The sudden ending to the NBA lockout brings relief and excitement to the Celtics’ fan base. Those feelings will eventually be replaced by anticipation and anxiety as the club quickly tries to rebuild its roster for one final title run.
The Celtics have 31 days before their opener Dec. 25 against the New York Knicks at the famed Madison Square Garden and have only nine players under contract, two of those have yet to play an NBA game.
In addition to the Big Three and Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have Jermaine O’Neal and Avery Bradley signed to contracts, while Jeff Green is a restricted free agent. JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore were drafted and have yet to agree to contracts.
As of now, the NBA Players Association will work to reform and vote to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement. Executive director Billy Hunter said that should take about “three days to a week.” The owners are expected to meet today and could also vote on the agreement by the end of the weekend.
Commissioner David Stern said free agency and training camp will begin Dec. 9, and those who followed the NFL lockout are familiar with the two occurring simultaneously. That means the Celtics will attempt to sign players to fill their six remaining roster spots while preparing for the season.
It’s not optimal for teams such as Boston, which entered the offseason with so many question marks, but president Danny Ainge will have to adjust. During that time, the Celtics could attempt to bring back the popular Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Delonte West, who are unrestricted free agents and able to sign with any team.
Nenad Krstic agreed to a deal with CSKA Moscow while other holdovers from last year such as Von Wafer, Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic and Carlos Arroyo are unlikely to return. Shaquille O’Neal retired after the season.
With 13 days before training camp begins, the Celtics’ players are likely to sprinkle back into Boston and are likely to hold some informal workouts in the coming days. The reason the team did not work out together during the lockout, according to players, was because they were scattered around the country.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce live in Southern California, Jermaine O’Neal in Las Vegas, Rondo was spending time in his native Kentucky, Ray Allen was in Boston and Connecticut, while Green was in Washington D.C. Expect those players to come together in the next several days and beginning informal practices.
As for Green, the Celtics will have to use the free-agency period to retain his services. As a restricted free agent, Green can draw offers from other clubs, but the Celtics have the right to match those offers. The waiting period for teams to respond is usually a week, but in this abbreviated schedule, it is likely to be three days.
Depending on the new salary cap, which is expected to be much like the old one, at $58 million, the Celtics could make Davis an offer or just allow him to sign with another team. Ainge said the team was interested in bringing him back. After some early murmurs about leaving town, Davis said he wants to return.
With six open roster spots, Ainge will have to chase down inexpensive veterans and perhaps a few rookies to compete for a chance to make the club. With Allen and Garnett free agents after the season, the Celtics are expected to carry a short-term mentality and sign players who can help now.
There are several free agents interested in coming to Boston such as Allen Iverson, whose representative told the Globe he would like to play in Boston. With such a small window to sign players, Ainge will have to work quickly to acquire capable talent.
He has likely spent all summer preparing for such a scenario so he will be prepared for the free-agent blitz.
As for the schedule, the NBA announced it will play a 66-game schedule, meaning eight games will have to be added to the Celtics’ slate beginning with the Christmas’ day game in New York. It is uncertain when those games would take place and whether they would compensate for the 24 games that were canceled during the lockout.
If the schedule remains intact, the Celtics would begin the season on a three-game road trip to New York, Memphis and New Orleans and would play their home opener Dec. 30 against the Detroit Pistons.