somehow, some way, you could get your hands on Doc Rivers in the same breath as you’re getting KG and Paul Pierce, it could be something that could be attractive. And if that’s attractive enough, if you’re Danny Ainge, and you and Doc Rivers, as much as you respect one another, you’ve just worked with one another for a long time — who knows what the situation is, but you might be willing to let Doc Rivers out of his contract.

“You’re not going to do it for Brooklyn or probably anybody within the Eastern Conference, but to move out west to Cali? That might be an attractive enough proposition for the Clippers to sit there and say, well, you know what, OK, we would let go of Blake Griffin under those circumstances.”

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The Celtics are dead, long live the Celtics 05.04.13 at 2:31 am ET
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The Celtics are dead, long live the Celtics.

The Knicks hosted their funeral on Wednesday, and the zombie C’s crawled out of their graves to live one more game. Then, they buried themselves alive in the first three quarters of Game 6, and nearly lived to tell about it. Grit and balls. Heart of a champion. #BostonStrong. All of it was on display amid a 20-0 run over four fourth-quarter minutes that nobody would’ve believed if the 18,624 fans filling the Garden hadn’t watched it unfold.

As Knicks guard Iman Shumpert said after an 88-80 win that finally laid these C’s to rest, “It felt like it wasn’t real.”

Only this time the ghosts of Celtics past weren’t good enough. Not without Rajon Rondo. Not on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett alone. Not anymore. So, what now? Where do these old, tired, stubborn Celtics go from here?

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Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have ‘no idea’ about their futures after Game 6 at 12:43 am ET
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Doc Rivers bids farewell to Kevin Garnett in Game 6 but will it be the last time they're together? (AP)

Doc Rivers bids farewell to Kevin Garnett in Game 6 but will it be the last time they’re together? (AP)

It was the obvious question to ask Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the moments after their season came to an end with a Game 6 loss to the Knicks.

Will they be back for another season?

“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest with you. I’m kind of digesting , obviously, the current, and Doc came to me, pulled Paul and I to the side and all three of us agreed to speak later — too emotional,” Garnett said. “Obviously, it was a big game, tough loss, especially at home. But more importantly in the future, it’s a different day for that conversation.”

Pierce is signed for next season but only $5 million of his $15 million for next season is guaranteed. He could be amnestied under the new NBA CBA if GM Danny Ainge wants to overhaul the roster.

“That’s a decision for the management,” Pierce said. “Who knows what the future [holds]? I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes each and every year. So I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of changes here and we’ll see what happens.”

Garnett made it very clear that his decision about next year will hinge greatly on whether Ainge brings back Pierce.

“One of the big reasons I came [to Celtics] was because of Paul,” said Garnett. “Obviously, you want to be in a situation where it’s better. I want to make sure that I’m able to always help a team. I want to be in positions to where I’m giving something. I demand a lot of myself, both physically and from a skill level. But I’d be lying to y’all if I said Paul didn’t play into that factor. Like I said, it’s too soon of a conversation for me right now.”

Pierce, who said he will play in the NBA next season, was asked if he wants to return to Boston for a 16th season.

“That’s up to Danny and them,” Pierce said. “I have no idea.”

Coach Doc Rivers is also not a sure thing to return. He signed a five-year, $35 million extension before the 2011-12 season. He has three years left on it, that is if he wants to return.

“I don’t think about any of that stuff,” Rivers said. “Danny knows me pretty well. I immerse myself; that’s the only way I can do it, probably to a fault. Pretty much unlivable during the year. So I don’t know. Danny knows he gives me at least a week to do just whatever I do — and I don’t know what I do, sit and watch cartoons or something — then we’ll talk about it. But Danny has already worked on [offseason plans]. He never shows me. I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to know anything. We’ll figure it all out, and we’ll see.”

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Game 6 pregame notes: Doc Rivers tells his team they must ‘supply the energy’ 05.03.13 at 7:13 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett and Kenyon Martin ready to face off in Game 6. (AP)

Kevin Garnett and Kenyon Martin ready to face off in Game 6. (AP)

Maybe it was as simple as learning from Game 6 against Miami last spring in the Eastern Conference finals. Or Maybe it was just re-enforcing the obvious.

Whatever the reason, Doc Rivers made one thing perfectly clear before Game 6 with the Knicks Friday night – the Celtics, not the crowd, must be the ones to bring it against New York if they are going to become the fourth team in NBA history to force a Game 7 after a 3-0 hole,

“I told our guys, we can’t lean on,” said Rivers. “We have to supply the energy. We can’t think because we’re here now that we can let our guard down. We’re playing a really good team and an extremely talented team. We have to do more to win, in my opinion. We have to be ready to do that.”

Rivers, surrounded by 25 reporters and photographers outside the Celtics locker room, said he’s also not putting much stock in the bad blood between the two teams after the exchange between Jordan Crawford and Carmelo Anthony.

“I don’t worry about that. I really thought that was much ado about nothing,” Rivers said. “I thought Carmelo said something to Jordan; Jordan said something back. It’s words. Obviously, then then words take their own meaning, I’m hearing that people are reading lips now and all this stuff. I had one of my assistants telling me what he thought someone said. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is getting too deep for me.’ I really don’t worry about it. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of healthy dislike, that’s all good. But let’s just play the game.”

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