Choosing veteran talent over youth, the Celtics completed a trade with the Seattle SuperSonics during the NBA draft last night, acquiring 31-year-old shooting guard Ray Allen and the No. 35 overall pick in exchange for small forward Wally Szczerbiak, point guard Delonte West, and the No. 5 pick.
Selecting for Seattle, Boston picked Georgetown forward Jeff Green at No. 5. Seattle general manager Sam Presti confirmed the deal midway through the first round.
‘‘Boston really pursued this,’’ Presti told reporters in Seattle. ‘‘What started as a smaller conversation became fulfilled. Their pursuit was impeccable.
‘‘We’re thrilled to have [No. 2 pick] Kevin [Durant], but at the same time to make the decision to move a player and a person like Ray Allen was tremendously difficult.’’
Allen gives the Celtics one of the best shooters in the game, though scoring has not been a problem for the team. While Paul Pierce may be smiling knowing the Celtics listened to his long-held preference for an experienced player, it remains to be seen how the All-Stars will work as teammates. Both Pierce and Allen like the ball in their hands. The other question about Allen concerns his health, considering he underwent surgery on both ankles in early April to remove bone spurs.
‘‘I wasn’t surprised,’’ said Allen, who learned yesterday that a Seattle-Boston deal was becoming increasingly likely. ‘‘I took it in stride. I know the team has been floundering in the Northwest the last couple seasons. It almost seemed appropriate for a change at this point. It seems like this organization is heading in a different direction.’’
With regard to playing alongside Pierce, Allen, when reached by telephone last night, added, ‘‘I’m a chameleon. I’ll adapt wherever I go. One of my best attributes is to assess the situation and not try to force my personality on the team. I know it’s Paul Pierce’s team. I just want to fit in and make the team better the best I know how.’’
While Allen has averaged 21.5 points over a 10-year NBA career and shot 45 percent from the field, including 45 percent from 3-point range, the seven-time All-Star believes he can contribute more than offense.
‘‘There’s more to me than the ability to shoot it,’’ said Allen, who has three years worth $52.2 million remaining on his contract. ‘‘It’s about being professional and doing your job every day. I can teach young players to step up and be great at their jobs. I can [be a part of] providing leadership, giving Paul that help.
‘‘We both can score, but I don’t think we have to have the ball in our hands to score. I can score without the ball. I look at scoring in different ways. The ball doesn’t have to be in my hands. I have a responsibility when I’m on the floor to know what every other player can do and put them in good situations.’’
But the true value of the trade may be in what Boston avoided giving away. The Celtics still have Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract and Al Jefferson. Prior to the draft, executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge acknowledged that he planned to remake the Celtics during the offseason. The draft undoubtedly marks the start of a makeover that could stretch until training camp.
With big-name players such as Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, and Shawn Marion still available, the Celtics kept assets that could attract teams such as Minnesota, Indiana, and Phoenix. Garnett could resurface as a possible addition with the courtship of the Timberwolves forward beginning anew July 1. The addition of Allen could make Garnett look at the Celtics’ situation differently than before the draft, when he was reluctant to join Pierce and a collection of young talent.
While news of the trade and the acquisition of Allen did not excite fans gathered for the team’s draft party last night at TD Banknorth Garden, the combination of, let’s say, Pierce, Allen, and Garnett certainly would. But if Boston still has Garnett in its sights, the team will face tough competition from several other teams. The combination of Pierce, Allen, and Jefferson perhaps will be a slight improvement from last season. Obviously, adding a third veteran piece would set the stage for a significant leap.
Other aspects of the deal that should not be overlooked are the fact that Ainge needed to unload one of the remaining members of the draft class of 2004 that included Jefferson, West, and Tony Allen. With Ainge reluctant to part with Jefferson, and Allen recovering from knee surgery, West was the logical choice. Second, with West gone, it appears Sebastian Telfair may have reentered the good graces of the Celtics, at least to some extent. Telfair now stands as Boston’s backup point guard to Rajon Rondo, though coach Doc Rivers always leaves starting jobs open to competition during camp.
There is also the strong fan base Allen carries from his days at the University of Connecticut.
Healing well from his ankle surgeries, Allen hopes to spend some time in September working out at UConn in preparation for training camp. Until then, he will give his body as much time as possible to recover. Allen expects to be 100 percent when camp starts in October.
When asked for predictions about how the Celtics will fare next season, Allen said, ‘‘That’s a hard question. It’s not always about the team. It’s also about the league. I’ll reserve judgment.’’
NBA observers will do the same when it comes to the Celtics, especially since the acquisition of Allen may be a prelude to bigger deals.