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On basketball

It’s selling points that add up in this game

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 1, 2011

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SALT LAKE CITY — The next few days in the NBA may call to mind highly touted high school prospects announcing their college choice by placing that school’s cap on a table in front of family and friends in the gym of their high school.

Troy Murphy will determine whether to don a Heat or Celtics cap, as will Mike Bibby. Rasual Butler already apparently has decided to sign a letter-of-intent with the Bulls.

It’s that time, when contending teams looking for that final piece have to sell themselves to players who have just been bought out by their previous teams, and it’s a unique situation because money is inconsequential — the only salary any team can offer is the veteran minimum.

Celtics fans wondering why president of basketball operations Danny Ainge practically gave away Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to the Cavaliers may have their answer the next few days. The Celtics have two roster spots remaining (and Chris Johnson on a 10-day contract), and they are likely to fill those with recent buyouts.

The Knicks just waived guard Kelenna Azubuike and are working on a buyout of former lottery pick Corey Brewer, who would interest the Celtics greatly because of his height and defense off the bench.

Bibby passed up his entire $6.2 million salary for the 2011-12 season to become a free agent and leave the Wizards. His brother-in-law is Heat guard Eddie House, and Miami needs a point guard after Chauncey Billups exposed its backcourt during Sunday’s Knicks win.

The Celtics were successful with a buyout recruitment three years ago when they signed Sam Cassell, who was waived by the Clippers. It didn’t help out so much when they brought in Stephon Marbury, and last season’s Michael Finley acquisition was a wash.

But there is talent on the market this season because of the slew of trades in the past week. Brewer doesn’t turn 25 until Saturday and was squeezed out of playing time in Minnesota and buried behind Carmelo Anthony in New York.

Murphy averaged a double-double last season with the Pacers and can shoot the 3-pointer despite his 6-foot-11-inch frame. His skills would bring an added dimension to the Celtics.

Bibby, who perhaps would have to place an apology ad in the Globe if he signed with Boston because of his infamous “fair weather fans’’ line, still can distribute and shoot from the perimeter despite having lost a step or two.

There is more at stake for the Celtics than in previous seasons. Finley was on his final legs when he signed last March and he was exposed by Shannon Brown in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. But the Celtics’ bench could use another boost, and the chance to play for coach Doc Rivers and win a championship will loom large with veterans.

Murphy has the longest drought of any player in the league without making a postseason appearance. There were thoughts he would sign with the Magic because he is represented by Dan Fegan, who also represents Dwight Howard and Jason Richardson, but Boston may be the best fit.

And it’s up to Rivers to convince these players that the Celtics are their best opportunity to play and win.

“It’s the nature now, you have to go and call and beg and get your players to call,’’ he said. “It’s the way it is. That’s why coaching college would be no fun I guess. The difference, at least you hope, is you’re not doing it with kids, you’re doing it with adults at least and there’s a difference there.

“You knew this year would be a big buyout year with the looming labor stuff. You knew a lot of [teams] would look at those deals and try to get out of them. Everybody anticipated that this would be an active buyout year.’’

The opportunity to win a championship speaks volumes and Rivers is one of the more popular coaches in the league. There are several opposing players who would relish a chance to play for him.

The Celtics aren’t just looking for these guys to sit on the bench and wave towels. Depth is needed with the plethora of injuries they have suffered over the past few months, and there are more potential contributors out there than in any previous year.

The recruiting skills of Rivers and Ainge will be on display this week, and as one NBA general manager noted recently about Ainge, “He hasn’t missed yet.’’

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

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