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Checking out a possible shopping list for Celtics

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 22, 2012
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The summer of change is approaching for the Celtics.

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are coming off the salary cap - a combined $31 million in salaries - and the Celtics have a slew of other impending free agents, allowing president of basketball operations Danny Ainge room to shape his roster for the next era.

Of course, just because the Celtics have satchels of money to offer doesn’t mean that they will attract premium players. The market this summer will not be not loaded with impact free agents, and those who are impact players won’t be coming to Boston.

Yet for the first time in years, Ainge will have money to invest. The Celtics are on the books for approximately $34 million in salaries next season if Brandon Bass returns on his $4 million player option.

That means they will have about $25 million to spend, and under the new collective bargaining agreement, they must spend at least 85 percent of the yet-to-be-announced salary cap number.

“I have always said cap space is a little overrated, but with the new collective bargaining agreement, cap space allows you more flexibility than it has in the past,’’ said Ainge.

“Again, people look at cap space as an opportunity to go get a great player as a free agent. But there really aren’t franchise-changing players in the free agent market - other than a couple of guys, and there will be a lot of teams vying for them.

“But it will be a different world than we’ve lived in the last four or five years, that’s for sure.’’

The Celtics will be buyers, and Ainge will have a chance to attract players strictly with cash. One thing he is keeping abreast of is the progress of contract negotiations with fourth-year free agents such as Kevin Love.

All fourth-year players have until Wednesday to sign extensions with their current teams or they become restricted free agents.

Russell Westbrook signed a five-year deal estimated at $80 million last week, taking him off the market, but Love is still unsigned beyond next season, and the Timberwolves are uncertain whether they will offer him a five-year maximum deal.

The money the Celtics hold can also be used to extend offer sheets to restricted free agents. Given that the list of quality free agents is meager, that may be the Celtics’ best chance of landing an impact player.

Here’s a look at some unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents and their chances of playing in Boston:

Dwight Howard - The reason his name is mentioned is that he has an opt-out clause that he will almost certainly exercise if he is not traded to his desired destination by March 15. There is no chance he comes to Boston, though, because he does not want to play here. If he did, the Celtics would roll out a green carpet from his house all the way to TD Garden. Chances: 1 percent.

Kevin Love - He seems to be a perfect fit for the Celtics, but the Timberwolves would really have to botch this one for him to become available. He is only 23, one of the game’s top rebounders and a smooth outside scorer. The Celtics would offer him max dollars, but the Timberwolves would have the right to match. Chances: 15 percent.

Jason Thompson - He has been left out of the Kings’ mix because they are loaded with big men. If the Celtics want to get younger and sign an East Coast kid (he played at Rider in New Jersey), they could take a chance on this restricted free agent, who won’t be that expensive. Chances: 30 percent.

Ryan Anderson – The Magic swingman is developing into a weapon and will cash in on a nice payday unless Orlando decides to extend him by next week. The way he can stretch the floor with his shooting is an attractive feature, and the 6-foot-10-incher doesn’t turn 24 until May. Chances: 35 percent.

Chris Kaman - He could be only a rental in New Orleans, and though it seems he’s been in the league for 25 years, he doesn’t turn 30 until April and can consistently hit the jumper off the pick-and-roll. If the Celtics are seeking a workmanlike big man with some miles left, Kaman may be their best option. Chances: 40 percent.

O.J. Mayo - Memphis has tried to trade him twice already and is unlikely to offer him an extension before next week. He doesn’t have a true position, but imagine how explosive he could be at shooting guard. He will be a restricted free agent, and at least six or seven teams will be interested, but the Celtics have the money to make a tempting offer. Chances: 35 percent.

Michael Beasley - He is in that class of 2008 waiting for an extension offer from Minnesota, but if the Timberwolves pass, the mercurial swingman could be had. He is a former second overall pick and has talent, but he would be a Doc Rivers project. His price could be manageable because of his history. Chances: 20 percent.

Pick left from Perkins deal

HIDDEN TREASURE?
The Celtics have one piece remaining from the Kendrick Perkins trade, a draft pick.

Nenad Krstic, who played 24 games with Boston, signed a four-year deal with CSKA Moscow just days after the lockout began. He could have been a key contributor if he had stayed. And Jeff Green is unavailable because of his aortic aneurysm.

But the Celtics also acquired a first-round pick from the Clippers, whose acquisition of Chris Paul dramatically changes how the pick can be used.

It is top 10 protected until 2015, and given the bright future of the Clippers, they are unlikely to finish in the top 10 for a few years. The Clippers also have Minnesota’s first-round pick, and if the Celtics decide to take the Clippers’ pick, it will be the worse of the two, so they could not claim the Timberwolves’ expected lottery pick.

If the Celtics use the pick in June - in what is considered one of the more fruitful drafts in recent memory - they can supplement their roster with two potential cornerstones.

Players such as Washington’s Terrence Ross, Duke’s Mason Plumlee, and North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller could be available with that Clippers’ pick, which could be in the late teens.

So even if the Celtics don’t do a thing this season, they could enter next season with E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson ready to make more of a contribution, plus two other rookies who likely would have been lottery picks in any other draft.

So that one draft pick - an afterthought on the day Perkins was shipped to Oklahoma City - may be the thing that makes the trade worthwhile.

Young leader boosts Bulls

COMING UP ROSE’S
When the Celtics made up 19 points of a 20-point deficit against the Bulls and drew within 67-66, Derrick Rose, turf toe and all, simply imposed his will on the game. He scored 7 straight points, using his much-improved jump shot to open up the floor for his riveting drives, and sent Chicago to the win.

While Rose is humble and unassuming off the court, he has emerged as a fiery and passionate leader on it. A team filled with older veteran players has ceded the leadership role to Rose, and in the fourth quarter of that Boston game, he made it clear he was the best player on the court and not to be denied.

Rose immediately added legitimacy to a franchise begging for an identity since the departure of Michael Jordan, and with Tom Thibodeau’s staunch defensive system, the Bulls are back as an elite club.

But it’s still hard to believe the fate of the franchise rests on the shoulders of an understated 23-year-old.

Thibodeau, the former Celtics assistant, came to the Bulls with credentials and immediately changed the tone of the franchise from the laidback Vinny Del Negro days.

“We’re not surprised by the way that we work,’’ Rose said. “We work hard, man. Everybody on our team sacrifices a lot of things and dedicates themselves. Everybody knows their roles, and that makes us a good team.’’

Before Thibodeau arrived, the Bulls were a bunch of upstarts and players with unfulfilled potential.

Luol Deng was constantly trade bait because he didn’t have a true position and couldn’t match up with the game’s top small forwards. Joakim Noah was a growing and improving player but hardly a cornerstone. Carlos Boozer was never good enough to be a primary option but now doesn’t have to be.

Thibodeau has allowed Rose to use his acrobatic skills driving to the basket and improving perimeter game to open up the offense.

Entering yesterday, the Bulls were first in the NBA in points allowed at 85.1 and first in rebounds at 46.0. By comparison, the Celtics were sixth in points allowed at 90.1 and 29th in rebounding at 38.6. The Bulls have five players averaging in double-figure scoring and 10 averaging at least 6 points per game.

“We’ve matured a lot,’’ Rose said. “You can tell by the way we played.

“Everything is rolling for us, but we know what we have to do, and that’s defense. We could care less about offense. We’re going to miss shots but definitely we’ve always got to be there every night.’’

And the Bulls are a reflection of their leader. Behind the bright smile and “aw shucks’’ demeanor is a fierce competitor, one who could make a run for his second consecutive MVP award.

“I’m used to making big shots, but it’s all about learning,’’ said Rose. “I remember years back when I didn’t know what to do in those situations. It comes from time and learning from my mistakes, and that’s definitely helped me out today. [My teammates] give me the confidence to go out there and play. They’re the reason my play is so high.’’

A Rondo pass for US team

ETC.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo released the list of 20 players who will vie to make the 2012 Olympic team, and the group did not include Rajon Rondo. It may be a message to the Celtics point guard, who dropped out of the World Championship club last summer and said he really didn’t enjoy the experience. It didn’t help that Rondo’s lack of perimeter shooting was frowned upon by coach Mike Krzyzewski, and he was passed over for Rose, Deron Williams, and Chauncey Billups. But it seems odd that he won’t be given the opportunity to at least try out for the team, since he is considered among the top five NBA point guards. Asked if he would have liked the chance, Rondo said, “I just want to see how the season goes. I represent the Celtics, that’s why I’m here. It would obviously be an honor, but it’s not even in my thought process right now.’’

Abdul-Jabbar goes global

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a global cultural ambassador, a fitting honor for one of the most intelligent men to ever play in the NBA. Abdul-Jabbar has complained in the past about his lack of coaching opportunities and was criticized by Shaquille O’Neal for not paying enough attention to him, but this appears to be a worthy honor and a more important responsibility.

Dealing from strength?

Nets general manager Billy King said he didn’t need to see any more of Brook Lopez to realize his potential at center, but he won’t offer the former Stanford standout a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent this summer. Lopez has been the subject of trade talks with Orlando for Dwight Howard, and not locking him down to a contract that could be worth as much as $16 million per season might make him a more attractive trade chip.

In another disturbing example of a former player having financial problems, Mavericks assistant Darrell Armstrong, who played with the Magic for Doc Rivers, was arrested during the team’s road trip to Los Angeles on an outstanding Nevada warrant during a traffic stop in Marina Del Rey. Armstrong, a veteran of 14 NBA seasons and once the league’s Most Improved Player, reportedly passed bad checks for $37,500 at a Las Vegas casino. Armstrong has been a Dallas assistant since the 2009-10 season . . . Stephen Jackson is perpetually unhappy at his NBA spots, and his uneasiness has already begun in Milwaukee, where he is asking for a contract extension despite having one more full season on his contract. Not helping his case is the fact that he is shooting 36.8 percent from the field and averaging nearly 5 fewer points than he did last season with the Bobcats. In Charlotte, Jackson became disgruntled after the team traded his buddy Gerald Wallace to the Trail Blazers. Jackson was supposed to provide leadership for the Bucks but has spent most of the season publicly requesting an extension, which may indicate why he has been with seven teams in his career.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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