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Celtics kept intact

Ainge opts for one more playoff run

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 16, 2012
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SAN FRANCISCO - Rajon Rondo practically danced through the hotel lobby Thursday afternoon as the Celtics prepared to board a bus for Friday’s game with the Sacramento Kings. He doesn’t have to concern himself with trade rumors for at least another four months.

“Am I still a Celtic?’’ he said with a wry smile, fully knowing the answer. The Celtics stood pat at NBA trade deadline as teams around them were making last-minute deals. The biggest news of the day was a player who did not change locations - Orlando center Dwight Howard - who waived his early termination option and will remain with the Magic for next season.

The Celtics’ Big Three will remain intact for at least one more playoff run after team president Danny Ainge rebuffed offers and resisted the urge to break up the veteran core to add pieces for the future. NBA sources said the asking price for Ray Allen, the most popular Celtic among other clubs, was high, and the teams’ recent stretch of eight wins in 10 games encouraged the brass to take no action.

“I didn’t feel any stress in our locker room,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “I said that before. They just kind of did their jobs. We’ve been through it. Our guys have a veteran team but I thought our guys were really calm and cool about the whole thing, so that was good.

“We know with us, we just have a small margin of error for injury. We can’t sustain any others. If we stay healthy, I like our team.’’

Ainge said he worked the phones until three minutes before the 3 p.m. Eastern deadline, but none of the trade offers were attractive enough to sacrifice the present.

“What prevents any trade is at least making two teams in the deal happy and satisfied that a deal is worthwhile,’’ Ainge said. “We were close to a handful of different types of trades, from small to bigger, but just couldn’t be resolved. That happens often.’’

Rivers and Ainge indicated the team will pursue a big man or perhaps two in the coming days via contract buyouts or waived players. Former Celtic Chris Johnson, whom Rivers lauded just last week when the Celtics played the Trail Blazers, was waived Thursday by Portland in its slew of roster moves, and could be available.

And the Celtics remain interested in Chris Kaman, the Hornets center who may be headed for a buyout.

The center position is unstable because Chris Wilcox needs surgery to repair an enlarged aorta and will miss the rest of the season, and Jermaine O’Neal has missed the last 11 games with a sprained left wrist.

O’Neal was supposed to decide whether to have season-ending surgery or minor surgery that would include playing in pain or a cortisone shot. Rivers doesn’t think O’Neal will be back this season.

“I don’t [see it happening]. We’ll see, but I don’t,’’ Rivers said. “I haven’t talked to him at all, to be honest.’’

Ainge said he has a meeting scheduled on Friday with O’Neal, who is working out at the team’s Waltham practice facility. Ainge said he has not counted O’Neal out for the season, but is unsure whether he will play.

The Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season. Paul Pierce and Rondo declined to comment on the lack of moves, but there is a quiet confidence that they can make another playoff run.

“The pattern so far is our team has shown up for big games,’’ Ainge said. “Nights when we get a rest we play better than nights we don’t get rest. We have a lot of games in not very many days, so I anticipate looking really good some nights and bad some nights.

“I have a lot of faith in our guys that they know the time and the score, and they know when the lights are on they rise to the occasion in big moments. They have a great deal of pride and experience and know-how, so I’m hoping we can get to the playoffs healthy.’’

Ainge said he remained confident that his team would correct its early-season issues, and was not determined to make a deal.

“If I saw opportunities for us to improve in the future, fast-forward a process that could take longer, we would do it,’’ he said. “If it was an opportunity to really improve our team and shorten the time period of rebuilding, we would look into it, but really nothing that really excited us.’’

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