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Ainge may buy into a buyout guy

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 24, 2011

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OAKLAND, Calif. — The Celtics have made it no secret that they are in pursuit of a small forward before today’s 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline, but the reason they are unlikely to find one is the same reason many bigger-market teams are unable to make major deals.

The Celtics don’t have the assets to offer downtrodden teams looking to dump salary because they have invested most of their money in core players. Last February, the Celtics had some unwanted parts in J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker, and a declining Eddie House, which they used to nab Nate Robinson.

This time, they don’t have the resources to get a capable backup to Paul Pierce without giving up a key rotation player. There are two impending free agents to offer to clubs for salary cap relief: Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins, and the Celtics would be hard-pressed to win a title this year without either of them.

The biggest carrot they have is rookie Avery Bradley, a Danny Ainge favorite who would be a solid addition to a young, growing team looking to cultivate cornerstones.

Do the Celtics want to lose a potential backcourt mate for Rajon Rondo to get an additional piece in the run for title No. 18?

The Celtics are offering Robinson, who has another year on his contract at $4.5 million, and Marquis Daniels, who has an expiring $2.3 million contract.

But for a team to deal with the Celtics, it would need encouragement to take on Robinson’s deal, in the form of a draft pick. Boston’s first-round picks over the next couple of years are likely going to land in the mid-20s — not valuable commodities.

Bradley is the team’s most marketable young player, the type that would encourage Cleveland to part with Anthony Parker. But Ainge is very wary of sending away Bradley for a rental player.

If the deadline passes without the Celtics making a move, don’t be distressed. The addition could come after the deadline — as it did last year with Michael Finley, who did have not much impact.

There almost certainly will be a handful of veteran players such as Troy Murphy who will be bought out when the deadline passes. They will have until March 1 to sign with a team and be eligible for the playoff roster.

Murphy is an interesting case. He is a rebounding power forward with 3-point range who can stretch the floor. He was a salary dump in the three-team trade last summer among New Orleans, Indiana, and New Jersey and never meshed with new Nets coach Avery Johnson.

The Celtics are one of those elite teams that will be on the list of every bought-out player who wants a chance to win a championship. So that will be to their advantage. It also means they are likely to waive Daniels to open a roster spot, with Daniels likely given a chance to make the team next season when he recovers from a bruised spinal cord.

Daniels and his representatives are well aware of this possibility; Ainge created such quandaries by filling his roster with 15 players. But his pickings will be meatier once teams that acquired players for salary dumps complete the buyouts.

Ainge will find a creative way to bring in a new player, someone who could help greatly down the stretch. But the possibility of Shane Battier is slim because of his $7.35 million contract and the fact that the Rockets aren’t particularly interested in anything the Celtics have to offer.

The Celtics haven’t inquired about Rip Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince of Detroit, but Ainge would jump at the chance to sign Hamilton in the unlikely event of a buyout.

Hamilton is owed $24 million by the Pistons, and the franchise is going through an ownership change. They aren’t moving Tracy McGrady because they are chasing the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

So hold tight and control your anxiety as the trade deadline approaches. The Celtics have the opportunity to acquire a solid player, and that is most likely going to happen via a buyout. And that may increase their chances of acquiring a more talented and better-fitting player.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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