It might be a little much to give Mark Bartelstein a championship ring if the Celtics win the title. But for his role in solidifying their bench, the least the Celtics could do is send the sports agent some championship hats and T-shirts.
Bartelstein represents three reserves who were instrumental in one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history - when the Celtics overcame a 24-point deficit en route to a 97-91 victory over the Lakers in Game 4 of the Finals last Thursday. James Posey, Eddie House, and P.J. Brown combined for 42 points and 8 rebounds in the victory. In large part because of that spark off the bench, the Celtics are up, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series and one win away from their first title since 1986.
But here's the bad news for Celtics fans: All three will be unrestricted free agents this summer (yes, Posey will opt out of his contract June 30). And if Boston wants them back - Posey in particular - Bartelstein will be a key figure in making it happen.
"Right now, they are just completely focused in on trying to win a championship," said Bartelstein. "Pose has been through it before and knows how hard it is. Eddie, this is his first experience with this kind of going through what he's gone through in the playoffs.
"Players talk about dying for an opportunity and they don't do anything with it when given a chance. But every time he gets a chance, he comes up big. It's difficult to do what Eddie's done throughout.
"P.J. went for a long time not thinking he was going to play. At the end of the day, he saw the opportunity for a championship with a team like the Celtics. He has a great relationship with [assistant coach] Clifford Ray and it gave him a chance to come back with those guys. He's having the time of his life and is glad he went back."
A strong argument could be made that Posey is Boston's fifth-most valuable player after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. The versatile veteran can guard four positions, is one of the team's strongest leaders, and has accepted his reserve role with open arms. He averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game during the regular season and was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Posey signed a two-year deal last offseason paying $3.2 million this season with a player option for $3.4 million next season. The option was basically just an insurance policy for the 31-year-old Posey; Bartelstein said Posey will become a free agent.
"That's sort of been the plan all along," Bartelstein said. "The Celtics knew when they signed him for great value. They gave him the option for security reasons. They got him for a below-value deal.
"I saw Doc [Rivers] in a game at the end of the season in Chicago and he absolutely summed up James by saying in a tunnel to me that, 'He is so much better than advertised. I fought hard to get him, but living every day, you see how much he brings you.' "
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has declined comment on free agents until season's end. Posey also won't talk about it now.
Posey will be an unrestricted free agent and the most Boston can offer is a mid-level exception deal, which would be expected to start at about $5.8 million. If the Celtics offer him the full mid-level exception or something close to it over four years, they should have a strong shot at re-signing him. But they shouldn't be surprised if several teams go after him hard, too.
"Everyone in the league will go after him," an NBA executive said. "The Lakers probably will. But it will probably be the same money. He can pick and choose. He's like Robert Horry now. A team close to winning will sign him.
"I know he likes it there. I'd be surprised if he left. Will someone pay him a lot of money during a two-year span with a third-year option? No one will do that. No one has the cap space. Who will give him more of the mid-level? That's what it will come down to."
Brown has been a great veteran leader and big man option off the bench. The 38-year-old has said countless times that he will sit down with his family in Slidell, La., after the season and decide whether he still wants to play. Boston should try to re-sign him.
The journeyman House would probably love to return, but intriguing rookie point guard Gabe Pruitt will likely be given an opportunity to prove himself backing up Rondo. Even so, the Celtics will still need a veteran reserve point guard, and House has a year with the franchise under his belt.
With all due respect to Brown and House, the Celtics' primary offseason objective must be Posey.
"He's worried about one thing - getting a ring," Bartelstein said. "I don't want to turn the attention. He loves playing for Doc and with those guys. Boston has embraced him. Boston fans are knowledgeable and they understand what he does."
On second thought, maybe the Celtics should size Bartelstein for a championship ring.
Are they brother's keeper?The Grizzlies hope to get another Gasol in uniform soon. They have the fifth pick in this year's draft, and if they can quickly sign Spanish center Marc Gasol, brother of Lakers big man Pau Gasol, they feel they can add two marquee young players for next season.
"It's like an extra lottery pick if we end up getting it done," said general manager Chris Wallace.
Pau Gasol played for the Grizzlies from 2001-08 and was an All-Star in 2006. The Grizzlies acquired the rights to his brother in the deal that sent Pau to the Lakers Feb. 1. Last Wednesday, Marc sat in the Staples Center stands fielding questions while his brother was being interviewed in a press conference.
"It was weird, very weird, actually," said Marc, about being dealt for his brother. "I don't know that it's ever happened before. [Pau] was actually shocked, so he didn't say nothing."
Marc isn't under contract with the Grizzlies, but there are a lot of factors in their favor as they hope to sign him.
During Pau's time with the Grizzlies, his brother played at Memphis Lausanne High from 2001-03. Their parents and a younger brother still live in Memphis - and Marc says he "loves it there." Also, if he wants to play in the NBA, it has to be with Memphis since it owns his rights.
"I know it was a big thing for Memphis to get my rights in the trade," Gasol said. "They know how I play because they know Pau and they saw a lot of videos and stuff."
But the 7-foot, 260-pounder is also getting interest from Spanish teams, mainly Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
Gasol, 23, who will play for Spain in the Olympics, averaged 16.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.8 blocks in 34 games for the Spanish team Akasvayu Girona last season. Aiding him was the fact that he lost 60 pounds since his days of playing prep ball in Memphis.
"I definitely think I can help any team," Gasol said.
D.J. spins a few thoughtsTexas guard D.J. Augustin was a consensus first-team All-American as a sophomore this past season, and a finalist for the Naismith and Wooden awards as national player of the year. He won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard and could be a top 20 pick in a guard-laden draft.
A question-and-answer session with Augustin after he worked out for the Clippers last Wednesday:
Q. Do you believe that you are a top 10 player?
A. "It doesn't matter. I just want to go to the right place for me. I want to put myself in a good position."
Q. How do you differentiate yourself from the other point guards in this draft?
A. "They have great point guards in the draft. Everybody's different. Everybody plays different. I'm just going to do what I can do and not try to do anything different."
Q. Have you been talking to Sonics star Kevin Durant, your former Texas teammate, about adjusting to the NBA?
A. "Yeah, I talk to him every day. He is in summer school in Austin. He's kind of busy right now. But I try to talk to him as much as possible."
Q. What more do you have to do to solidify yourself as a top 15 selection?
A. "Just keep working hard, have a great attitude in these workouts, and compete.
Q. What kind of suit will you be wearing during the NBA draft?
A. "It's nice. It's gray with a little pinkish trim around it. I have some nice cuff links. It's going to look nice."
Etc.About to get the Denver boot?
Marcus Camby's days as a Nugget could be limited, according to an NBA source, because he is the most attractive player they would be open to moving. It's no secret Denver is looking to trim salary after a disappointing season. Teams have shown little interest in Kenyon Martin and Nene because of their injury concerns and contracts. While the Nuggets would trade Allen Iverson, he is expected to exercise an option that will pay him a hefty $20.8 million next season. And while there have been rumors about Carmelo Anthony being moved, he is one of the most talented players and would be tough to replace. Somebody has to go, though. Camby, the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year, will make $11.25 million next season and $10.9 million in 2009-10. The 34-year-old averaged 9.1 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks last season. He could be a fit for a veteran team in need of a big man such as Detroit, San Antonio, Miami, or Dallas. "You hear trade rumors every summer around this time," said Camby. "You just got to take it with a grain of salt. Denver is where I want to be. But I definitely want to be where I'm wanted."
The American plan
USA Basketball surprisingly changed course by deciding not to have tryouts at its minicamp this month. Considering the long list of NBA stars being considered, it would have been embarrassing for them to try out for 12 spots on the Olympic squad. Since USA Basketball knows everything it needs to know about the players on and off the court, a tryout didn't make sense. Even so, in the end, some NBA stars will be left off. Jason Kidd, LeBron James, Anthony, Josh Howard, Michael Redd, Tayshaun Prince, and Kobe Bryant appear to be locks. Amare Stoudemire isn't expected to play because of health concerns, but Dwyane Wade seemed to convince USA Basketball leader Jerry Colangelo he was physically fine during a workout last Wednesday in Chicago. It appears that USA will select two big men from among Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, and Tyson Chandler, and three guards from among Wade, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams.
After Italian forward Danilo Gallinari, the next-best international prospect in the draft is projected to be French swingman Nicolas Batum. The long and athletic 6-foot-8-inch, 190-pounder is only 19 years old and was a French Pro A League All-Star. "He is a versatile player," said Lakers forward Ronny Turiaf, who is also from France. "He is a Boris Diaw-type player. He can share the ball, blocks shots, defend, get steals. I think he's a really good player." But before NBA teams get excited about Batum, Turiaf believes they must also take a strong look at another France native, center Alexis Ajinca. "He is going to be big-time," Turiaf said. "He has a body for a force and a defensive presence. Has a nose for blocking shots and is at the right place for his teammates as far as blocks, playing good defense, and help-side defense. And even when he's not blocking shots, he's going to bother stuff. He had a real good workout out in Boston. All I'm going to say is people are going to be very surprised. Nobody's talking about him right now." Turiaf likes Ajinca's upside more than Batum's. "He is already in a state of mind where he is going to succeed," Turiaf said. "He might not be the best player, but he is still thinking he has a chance to be successful. Batum is really good, don't get me wrong. But it's a matter of where they get drafted and what team." Ajinca, a Paris native, is considered a late first-round to early second-round draft pick. The 7-foot, 220-pounder is very athletic and long, and two NBA general managers described him as an intriguing project. While Ajinca, 20, would love to play in the NBA, he would be fine with getting more experience overseas first. He also said he would prefer to play overseas than in the NBDL. He has another year on his contract with Hyeres-Toulon, but he doesn't think it will be hard to get bought out. "Next season I want to play here," Ajinca said. "I don't want to go back. I played much more stronger last [season]. I added some pounds. I feel better."
Ordering a draft
An NBA GM says Memphis's Derrick Rose and Kansas State's Michael Beasley will go 1-2 in the draft, no matter who makes the picks. The GM also said Southern Cal's O.J. Mayo won't get past Minnesota with the third pick. Why? "Too much talent. He's just solid. He's not super. But he's really a good basketball player, shooter, ball-handler, defender. He's not explosive, but a good athlete. Good basketball player. I think he could start." The GM also said UCLA guard Russell Westbrook's stock is rising and he could be selected by the Sonics with the fourth pick. He added that while Stanford center Brook Lopez's stock is dropping because of a lack of athleticism and limitations on offense, he still will probably be a top-five selection because he's a "safe pick." So whom will the Grizzlies take with the fifth pick? Likely one of the following: Lopez, Westbrook, UCLA forward Kevin Love, Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless, or Indiana guard Eric Gordon.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com