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Celtics’ team color may be a deeper green

DANNY AINGEWants “Big Baby’’ Davis back DANNY AINGEWants “Big Baby’’ Davis back
By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / July 15, 2009
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Maybe since 2KSports made Kevin Garnett the cover boy of its NBA/2K9 video game last year, the Celtics star could ask the company to make a special edition that pits the 2008 NBA champions against Boston’s projected 2009-10 team. It would be the only way to see which is better. But Celtics president Danny Ainge doesn’t need any video game proof. His money would be on the future squad, with newcomer Rasheed Wallace on the roster.

“Yes, definitely I think we’re a better team now,’’ Ainge said yesterday.

That proclamation has merit.

Though led by an All-Star trio of Paul Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen, the 2008 champs had two greenhorn starters in point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins. Now, Rondo and Perkins are talented veterans with the potential to get a lot better while playing alongside “The Big Three’’ for a third straight season. An argument could be made that Rondo is the most talented point guard in the Eastern Conference. The 23-year-old was a triple double waiting to happen in the 2009 playoffs and would have made All-NBA first team if it were based just on the postseason. Perkins is an underrated defensive force who gave Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard fits last season. Perkins continues to improve offensively, too.

“I think Rondo and Perkins’s improvement has been dramatic,’’ Ainge said.

Maybe the biggest issues off the bench for the Celtics last season were a lack of length and depth at forward and center.

While late addition Mikki Moore had height, he was never able to give the team a spark. As for Wallace, he’s not a spark, he’s a forest fire. The 6-foot-11-inch, 230-pounder has length, can score inside and deep outside, rebounds, and plays tough defense. The two-time All-Star is playoff tested with an NBA title (2004) on his résumé, and can hit big shots. The 2008-09 co-leader in technical fouls also brings an added ferocity and swagger to an already confident team.

On the feeling around town since the addition of Wallace last week, Ainge said: “I do feel an enthusiasm again. People are excited like they were two summers ago.’’

Ainge’s excitement is also due in part to the confidence he has that free agent forward Glen Davis will be back.

Davis showed his value by doing a solid job filling in during Garnett’s absence during the regular season and particularly the playoffs. Davis averaged 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds as a starter in the postseason and knocked down a game-winning buzzer beating jumper against Orlando in Game 4. Davis, 23, is working out in Houston and said he has been losing weight doing martial arts and pushing his shooting stroke to 3-point range. Big Baby also will take part in USA Basketball’s minicamp next week in Las Vegas.

“We like him and want him back,’’ Ainge said about Davis. “We’re trying to get Glen back. We’re planning on having Glen back.’’

The problem for Boston is other teams are also interested.

Detroit, Utah, Cleveland, Charlotte, Dallas, and New Orleans also covet Big Baby. The Pistons recently dealt two players to Denver to clear salary cap space and are trying to make another medium deal to gain more money to sign Davis to an offer sheet, according to an NBA source. Detroit and New Orleans might have to work out a sign and trade to make such a deal for Davis happen.

So how much should Davis be paid? One NBA team liked Davis more than newly signed Magic free agent forward Brandon Bass, who received a four-year, $18 million deal. Utah restricted free agent forward Paul Millsap, who is regarded slightly higher than Davis, signed a four-year, $32 million offer sheet with Portland that could be matched. Don’t be surprised if Davis signs an offer sheet that will challenge Boston, which is over the luxury tax and recently signed Wallace to a three-year, $18 million deal.

Ainge still has a $1.9 biannual-exception contract that could go to a small forward to backup Pierce or fill another need. The Celtics must be careful using that exception because of Davis’s situation. Even if a new small forward is not brought in, Boston has two young players in J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker who have the talent to fill the void. Ainge said guard Tony Allen, who could play some small forward, should be recovered from ankle surgery in August.

Ainge still hasn’t decided whether to exercise Gabe Pruitt’s $825,497 Aug. 1 option for next season, but he liked how the guard played in the Orlando Pro Summer League. It’s also uncertain whether Boston will sign second-round pick Lester Hudson for the season or ask him to go overseas. But Ainge said it’s possible both could be on the roster for the upcoming season. While the Celtics have had regular discussions with other teams, Ainge said nothing is imminent on the trade front.

“Our options are somewhat limited,’’ said Ainge, who is in Las Vegas for NBA competition committee meetings and to scout summer league play. “We still feel like we can help our team. We are exploring trades and free agency. Right now in free agency, there are still a lot of guys left.’’

Ainge said Garnett (right knee surgery) and everyone else on the Celtics is expected to be “100 percent’’ and ready to go by training camp. Health was the major problem as Boston was bounced by the Magic in the second round last season. But if the team can stay healthy and keep Big Baby in the fold, Ainge likes the chances of becoming NBA champions once again.

“Our team is good,’’ Ainge said. “We need to get healthy. We added Rasheed. We are going to add players that are going to make us better.’’

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

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