Activity all around them
With movement, East will be beast
For the Celtics, last night’s NBA draft felt like they walked away from Christmas empty-handed, while several other Eastern Conference powers were happy to have new toys to play with, after trades and selections.
Shaquille O’Neal joined LeBron James and the Cavaliers via trade yesterday. Scorer Vince Carter was traded home to play for the Magic. If healthy, the Wizards could be very interesting after acquiring sharpshooter Mike Miller and combo guard Randy Foye. And the Hawks got even more athletic by adding score-at-will guard Jamal Crawford via trade and drafting promising Jeff Teague.
The Celtics? They didn’t have a first-round pick and didn’t make a trade. Even so, Boston expressed confidence that the moves of its East foes won’t deter its championship dreams.
“It doesn’t change anything we’re doing,’’ said Celtics president Danny Ainge. “We still have the same objectives that we did before.’’
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, “Everyone is trying to make their team better. We will, too. We’re just not going to be crazy.’’
So, what are the Celtics going to do? Well, Boston has its eyes on free agency. The Celtics are willing to use the midlevel exception (expected to be $5.6 million-$5.8 million) for the right player. Expect the Celtics’ top priority in free agency to be landing one or possibly two big men, not including the re-signing of restricted free agent forward Glen Davis.
An NBA source said the Celtics will keep an eye on such free agents as Detroit forward-center Rasheed Wallace, Phoenix forward Grant Hill, and Toronto swingman Anthony Parker. Denver center Chris Andersen (likely to re-sign), Detroit forward Antonio McDyess (likely to re-sign), Denver forward Linas Kleiza, Detroit forward Francisco Oberto (expected to be bought out), and Milwaukee forward Bruce Bowen (expected to be bought out) are also considerations.
“We will try to improve,’’ Rivers said. “That’s what we should do. We are going to keep trying to make our team better without reshuffling the deck.’’
Despite many wild trade rumors of late, including those involving Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, Ainge and Rivers say they expect the core members of the Celtics to be back. That means Rondo, Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Kendrick Perkins.
With Rondo, Perkins, and Davis continuing to improve, the Celtics’ core is actually better now than when they won the championship last year. Don’t be surprised if guard Stephon Marbury returns, too. Unless something extraordinary is tossed Boston’s way, do not expect a major trade.
“I do think we need to add a couple of pieces,’’ Rivers said. “But last year we won 62 games with Kevin and Leon [Powe] out for a lot of the season. That gives you a lot of confidence.’’
Rivers expressed optimism that Garnett will be completely recovered from right knee surgery, especially considering his work ethic.
“I’m completely confident Kevin will be fine,’’ Rivers said. “It’s not like he had an ACL injury. He’s doing fine, great. He’s doing all the rehab. You don’t have to worry about him being ready to play. He’s a beast.’’
Despite being optimistic about their own chances, the Celtics respect the upgrades of the other East powers.
“The Shaquille trade is good for Cleveland,’’ said Ainge. “He still has a lot of basketball left in him.’’
Said Rivers, “It’s a great trade for Cleveland. Shaq makes them better. We will find out how much better. They definitely got the two strongest guys on the same team.’’
On the trade that sent Carter and forward Ryan Anderson to Orlando for guards Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee, and forward Tony Battie, Ainge said, “[Carter’s] a terrific player. [The Magic] gave up some quality players. Courtney Lee is a good young player. But [Orlando] got a real talent to make them better.’’
Said Rivers, “Orlando might be [doing free agent Hedo] Turkoglu prevention; if they can’t sign Turkoglu they got Vince Carter. Vince is a terrific player. I love the guys [Orlando] gave up, especially Courtney Lee.’’
On Washington adding Miller and Foye, Rivers said, “We had a board meeting and I told them Washington improved more than anybody. Washington will be a player next year. Flip [Saunders] is a terrific coach and they had all the injuries [with Brendan] Haywood and Gilbert [Arenas]. Two of their five starters were out and they add what they added in Mike Miller and Randy, they didn’t give up a lot for that. They’re going to be a tough team to deal with next year.’’
Expect Crawford to add some much-needed uptempo play to a super athletic team that has not used running to its benefit. There may not be a better scoring backcourt than Crawford and Joe Johnson.
“Atlanta will be right back there. It’s just going to be a tough, tough conference,’’ Rivers said.
Rivers has said time and again that the East is the more talented of the conferences at the top. Now, after the additions of O’Neal, Crawford, Foye, and Miller, with Carter going to the East champs, this conference is going to be a monster to deal with. But even after an injury-plagued season and a need for some additions this summer, the Celtics are optimistic that they have a great chance next season.
“Everyone else improved, and you can make a case we took away from our team. I felt we did need to improve,’’ Rivers said. “Teams improved going into this year, so we have to make some changes, but not our core. Our core is fine. I’ll put our starting lineup up against anybody. We build around the core and we need to make moves, and that’s what we are going to do. We will be a better team.’’
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com