|2012-13 Celtics free agent options at small forward||06.28.12 at 11:48 am ET|
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 (an estimated $58 million). We’re examining the C’s free agent options at each position. Now starting: Small forwards (Also see: Centers, shooting guards and power forwards).
Believe it or not, Paul Pierce‘s ailing foot and Jeff Green‘s season-ending heart problem meant the Celtics began last season with Sasha Pavlovic as the starting three and Marquis Daniels as his backup. Of course, Pierce returned, and the signing of Mickael Pietrus helped solidify the position in Green’s absence. The C’s first order of business after convincing Garnett to return should be re-signing Green. Pietrus seems intent on coming back, but Pavlovic and Daniels will likely be shown the door, so the they may still need one more player for depth.
The Celtics have four players under guaranteed contracts in 2012-13 for a combined $34.5 million (Pierce, $16.8M; Rajon Rondo, $11.0M; Avery Bradley, $1.6M; JaJuan Johnson, $1.1M). Pending decisions on or by Garnett, Ray Allen, Brandon Bass, Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, Chris Wilcox, Green, Pietrus and Dooling, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have anywhere from $0-33 million to spend in free agency.
As a result, expect the Celtics 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 small forward, separating the current free agent players into three categories.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics or bust for Kevin Garnett||06.11.12 at 1:30 pm ET|
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|
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.”
“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.”
|Nation sees Game 7 outcome unpredictable, dependent on LeBron James||06.09.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
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 [Mario] Chalmers 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.”
|Doc Rivers: ‘Riley is inside [Spoelstra]‘ and other Celtics-Heat Game 7 shootaround notes||at 1:08 pm ET|
But before Miami, and after winning four titles with the Showtime Lakers, Riley coached the New York Knicks to the 1994 NBA finals. He had a point guard on that team by the name of Glenn “Doc” Rivers.
Doc Rivers speaks often about how much influence Riley had on his coaching career. In the hours before Game 7 with the Heat, the subject came up again.
“If you play for Riley or work around Riley, he’s going to be a part of you for the rest of your life,” Rivers said. “That’s just how it is, even if you have no contact with him, or you do. Riley was Riley for a reason. He gets inside of you, and you can see that with Erik. Riley is inside of him.”
Erik is Erik Spoelstra, the current coach of the Heat, a coach who has – at times in this series – come under intense pressure and criticism for possibly losing to a Celtics team much older that was considered heavy underdogs against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Rivers said he can see a lot of Riley in Spoelstra’s approach.
“I don’t know about the game part of it,” Rivers said. “I think Spo does his own thing there. But definitely, the mental part of it, just listening to how he talks and prepares the team, that’s a Riley [characteristic]. Fingerprints are all over that part.”
Rivers is getting his team ready for the seventh Game 7 in the “Big Three” era but just the second on the road as the Celtics take on the Heat at American Airlines Arena, with the winner capturing the Eastern Conference title and advancing to play the Thunder in Oklahoma City next Tuesday night in Game 1 of the NBA finals.
“We’ll find that out later,” Rivers said when asked what he expects of his team in Game 7, after missing a chance to clinch Thursday night at home. “I’ve been to a lot of shootarounds where I’ve left as a coach [and said] we’re in trouble or we look great and the game comes, and it’s different. So, I don’t think you really get a sense for your team. I know they’ll be ready. How they perform and all that stuff, we’ll have a lot to do with that and the other team will have a lot to do with that as well.”
The Celtics are 4-2 in Game 7s since 2008, losing their only previous Game 7 on the road in 2010 when they lost the NBA finals to the Lakers. Most recently, they beat the Sixers two weeks ago, 95-85, in another Saturday night Game 7, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“There’s always something to say,” Rivers said. “But really they’ve been in this situation but they’ve never been in this situation against this team. So, every Game 7 is different, every game is different, honestly. You just have to prepare your best. You have to try and figure how much information to give them and how much is too much, and walk the right line.
“It’s always nicer to have it at home, clearly. But let’s be honest, if you had told me before the playoffs started you could have a Game 7 to decide to go to the finals, we’d have taken it and wouldn’t have cared where you played it. In a lot of ways, we love being here.”
All players were accounted for at the open portion of Saturday morning’s shootaround except for Paul Pierce. But Rivers said that Pierce – playing with a sprained MCL in his left knee – and the entire team is ready and will play in Game 7 against the Heat. Pierce eventually showed up at shootaround and participated, before leaving with the team on the bus back to the hotel just after noontime.
“Everybody’s good, everybody’s healthy,” Rivers said.
|Irish Coffee: ‘Let’s go Celtics,’ one final curtain call||06.08.12 at 4:32 pm ET|
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.
‘This team has been about adversity all year long,” Pierce said. “So, this is not going to be [anything] new. It’s been tough for us all year long to get to the point where we would be at, and why wouldn’t it be tough now? Winning is hard. Trying to get to the finals is hard. And this is as hard as it gets, and I think we are prepared for it.’
As clutch as Pierce was at the end of Game 5 in Miami, Pierce was ice cold all night in Game 6. He finished 4-for-18 from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range. The Celtics captain scored just nine points in 31 minutes while James put up 45 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in 45 minutes to lead the Heat to a Game 7.
“He hit a lot of shots that he hasn’t been hitting all series,” Pierce said. “Sometimes superstars get hot. I’ve had that feeling before and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Unfortunately, Pierce came no where near having that feeling in Game 6 as the Celtics missed the chance to clinch on their home court.
‘It was tough,” Pierce said of the loss. “You got an opportunity to close out the series on your home floor. For us to come out and play like the way we did, it’s very tough. I mean, you gotta take your hats off to them. They really had a great game. Lebron got hot, playing like a true MVP. We just didn’t recover.
“I always think we got a chance. We’re not the type of team that looks at the score or say it’s over until it’s over. So, tip my hat off to them. They did what they had to do and now were going to a Game 7.’
Pierce realizes that, like the beginning of the series, few if any observers are giving them a chance in Game 7. But like the beginning of the series, he knows that doesn’t matter.
‘Well its been that kind of year for us anyway,” Pierce said. “[I] think we are in the perfect opportunity. We’ve been the underdog all year long, going into Game 7 the underdog. We are right where we want to be.’
As for the “Let’s Go Celtics” send-off from the fans?
‘We have the best fans in the world,” he said. “Down 20, at home, in the playoffs, and they cheer us off the court. And that’s just awesome. That’s why we have the best fans in the world.’