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2012-13 Celtics free agent options at power forward 06.27.12 at 6:17 pm ET
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Two-thirds of the Celtics roster that came within a game of reaching a third NBA finals in five years joins NBA free agency on July 1. Anyone from Kevin Garnett to Keyon Dooling can leave Boston on July 11 once the league’s audit determines the salary cap, expected to approach the 2011-12 number of $58 million. We’re examining the C’s free agent options at each position. Now starting: Power forwards (Also see: Centers and shooting guards).

The Celtics began last season with Kevin Garnett as the starting four, but his move to center bumped backup Brandon Bass into the starting position and transformed the team. Both Chris Wilcox (heart surgery) and rookie JaJuan Johnson showed flashes of athletic brilliance as running mates to Rajon Rondo off the bench.

Given his effectiveness down the stretch, Garnett seems the logical solution to the C’s center position, and barring an Avery Bradley-esque leap Johnson appears locked into the back end of the depth chart. That means the Celtics will need two players capable of playing power forward, ideally one who can defend both bigs and another athletic option who can provide an energy boost for the reserve unit. Perhaps Bass and Wilcox are the answers.

The Celtics have four players under guaranteed contracts in 2012-13 for a combined $34.5 million (Paul Pierce, $16.8M; Rondo, $11.0M; Bradley, $1.6M; Johnson, $1.1M). Pending decisions on or by Garnett, Bass, Wilcox, Ray Allen, Jeff Green, Mickael Pietrus, Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins and Dooling, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have anywhere from $0-33 million to spend in free agency.

As a result, expect the C’s to be linked to just about any and every free agent on the market. Nobody is out of their league. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the options that should be available to the Celtics at power forward, separating the current free agent players into four categories.

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2012-13 Celtics free agent options at center 06.25.12 at 5:21 pm ET
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Eleven of the 15 players on the roster against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals can begin negotiating with the Celtics or any other team as NBA free agents on July 1. More importantly, they can sign anywhere on July 11 once an audit determines the salary cap. That figure is expected to be close to the 2011-12 number of $58 million, and a large chunk of that will be dedicated to one of the C’s biggest needs: Centers.

The Celtics started last season with two true centers (Jermaine O’Neal, Greg Stiemsma), mixed in a little Chris Wilcox early and settled on Kevin Garnett, who finished the year as the best remaining center in the playoffs. Now, a year later, nobody remains from that list. While Garnett, Stiemsma and Wilcox are all options depending on their mindset, health and value, respectively, the C’s may need anywhere from 0-3 guys who can play the five.

The Celtics have four players under contract in 2012-13 for a combined $34.5 million (Paul Pierce, $16.8M; Rajon Rondo, $11.0M; Avery Bradley, $1.6M; JaJuan Johnson, $1.1M). Pending decisions on or by Garnett, Ray Allen, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling and Stiemsma, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have anywhere from $0-33 million to spend in free agency.

As a result, expect the C’s to be linked to just about any and every free agent on the market. Nobody is out of their league. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the options that should be available to the Celtics at center, separating the current free agent players into four categories.

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Irish Coffee: Celtics or bust for Kevin Garnett 06.11.12 at 1:30 pm ET
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Let’s get this out of the way: Every NBA team would like to sign Kevin Garnett away from the Celtics.

While the Miami Herald would have you believe “Garnett fades away in the biggest moment” — without mention of his Game 7 first-half foul trouble — the fact is he changed the culture of the C’s organization and carried them within a game of the 2012 NBA finals at the age of 36, and any team would welcome that presence into their locker room. Celtics coach Doc Rivers reminds us of this every time somebody calls Garnett a dirty player.

“He’s been everything for my career, just his locker room presence, his desire, his determination, his leadership,” C’s captain Paul Pierce told reporters on Saturday night. “I’ve said before, when Kevin first got here, he really changed the culture of everything we did around here, from the practice habits to the on-court discipline. He made everybody accountable, from the ballboys to the chefs to the guy who flew the plane. Everybody was accountable. It was just tremendous to have him around, just the culture he brought.

“It would be great for me to end my career with Kevin,” he added. “I have a couple of years left, and who knows what his future is going to bring. Hopefully, management can do something to bring him back, maybe add some pieces to this team that we need to get us over the top. If not, it’s been a tremendous ride.”

No wonder recent reports name the Spurs and Nets as suitors. No kidding. You don’t need to tell us Rosie O’Donnell is interested in Ben & Jerry’s free cone day. Let’s throw the other 28 teams in the mix while we’re at it.

Eliminate 14 teams off the bat. Does anyone really think Garnett is leaving Boston to finish his career rebuilding a lottery team? Cross off another eight playoff teams that — barring a significant increase of the $58.0444 million salary cap — enter the summer over the limit (Bulls, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Knicks, Lakers, Magic, Thunder), regardless of their amnesty options. He’s not going elsewhere for the $3 or $5 million mid-level exception.

In addition to the Celtics, that leaves the Clippers, Jazz, Mavericks, Nuggets, Pacers, 76ers and Spurs as potential destinations. Quickly, let’s run through the salary cap situation for those seven teams.
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Paul Pierce on Kevin Garnett, leadership and heartbreak after Game 7 06.10.12 at 2:49 am ET
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MIAMI — Following Boston’s 101-88 loss to the Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, captain Paul Pierce made it clear he wants management to do whatever they can to bring Kevin Garnett back for one more run with the Celtics.

“He’s been everything for my career, just his locker room presence, his desire, his determination, his leadership,” Pierce said. “I’ve said before when Kevin first got here, he really changed the culture of everything we did around here, from the practice habits to the on-court discipline. He made everybody accountable, from the ballboys, to the chefs to the guy who flew the plane. Everybody was accountable. It was just tremendous to have him around, just the culture he brought.

“It would be great for me to end my career with Kevin. I have a couple of years left [on Celtics contract] and who knows what his future is going to bring. Hopefully, management can do something to bring him back, maybe add some pieces to this team that we need to get us over the top. If not, it’s been a tremendous ride.”

Garnett, who fell into early foul trouble in Game 7 and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes, is now an unrestricted free agent after spending the last five seasons in Boston.

Garnett did not speak to reporters after the game but Pierce did address what went wrong in Game 7, a contest the Celtics led by seven at halftime before being outscored by 20 in the second half.

“It’s tough when you don’t have the chance to accomplish your goals. Every year your goal, as a Boston Celtic, is to try and come out and win a championship. We had our opportunities. We were right where we wanted to be. We had a chance in Game 7. We had a chance to close it out at home in Game 6. We didn’t take advantage of it. We’ve got to take our hats off to what the Heat was able to do the last couple of games. They played inspiring basketball. What can I say? [Chris Bosh] was definitely an X-factor. He shot the ball well. It was an ideal situation [for us]. It was a tie game, one quarter to go, winner plays for the championship. What more can you ask for? They made the plays they needed to make to get there.

“Everything is going so fast right now. It’s tough to think about. You feel like you let your teammates down,” said Pierce, who followed up his 4-for-18 night in Game 6 with a 7-for-18 night in Game 7. That’s 11-for-36 in his final two games of the season.

And if this was it for the “Big Three”?

“It was a great opportunity,” Pierce said. “Whenever you have the chance to play with some of the greatest players of all time in Ray, Kevin and an up-and-coming great in Rondo, you can’t ask for anything more. There are a lot of people who have been in my position who do not get that opportunity.”

Pierce is hoping for one more run with Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Garnett but he knows it’s not his decision.

“That’s a question you’re going to have to ask management,” Pierce said. “Obviously, we want to play together. Management has their choices that they can make. I’m just happy that they were able to let us play.”

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Setting the scene from Celtics-Heat Game 7, where Ray Allen has it over everyone 06.09.12 at 6:47 pm ET
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MIAMI — Welcome to Game 7.

It’s the seventh such Game 7 in the “Big Three plus Rondo” era. They are 4-2 in the previous six but of those six, only one came on the road. The 2010 Game 7 in the NBA finals in which, like this series, the Celtics were leading 3-2 but couldn’t close out in Game 6 when Kendrick Perkins went down.

In losing Game 6 to LeBron James and the Heat, the Celtics have put themselves in the position of fighting history.

There have been 110 Game 7s, and the home team is 88-22. The Celtics are 3-3, last winning on the road in 1974.

What’s even more improbable is a team winning both Game 5 and Game 7 on the road. The Celtics took a 3-2 series lead by winning in Miami last Tuesday. In the 110 seven-game series, only five times has the road team won both Games 5 and 7 – the 1968 and 1974 Celtics, the 1981 and 1995 Rockets and the 2005 Pacers all did the highly improbable.

On the Heat side, LeBron James is playing in his third Game 7 and everyone recalls the last one. He scored 45 points in a 98-91 loss to the Celtics at the Garden on May 18, 2008 in the Eastern semifinals. Before that, on May 21, 2006, James’ Cavaliers also lost to the Pistons in the Eastern semis.

Ray Allen will have more Game 7 experience than anyone on the floor Saturday night, playing in his ninth such contest. In addition to the six with the Celtics, he played in two with the Bucks in 2001, beating New Orleans in the Eastern semis before bowing out to Allen Iverson and the Sixers in the Eastern finals in Philadelphia.

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Nation sees Game 7 outcome unpredictable, dependent on LeBron James at 2:44 pm ET
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The Celtics squandered a shot at closing out their series against Miami in Game 6, and now most feel the outcome of Game 7 is unpredictable. There are many factors rendering the game questionable, like LeBron James and Boston’s energy.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News pointed to just that, emphasizing Boston’s need for a bigger impact from leader Paul Pierce and to neutralize James — something Isola doesn’t think Boston can do.

“There is no questioning the heart and determination of these Celtics,” Isola wrote. “They will need a bigger game from Paul Pierce, who was invisible on Thursday. Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo will have to produce big numbers for the offensively challenged Celtics. But they’ll also have to stop James, and right now that doesn’t seem very likely.”

It’s not just a win on the line for Pierce, but also his legacy, wrote NBC Sports’ Matt Moore. He said Pierce needs to play well — not 45-point-performance well, but well — for Boston to advance to their third NBA Finals in five years.

“But here they are,” Moore wrote. “If [Kevin] Garnett is the angry ferocity of the Celtics, and Rondo the driven determination, Pierce is the source of their swagger. It’s Pierce who has the most confidence in his game regardless of percentages or circumstances. Much like this Celtics team, no matter how many things suggest he’s in the midst of failure, he finds a way to come out on top. The Celtics need that attitude, that swagger, that player tonight in Game 7.”

In Yahoo! Sports’ Game 7 preview, basketball fans took to comments to dispute who would win the series-deciding game. Most said the Heat need another great performance from James to win, but some mentioned Chris Bosh‘s importance to Miami.

“I hear all the points that are being made heading onto the game tonight but one thing nobody is talking about other than LeBron’s great performance is that with Bosh back it is a different scenario now,” One fan wrote. “Before you had a guy like [Udonis] Haslem who is like 6-foot-9 guarding a 7 footer, now they can put Bosh on Garnett and he won’t be able to just shoot over him. Another thing the Heat did was put [Dywane] Wade on [Rajon] Rondo a little bit more and not [MarioChalmers and everybody agrees that Chalmers is just a terrible defender. …Well to be fair, Chalmers just can’t guard Rondo.”

ESPN’s Skip Bayless stayed behind his Heat prediction, saying James will still play a good “3 1/2 quarters” and Chris Bosh will play well for Miami.

I’m sticking with “Heat in 7″ prediction. Won’t be easy. Celts the mentally tougher TEAM. DWade will be the mentally toughest PLAYER, Bayless tweeted.

NBA’s Shaun Powell took a slightly different twist, saying basketball fans should cheer for Miami because a Heat-Thunder NBA Finals is more appealing than a Celtics-Thunder series.

“The Celtics are a neat little story of persistence, if nothing else,” Powell wrote. “Kevin Garnett at 36 can still bring it, along with Paul Pierce. Until James went ballistic in Game 6, Rajon Rondo was the best player in this series. Meanwhile, Doc Rivers is confirming what we all knew about him, a terrific in-game coach who knows how to make adjustments and draw up plays. Ray Allen, give the man the hoops version of the purple heart for running around and jumping off one ankle.

“They’re exactly the team you’d want in a Game 7 of the East finals, and also the team you want to lose, or should, anyway. And we say this with all due respect to Boston.”

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Irish Coffee: ‘Let’s go Celtics,’ one final curtain call 06.08.12 at 4:32 pm ET
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Ask Heat coach Erik Spoelstra about Game 7, and like Good Will Hunting he’d probably throw Shakespeare at you, right? “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.” But he’s never been near one.

Neither have most Miamians, at least not since 2005, although they surely have many more to come in their playoff future. Meanwhile, these Celtics and their fans have experienced six Game 7′s in this five-year run of the Kevin Garnett era, including their previous series, but the “Let’s go Celtics” chants echoing to the banners above in the final minutes of Game 6 seemed to suggest: This could be it for awhile, so give us one more. Please.

“I want to say to all the fans, ‘Thank you guys,’” said Garnett in the wake of the 97-78 loss. “I’ve never in my life experienced anything like this, in any sport. I’m just truly blessed to be a Celtic and be a part of the city of Boston. That’s what’s up to all the New Englanders around here. It’s crazy. It’s [fudge]ing crazy.”

After three straight Celtics victories in the Eastern Conference finals, Thursday night was supposed to be a Garden celebration — the undressing of the fraudulent Heat in The Emperor’s New Clothes — but instead King James ascended to his NBA MVP throne. When it was over, LeBron James had 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and one elusive victory in an elimination game that saw his Heat lead by as many as 25 points.

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