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Basketball notes

It’s time to cut minutes

Pierce on board with age-old plan

By Marc J. Spears
July 12, 2009
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Celtics forward Paul Pierce will turn 32 Oct. 13, and there hasn’t been a drop in his game, as he can still score at will. But to ensure Pierce will be able to play at a top level for as long as possible, the Celtics are expected to slice his minutes some next season. And even as competitive as the captain is, he’s not going to fight it.

“If my minutes go down, I don’t really mind. It’s all about winning at the end of the day,’’ Pierce said.

In 11 seasons, Pierce is fifth on the Celtics’ all-time list for minutes played with 30,526. That’s an average of 37.5 minutes in 813 games, not including 77 playoff contests. Pierce also averaged a team-high 37.5 minutes while playing in 81 regular-season games last season. The only time Pierce has averaged fewer than 35 minutes per game was when he averaged 34 during his rookie season (1998-99).

If you look at his effectiveness from January through April last season, it seems as if fewer minutes mean higher shooting percentages.

During six April games, Pierce averaged 34 minutes, shot 50.5 percent from the field, and made 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers. During 15 games in March, he averaged 39 minutes, shot 47.1 percent from the field, and 37.5 percent from 3-point range. During 12 games in February, he averaged 41 minutes, shot 46.5 percent from the field, and 30.8 percent from 3-point range. And during 15 games in January, he averaged 35 minutes, shot 49.3 percent from the field, and 46.3 percent from 3-point range.

“Late into the season and the playoffs, I thought a lot of times we were stuck with playing a lot of minutes because guys were injured,’’ Pierce said. “I don’t think it was meant for me to play as many minutes. I was just a victim of circumstance. Tony [Allen] goes out. Our rookies [Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens] are in the D-League, not ready. You’re kind of stuck.’’

Pierce has missed only three regular-season games over the last two seasons. Even so, he dealt with knee issues and other nagging ailments last season. Fewer minutes could help him continue his recent trend of playing in nearly every regular-season game.

“The body feels good,’’ Pierce said. “Obviously, no major injuries from a year ago, no surgeries. I know there was a big rumor of me needing surgery - not true. I feel great.

“I’ve just been doing a lot of conditioning. Getting up in the mornings, running, lifting, shooting a little bit. That’s pretty much it. Staying in shape, nothing special.’’

The Celtics made a run at Grant Hill before he re-signed with the Suns Friday. It’s evident that getting a solid backup for Pierce is important. Team president Danny Ainge said Friday he has more free agents in mind, but didn’t want to reveal them.

There is a long list of small forwards available for the $1.9 biannual exception or even less, including Miami’s Jamario Moon (restricted), Phoenix’s Matt Barnes, Jerry Stackhouse (waived by Memphis Friday), Indiana’s Marquis Daniels and Stephen Graham, Atlanta’s Josh Childress (restricted), Dallas’s James Singleton (restricted) and Gerald Green, Detroit’s Walter Herrmann, Oklahoma City’s Desmond Mason, Golden State’s Rob Kurz, San Antonio’s Ime Udoka, and Minnesota’s Rodney Carney. While some may garner more money elsewhere, playing for the contending Celtics would be an added draw that could bring a discount.

“I don’t think we’re done,’’ Pierce said. “We might add a veteran presence, maybe not. We’re going to add some more depth to our ball club at the wing position or even at the point guard.’’

The Celtics also could save their biannual for a point guard or big man by giving Walker and Giddens a chance to back up Pierce. Ainge said he was impressed by the way both played during last week’s Orlando Pro Summer League. Considering backing up Pierce would only mean 10-15 minutes per game, it may not be a bad idea to go with one of the young guys.

“That’s going to be their decision, if they bring in somebody,’’ Pierce said. “If they don’t, then they obviously see something in Bill and J.R. and Tony and they feel they don’t need to bring in somebody else.’’

Regardless, the idea of cutting Pierce’s minutes is a good one, not only next season but beyond.

Europe shows up on Marbury’s radar screen

Free agent guard Stephon Marbury, who played the end of last season for the Celtics, would prefer to be in an NBA uniform again next season. After receiving calls from Miami and Atlanta, the two-time All-Star is optimistic he will get his wish in a process he doesn’t expect to be resolved soon.

But if an NBA team doesn’t come forward to sign him, Marbury said he is open to playing overseas, and already has been contacted by three teams.

“I want to play in the NBA, of course,’’ Marbury said Friday by telephone. “It’s not like I’m a young player who can’t play in the NBA. I can still play at a high level. But if I can’t find an [NBA] team where I can play, I have to play basketball somewhere.

“It’s a long summer. The free agent market just opened . . . But I’m weighing all my options. I’m a businessman.’’

Marbury, now 32, first traveled to Europe at age 13 while playing AAU ball, and quickly fell in love with the continent. He also ventured there three times while in high school, and played in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Marbury says the “Duke-like’’ atmosphere for basketball and soccer games in Italy excited him, and a visit to a poor area in Argentina made him believe his tough Coney Island upbringing wasn’t that bad after all. If he were to play overseas, Marbury said it would be important for him to learn the country’s language and culture.

“I’m basically waiting to see what it is,’’ said Marbury, who recently said his Celtics days are over after he turned down an offer of $1.3 million, the veteran minimum. “I want to play basketball. That’s the easy part. But I have no offers.

“If [a deal] could be structured right, I could go overseas. I played overseas before. I know the experience.’’

Etc.

Pivotal question
Kendrick Perkins is expected to start at center for the Celtics next season, right? Well, while Rasheed Wallace has said he couldn’t care less if he starts, coach Doc Rivers hasn’t set the opening lineup in stone. “I’m going to let that play out,’’ Rivers said. “I’ve had plans many times as a coach and then you get in practice and you like something else. So, I just know we’ve added more talent to the team and we have enough minutes to go around for all of them. It will work out.’’ Unless Kevin Garnett is struggling following right knee surgery, there is no way that Rivers brings him off the bench. Perkins averaged 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds while starting in 76 games last season. Wallace averaged 12 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range in 66 games (63 starts) with Detroit. Wallace has started in 943 of 1,009 career games. Rivers hasn’t discussed Wallace’s arrival with Perkins yet. “We will. I’m not concerned about that,’’ said Rivers. “Perk is a great team player as well. We have pretty good guys on our team. Good role players.’’ Celtics president Danny Ainge said, “There is no such thing as being entitled to a position,’’ but that Perkins would likely enter training camp as the starter. “I feel like I know [Perkins] pretty well and that he would be excited about [the acquisition]. I don’t think it affects him much.’’

Firsthand knowledge
Boston native Will Blalock became a big fan of Wallace when both played for the Pistons in 2006-07. Blalock, then a rookie, said Wallace bought him tailored suits, and meals on road trips. While Wallace may have a tough-guy image, Blalock said Celtics fans will get to know his softer side. “When people watch games, they’re critical of him,’’ said Blalock. “They think the guy is a jerk because he gets technicals. But he’s completely 180 degrees different in person. He’s a great dad, good husband, a real good dude. When people get to know him they’ll see he’s a real good guy, too. They will love him. That’s huge for [the Celtics]. That puts them in line for another championship. I like ’Sheed’s game.’’ Since appearing in 14 games for the Pistons in ’06-07, Blalock has played in Israel, Germany, and in the Development League with Anaheim. The 25-year-old last week played for the Pacers’ summer league team in Orlando, Fla. “I can’t really say I’m not chasing the NBA dream,’’ Blalock said. “I want to find a good situation in the NBA. But it is tough. There are only like 450 jobs and I can still make a good living overseas. The only difference is I have a 3-year-old son in Boston. It would mean a lot for me to be here. I’d rather be here than in Serbia or Greece 15 hours away from here [by plane]. But [an overseas job] beats making $30,000 playing in the D-League.’’

Around the rim
Garnett and Wallace have talked about working out together in Los Angeles. Garnett lives in nearby Malibu in the offseason . . . According to a league source, the Pistons turned down a trade offer that would have had them receiving Carlos Boozer from the Jazz for Tayshaun Prince. While the Pistons have long coveted Boozer, they recently signed free agent forward Charlie Villanueva, drafted forwards Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers, and have strong feelings for Prince . . . Ainge said he was pleased with the way swingmen J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker played during the Orlando Pro Summer League, and saw them as potential backups for Paul Pierce. “J.R. and Billy have played well,’’ Ainge said. “I think they did a good job there. We see the impact. I’m very comfortable with them.’’

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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