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Not enough was exhibited to provide answers

Now what? We've seen eight exhibition games and how much more do we really know about the Celtics than we did three-plus weeks ago, when training camp started?

Not a whole lot. And we're not alone. Yes, Al Jefferson is thinner. Yes, Rajon Rondo apparently comes as delivered. Luke Jackson came and went. But I pretty much had these guys pegged in the 8-12 range in the East Oct. 3, and that's where I still have them pegged.

Coach Doc Rivers says he thinks he has nine people who can play, but admitted after Wednesday's exhibition finale, "just defining roles is very important." He has five days to get his role-playing definitions up to date.

Rivers hasn't identified the nine players he feels will be everyday contributors. It looks as if he has settled on a starting five of Paul Pierce, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Wally Szczerbiak, and the center du jour. That has not been a difficult call since the draft-day deal for Telfair.

That leaves the role playing to Delonte West, Jefferson, Rondo, and, perhaps, a backup center du jour. That would likely mean the final three players will be some combination of Gerald Green, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen, or possibly a third-string center du jour.

We haven't even touched on Leon Powe or Allan Ray.

The Celtics yesterday waived Jackson and Brian Grant (whom they acquired essentially for Rondo) so that both lads would clear waivers by 6 p.m. Monday, when the final rosters have to be in to the home office in New York. The immediate survivors are Michael Olowokandi, working on a nonguaranteed contract of approximately $9,000 per game, and Ray, a rookie. Ray has a Dec. 1 fish-or-cut-bait clause in his contract; if the team has not waived him by that date, the remaining, nonguaranteed portion of his contract (some $312,000) becomes guaranteed.

Additionally, the team finally exercised the fourth-year option on Allen's contract, bringing him in line with his fellow draftees from the Class of 2004 -- Jefferson, West, and Telfair.

"It was inevitable," said Celtics hoops boss Danny Ainge.

Meanwhile, around the NBA it was a good day for Boston-area players. Will Blalock, a native of the city's Mission Hill section, cemented his spot on the Pistons. He averaged 12.7 minutes per game in the exhibition season.

"I really like Will Blalock and think he has a chance to be a nice player," Pistons hoops boss Joe Dumars said by e-mail. "Will has come in and played with toughness, confidence, and poise. He has fit in well here with our guys."

Vin Baker (Minnesota) survived and Jose Juan Barea, late of Northeastern, beat out former first-round pick Ndudi Ebi (Minnesota 2003) for the final roster spot on the Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks. Barea averaged 20.3 minutes over the first seven exhibition games.

As for the Celtics, Jackson, the 10th overall pick in the 2004 draft, never made a mark in his two weeks in camp. He was clearly a victim of a numbers game, but he also clearly never was close to the guy who merited being a lottery pick. He didn't play Wednesday against Toronto. It has been a tough road for Jackson, who has been plagued by injuries since he was drafted.

"He really didn't get much of a chance," Ainge said. "But he's still not in the shape he was when he was coming out for the draft. He's probably going to have to make it the hard way."

Grant was never a factor in the equation. (Has any NBA team cut two guys with presidential surnames on the same day before?) The only question was whether the Celtics would keep him as a trade chip. But Olowokandi basically won himself a roster spot -- and has a minimum, nonguaranteed salary. Additionally, Theo Ratliff is hurt (bad back), so Olowokandi benefited from Ratliff's situation.

"But he also earned a job by the way he played," Ainge said.

Left unsaid by all concerned is whether this roster will remain intact. Ainge has proven to be a pot stirrer, in and out of season. He traded Antoine Walker during training camp in 2003 and brought him back at the February trade deadline in 2005. He traded for Ricky Davis in December 2003 and sent him to Minnesota in January 2006. He's already made one deal (Jackson) during this training camp .

But the roster situation probably demands at least one more move. On more than one occasion Ainge has said that he now has chips to play. But it doesn't do any good if you don't play them. He inherited a 44-win team in 2003 that made it to the second round of the playoffs. If this team manages to replicate that feat this season, the Celtics will be asking Tom Menino for a parade permit.

Peter May can be reached at P_May@globe.com.

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