The right moves

Last modified: 7/27/2012 12:00:00 AM
The last time the Celtics had a summer this good, they won a championship the next season. Boston's offseason moves in the last month don't approach the franchise-transforming, blockbuster magnitude of the deals Danny Ainge pulled off in the summer of 2007, but they just might lead to the next title.

The two offseasons do share one very large, very intense common denominator - the seven scowling feet of Kevin Garnett. In both cases, Garnett's decision to play in Boston was the cornerstone move. Back in '07, he accepted a trade to the Celtics and a contract extension after Ainge had dealt for Ray Allen, and the new Big Three was born. One year later, they were raising Banner 17 to the Garden rafters. This summer, Garnett's decision to come back at a reasonable price (three years, $34 million) kept Boston an attractive destination for free agents and allowed Ainge the cap space to reload the roster, and what a reloading it has been.

There's a lot of work to be done between now and Banner 18, obviously. And health remains a major concern, especially with older veterans like Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry, as well as players like Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox who are coming back from serious heart conditions. But there's no doubt the Celtics roster is better than it was

last year, and last year they gave the eventual-champion Heat all it could handle in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals.

Gone from that near Finals team are Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Greg Stiesma and Ryan Hollins. They have been, essentially, upgraded with Terry, Courtney Lee, Green, Wilcox, Jason Collins and first-round pick Jared Sullinger, plus the surgically-repaired two-guard of the future, Avery Bradley. Boston got better, younger, more athletic, more versatile and did it all while staying under the luxury cap threshold. Meanwhile, Miami added Allen and his bone spurs and the 33 going on 40 Rashard Lewis, and the rest of the Eastern contenders didn't do much of anything to improve.

Yes, it's been a good summer for Celtics fans, even if it was tough for some of them (we're looking at you Connecticut) to see Allen sign with the Heat. But don't let sentimentality cloud you're thinking when it comes to the classy Allen. Ainge didn't. When Allen (reportedly) asked for three years, $27 million, Ainge countered with two years, $12 million. Considering Allen eventually took his talents to South Beach for three years, $9 million, that was a wise fiscal move by Boston's President of Basketball Operations.

And considering Allen's age (37), that he could barely walk during the playoffs last year, and that he's being replaced by Terry and Lee, and was already supplanted by Bradley as a starter, it was a wise basketball move as well. If he did return, Allen was going to be used as a gunner off the bench, a role he wasn't pleased with last season. But it is a role Terry embraces (he's finished in the top three in voting for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in each of the last five seasons). Sure, Terry will be 35 when the season starts, but he's played 12,000 fewer minutes that Allen in his career (52,301-40,404), and, unlike Allen, he agreed to work himself into Boston's salary cap plans (three years, $15 million).

While Terry was the first new Celtic of the offseason, Ainge didn't finish revamping the team's shooting guard spot until he landed Lee with one of his last moves. At first glance it seems like Boston gave up a lot for Lee - 2011 first-round pick JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Sean Williams, Sasha Pavlovic and three second round picks. The reality is all of those players (including whoever the second round picks become) are end-of-the-bench talents who maybe have a chance at becoming contributors in the rotation, while Lee is a proven commodity who has already started 135 NBA games.

There's even more to like about the Lee signing. With Bradley potentially missing the start of the season as he recovers from surgeries on both shoulders, Lee can move into the starting lineup, which will allow Terry to remain in his accustomed reserve role. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Lee also brings more size and defense than Allen did, something that will fit in perfectly with Boston's style. And he may not have a picture-perfect jumper like Allen, but Lee has shot over 40 percent from 3-point land in three of his four NBA seasons. Plus, he's 10 years younger than Allen.

By re-signing the popular (with fans and in the locker room) Keyon Dooling on Tuesday, Ainge completed his overhaul of the backcourt. And he finalized the frontcourt renovations by landing defensive-minded center Jason Collins earlier in the week, but the biggest moves for big men came earlier in the month.

After Garnett's decision to return, the other forwards followed like dominoes, though some of them were likely to fall to Boston no matter what KG chose to do. That seemed to be the case with Green, who hung around the team last year even though his contract with Boston was terminated during the preseason after he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. While Green's contract appears to be the least pragmatic of the contracts Ainge hammered out this summer (four years, $36 million), Green also has the most upside. Remember, he's only 25, he's an athletic 6-9, can handle the ball, shoot it, guard multiple positions, and he averaged 15.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game in his last full season with one team (2010 in Oklahoma City, his third year in the league). He has the potential to be part of a new core, led by Rajon Rondo, that can keep the Celtics among the league's elite after Garnett and Pierce move on.

It will be interesting to see how Green plays both coming off his heart surgery and now that he feels comfortable in Boston. It will also be interesting to see who starts at power forward next to Garnett - Green or Brandon Bass. After averaging 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Celtics last year, Bass decided to opt out of the second year of his contract with Boston, which would have paid him $4.25 millions. That seemed to signal an end to Bass's career with the Celtics, but really it just meant a new three-year deal reportedly worth $6.8 million per season. Throw in Sullinger, Collins and Wilcox (signed for the veteran minimum of $854,389 for one year), and Boston is suddenly loaded with capable forwards.

It was supposed to be a three, maybe four-year championship window that opened in Boston after the summer of 2007. Forget that. The summer of 2012 just opened it a few years wider.

(Tim O'Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com.)


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