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ON BASKETBALL

Plenty of things left to do

List shows Celtics have work cut out

The Game 7 bludgeoning administered to the Celtics by the Pacers Saturday night once again drove home the point that this team ended up being the Little Girl With The Curl.

When it was good, it was very, very good. (See Games 1 and 4.)

When it was bad, it was horrid. (See Games 3 and 7.)

So, if you're executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, what do you do? There will be calls for the head of Mark Blount on a platter. There will be calls to trade Antoine Walker. Heck, there probably will be calls to trade Paul Pierce, especially after his ridiculous display at the end of Game 6. We can assume that coach Doc Rivers is safe, even though he now is 0-4 in playoff series and saw his team deliver a truly odious Game 7 performance, probably the worst in the history of the franchise.

There will be no free agent money, other than the mid-level exception that all over-the-cap teams get. And with a team payroll likely to be in the mid-to-upper $50-million range, there is no chance of the Celtics getting under the cap. They're still on the hook for $5.3 million this year and next for Vin Baker.

Anyway, here's a post-mortem of the team and what may or may not be in store. Be advised that the one I did last year called Jiri Welsch the best acquisition, by far, by Ainge. Players are listed alphabetically.

TONY ALLEN

Contract Status: Has two more guaranteed years totaling roughly $2 million on his rookie deal.

He started 34 games this season, including the first three of the postseason. But the lingering memory of Allen will be his basic benching for the final two games after getting frustrated trying to stay with Reggie Miller. Rivers feels Allen has a chance to be a top-flight defender, and that is, undeniably, his strength. His offense needs work. But if Ainge is inclined to include one of the kids to facilitate a deal, don't be surprised if it's him.

MARCUS BANKS

Contract Status: One guaranteed year left on his rookie deal at around $1.4 million. The team has until Halloween to guarantee a fourth year at $2.05 million.

Remember, he wasn't supposed to be here after getting dealt to the Lakers for Gary Payton. But he came back and then became Rivers's (and others') whipping boy. He persevered and he is, unquestionably, a dogged defender. Is Ainge ready to turn the point guard duties over to him and/or Delonte West? Or is Banks destined to be a career backup? We know Ainge is not disinclined to trade him.

MARK BLOUNT

Contract Status: Five years remaining at $33.7 million. Will earn $5.5 million next season. He has a 15 percent trade kicker.

Blount was the biggest disappointment of the season, hands down. It was clear early on he was not happy with Rivers's system, especially on the defensive end. But it became so bad that Blount never got off the bench in the final three games of the Pacers series. This from a guy who started 57 games and played in all 82. He will be hard to trade; his value isn't very high, the contract is very long, and there's the trade kicker to boot. Somehow, the Celtics need to rediscover the Mark Blount of early 2004. Or was that guy just on a contract run?

RICKY DAVISContract Status: Three years left at an average of $6.3 million per year.

He was the anti-Blount this season. Who would have thought Davis would turn out to be so problem-free after what we all saw last year? (OK, the broom quote during Game 1 wasn't too bright and the meltdown in New York was just as bad.) But Davis is one of the most popular players with the Mugging for the Jumbotron set and he established himself this year as a weapon at both ends (although I think his defense is overrated.) Offensively, Davis is streaky, but he has a mid-range game, something that is rare these days. He also is durable. Plus, he's still only 25.

AL JEFFERSON

Contract status: Has two more guaranteed years totaling around $3.1 million on his rookie deal.

Everyone loves this kid's upside. He's fearless. He's relentless. He's a 20/10 waiting to happen once he gets serious minutes. And that will be a weighty decision for the powers-that-be, because Big Al needs a lot more than the 14.8 minutes he averaged this year. And that means someone ahead of him either has to go or have his time shaved. He's reason alone to pine for October.

RAEF LAFRENTZ

Contract Status: Four years remaining at an average of roughly $11.36 million per year.

LaFrentz was another highlight this season. He started 80 games and his 2,196 minutes were his most since 2001-02. He is what he is. Defensively, he can block shots and defend and collect the occasional rebound. Offensively, he can stretch defenses - unless defenses stretch out with him. He had 21 points in Game 1, when the Pacers left him unguarded. He had 27 points for the rest of the series, including none in Game 7. He doesn't merit the money he makes. Then again, who really does?

GARY PAYTON

Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent.

Another surprise, although, as we've written more than once, Payton had to step up this season if he wanted anything decent going forward. And he did. He's also all about the money; he could be in Phoenix right now with a legit chance at a ring. But the Celtics paid him a lot more to come back, so that's where he went. The guess here is that Payton won't be back and that Ainge will do a sign-and-trade with some Western Conference team to get something in return.

KENDRICK PERKINS

Contract status: He has one guaranteed year left on his rookie deal at around $740,000 and can have the fourth year guaranteed if the team acts by Oct. 31.

He came a long way. Then again, he basically could go only one way after rarely playing as a rookie. He doesn't have the talent of Jefferson, but he does have size and good instincts. If the Celtics decide to try and move Blount, it will be in part because they think this kid is ready to play a lot more. He has ''serviceable" written all over him now. That's not bad at all considering he'll be 21 in November.

PAUL PIERCE

Contract Status: Three years remaining at an average of $15.1 million per season.

He is the best player on the team. But he's also one of the most complex and some of those complexities might bring Ainge to do some shopping. The act at the end of Game 6 was a disgrace. Pierce fought Rivers's offense most of the season and even into the postseason with his tendency to go it alone. Ainge has Rivers's back, so they might jointly agree to do something. On the plus side are Pierce's undeniable offensive talents and his undeniable durability. But, as team captain, he needs to act like one and he really blew up mentally against Indiana.

JUSTIN REED

Contract Status: One year left, with team option, on two-year minimum deal.

He's a second-round pick whom the Celtics like and could keep around as a useful practice player who will good-naturedly accept a position on the injured list. We really didn't see enough of him to get a read on his game.

ANTOINE WALKER

Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent.

He made a huge impact in the two-plus months he was here. Rivers is right; there would be no playoffs had Walker not returned. He also had a big part in bumping attendance up more than 2,500 per game, not to mention taking the team from under .500 to 45 wins. All of that, you can be sure, will be raised in contract negotiations, as will his ability to take the hits and be a Pierce shock absorber. As always, it will come down to dollars. Walker has to feel that the Celtics can't pay him less than LaFrentz. But he has no options elsewhere because no team is going to clear cap space to take a run at him. A sign-and-trade might give him more money, but he wants to stick around. This will be one very interesting end game this summer.

DELONTE WEST

Contract Status: Two guaranteed years left on his rookie deal totaling around $2 million.

Ainge said last fall that he wouldn't deal West, even-up, for Ben Gordon. He might think differently now, but the Celtics do really love this kid. He is nerveless on the floor and that is big for a point guard, not to mention a rookie. He also has a decent outside shot and, for his size, is an excellent rebounder. He had a lot of big moments for the team and you have to think he's in the plans for a lot more playing time next season.


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