WALTHAM — With the team’s practice facility open to players today for the first time since the end of the NBA lockout, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers addressed the media on the upcoming season. To their left a display case showcased the jerseys of the starting five that won the NBA title in 2008, the starting five that Rivers has often pointed out has never lost a playoff series.
Today, Ainge and Rivers can officially begin the process of assembling a starting five, and a complete roster, that can compete for another title.
“We have a list of players that we’d like to get,” said Ainge. “Right now there’s a lot of money out there, lots of teams with cap space. Players are waiting for big pay days. We just have to be patient.”
Ainge said that the team’s greatest need is size, but said that he’s also got a backup point guard and wing positions to fill. He said the team has eight players he considers signed, not including the two players the team drafted in June. Ainge said the Celtics are not close to signing any free agents or completing a trade.
On the trade rumors involving the team’s starting point guard and Hornets point guard Chris Paul, Ainge said, “[Rajon] Rondo will be fine. Rondo knows that we love him. He knows that we like him. He’s excited to come back and play basketball in my opinion. He gets a lot of attention. He’s a great player. There’s a lot of people that call me and ask me about Rondo. How these rumors get out is unfortunate. We didn’t leak those rumors out. He’ll deal with it, he’ll be fine.”
Asked if he anticipated trading Rondo or any of the team’s other three All-Stars, Ainge said, “I don’t anticipate that, no.”
Said Rivers, “I think he’s one of the top point guards in the NBA. I think Rondo has established that. There’s a reason when this thing leaked out that it was all over the news. It’s because both players they were talking about were really good. He is a great basketball player, and he does so many things for our team. He should be flattered in a lot of ways that this is news.”
Ainge said Rondo wasn’t the only Celtics player drawing interest from other teams.
“I field a lot of calls about players on our roster,” said Ainge. “Trade rumors are part of the world we live in. It’s a media circus out there. Everybody’s been in trade rumors and everybody will. If you’re worth your salt you’ll be mentioned in a trade somewhere along the line.”
The Rondo rumors were the big story, but the Celtics do have other business to attend to, and they don’t have much time to do it before training camp begins here Dec. 9. The Celtics will begin camp with eight players, with Jeff Green — a restricted free agent — expected to show.
Ainge said he has spoken to the representatives of free agents Delonte West and Glen Davis.
“That would indicate we have some interest,” he said.
Even if players show up today, Rivers said he’s prohibited from working with them for now.
“I think we have a really professional group, at least the guys we have,” said Rivers. “They’ll be in the gym. I think that’s who they are. I think they’ve been in the gym, quite honestly . . . I’m thrilled to be able to do my job again. I am really looking forward to this season. We’ve just been kind of in a holding pattern. In Danny’s case, trying to fill out the right roster for us. Now we can do that.”
While their exact amount of cap space is unknown, the Celtics know they won’t have a lot of it. One way the Celtics will be able to fill out their roster is with a mid-level exception. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can sign players from other teams to a full mid-level exception but cannot use that money on their own players. There is a smaller mid-level exception that offers teams more flexibility, which Ainge said he’d probably use instead. Ainge said he would not use the amnesty clause — which allows teams to cut a player without his salary being counted against the salary cap — on any current player. The only player eligible would have been Jermaine O’Neal.
The Celtics have extended a qualifying offer to Green, but Ainge would not comment on whether the team would like to offer Green a long-term deal, saying only that the Celtics like him a lot.