Posted on: February 7, 2010 6:32 pm

Celtics, Allen on trade clock

Few grand conclusions can be drawn from February NBA games. But in this case, the Celtics' latest disappointing loss only underscored what has been a poorly kept secret among NBA executives for weeks: Ray Allen's time in Boston is likely coming to an end.

Thanks to a non-competitive third quarter, the Celtics fell to Orlando 96-89 on Sunday, dropping them to third in the East behind the Cavs and Magic. The struggling Celtics still have three games against Cleveland to prove they haven't fallen from elite status. But after going 1-3 against Orlando and 0-4 against Atlanta, the Celtics have reached a crossroads in their bid to milk one more championship banner out of the Allen-Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett era.

Don't bet on every member of the Big Three being around beyond the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

Though team president Danny Ainge has publicly ridiculed the Allen trade reports, several NBA executives told CBSSports.com that the Celtics have been actively trying to parlay Allen's $19.7 million expiring contract into an asset that could keep them in the mix during the upcoming playoffs and also help them for the next several seasons. The most recent inquiry, sources say, involved Sacramento sharpshooter Kevin Martin, who'd be a good fit with Boston's remaining core. Kings officials might be talked out of their reluctance to deal Martin if they could pry a prolific big man out of a third team brought into the discussions or in a separate transaction before the deadline.

The bottom line is that Ainge, who saved his job by pulling off the perfect storm of trades that yielded Allen and Garnett three years ago, has made it clear in private conversations that he's "not going back to the abyss," according to one person familiar with the discussions. 

"Danny has said, 'I can't go back to square one where we were prior to the Garnett deal,'" the person said. "At the All-Star break, they’re going to look in the mirror and say, 'Cleveland got better, we can't beat Orlando, and we can't even beat the Hawks. We’re not going to win it this year.'"

If the Celtics kept Allen and let his contract come off the books, they'd still be over the cap this summer with no avenues besides sign-and-trades to acquire a starting shooting guard. That's why Boston also has expressed interest in the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, an excellent defender and ball-handler who would give the Celtics a starting two guard next season at $9 million and in 2011-12 at $8 million. The Bulls' motivation would be cap relief.

The Kings, who are not planning to be big free-agent shoppers this summer, aren't seeking to acquire cap space alone. They want assets -- and the Celtics don't have a young big man to offer. The Bulls, who almost certainly will move Tyrus Thomas, might need to be invited into that conversation to satisfy everyone's needs.

Whatever avenue they pursue, the Celtics don't want to go into this summer with no cap flexibility and no assets that could be used to keep them among the elite. Before Ainge struck the 2007 draft-related deal for Allen and then plucked Garnett from Minnesota with the help of former teammate Kevin McHale, the Celtics had just endured a 24-win season and hadn't been out of the first round since 2002-03. Ainge and Doc Rivers were on the brink of getting fired until the perfect remedy presented itself -- and the Celtics parlayed the Allen and Garnett deals into their 17th NBA title.

"Kevin McHale's out of the league," one rival executive said, only half-joking. "So they're not going to be able to recreate that deal again."

The period leading up to that was so grim that nobody in the organization wants to revisit it. The best way to avoid such a scenario would be to part ways with Allen. It wouldn't be starting over. Instead, it would be a bold attempt to have a chance against Cleveland, Orlando, and Atlanta in the playoffs and avoid going back to the depths of rebuilding.

Posted on: January 28, 2010 11:22 pm

More Celtics-Magic drama to come

What did we learn from the Magic-Celtics game Thursday night -- a late-January game with little significance in the standings?

We learned that we want some more Magic-Celtics drama in the playoffs. Here's hoping we get some.

There was Jameer Nelson taking out his All-Star snub on Rajon Rondo early in the game, followed by Rondo proving why he's a first-time All-Star with a steal and key basket late in the fourth. There were J.J. Redick and Paul Pierce exchanging 3-pointers, followed by Rashard Lewis bursting past a limping Kevin Garnett for the go-ahead basket with 1.3 seconds left.

This game had it all, the way an Orlando-Boston playoff series would have it all once again. You had the Magic coming back from a 16-point deficit, then defending the final inbounds play so Rondo couldn't get the ball to Allen or Paul Pierce, but instead got it to Rasheed Wallace, whose buzzer-beating 3-point attempt for the win was off.

You had Garnett, clearly not himself, dragging his bum leg around to the tune of six points on 2-for-8 shooting in 33 minutes, and Vince Carter continuing to struggle in his role with 2-for-13 shooting and six points.

My instinct at this early point in the journey? The Magic can and will survive Carter's inconsistency because they're so deep and versatile. Stan Van Gundy has more lineups than Craig Sager has suits. The Celtics are a different story. They're a team built on defense first, and Garnett isn't close to being right. The Magic can get by with Carter having an off shooting night, and they can get by if they jack a few too many threes. They can get by with Jason Williams running the point and with Dwight Howard missing free throws.

The Celtics can't get by without a healthy, impactful Garnett. There would be nothing better than Garnett getting back to some semblance of himself, because the Celtics and Magic in a seven-game playoff series in May would be just about as good as it gets.

They meet again a week from Sunday in Boston, their final head-to-head matchup of the regular season. These two teams can't play each other enough, as far as I'm concerned.
Posted on: December 23, 2009 4:57 pm

Are the Celtics getting old before our eyes?

Kevin Garnett missed Tuesday night's game against Indiana with a thigh bruise. Pretty innocuous stuff. But on Wednesday came news that Paul Pierce underwent an arthroscopic irrigation on his right knee to clean an infection.

That doesn't sound good at all.

Pierce will miss the Celtics' four-game road trip, which begins with Friday's nationally televised Christmas Day game against Orlando. Though no structural damage was found in Pierce's knee, the Celtics say he could be sidelined up to two weeks.

The Celtics (22-5) have the best record in the East and second-best in the league after the Lakers (23-4). Friday's game could've been a chance to avenge a home loss to the Magic back in November. Instead, they find themselves limping toward 2010 with their fingers crossed.

Both KG and Pierce presumably will be fine. But it's worth remembering at this point that age and brittle bones are not the Celtics' friends. Among the elite teams, nobody relies more on aging veterans than the Celtics.

Pierce is 32 and has logged more than 31,000 minutes in the NBA. Garnett will turn 34 during the playoffs, and his odometer reads 40,000 and counting. Ray Allen is 34 and has launched more than 15,000 shots -- and that's not counting the tens of thousands in practice. Rasheed Wallace is 35 and has more than 1,000 NBA games in his rear-view mirror. And let's face it, Sheed isn't going to be signed as a pitchman for a longevity clinic any time soon.

I'm not suggesting that KG's bruise and Pierce's infected knee are cause for grave concern. I'm just noting that, you know, these guys are old.

Posted on: November 10, 2009 7:02 pm

Howard's blog is fine-worthy

Dwight Howard is one of the most accessible superstars in the NBA. He's on Facebook and Twitter, and has his own blog. He flew his 1 millionth Twitter follower from California to Orlando and provided two lower-level tickets for the season opener against the 76ers.

Now, Howard's social networking skills have cost him $15,000. The NBA has fined Howard for criticizing the officiating in a blog post he wrote last week. Howard vented after fouling out during the Magic's 85-80 loss to the Pistons on Nov. 3.

"I was on the floor for 16 minutes and fouled out!!!" Howard wrote. "Let me say that again: 17 minutes and six fouls!!!" (It was actually 16:49, but who's counting besides Stu Jackson?) "How can that be, ya’ll? It was crazy. They called me for a charge on a flop, a push off when the defender was on me, and two fouls on blocked shots. ... I haven’t played that little in a game since I was 10 years old in pee-wee ball."

A few thoughts: 1) Social networking has made life even more perilous for players who want to stay in touch with fans and do so honestly; 2) I wonder what I would have to write in this blog to get fined by the NBA? So far, all I get are occasional cage-rattling phone calls; and 3) I wish Rasheed Wallace had a blog. 
Category: NBA
Posted on: September 30, 2009 2:07 pm

Jameer on Delonte: 'He's in my prayers'

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jameer Nelson played three years at St. Joseph's with Delonte West, toiling endlessly in practice and forming a strong bond, not to mention a prolific backcourt. Never once did he know or suspect that West was dealing with mood disorders or depression.

"People don’t look at us as having problems because we are professional athletes," Nelson said Wednesday after practicing with the Orlando Magic. "They look at us as the guys that go out there on the basketball court. We have outside life as well, and things can go on in your life that would trigger you to act a certain way. We’re human just like anybody else."

Nelson said he spoke on the phone with West several times during the summer, and nothing seemed wrong.

"He seemed well," Nelson said. "But you can never tell over the phone how somebody is doing."

Now, as West has spiraled into his second day of unexcused exile from the Cleveland Cavaliers' training camp, Nelson's calls have gone unanswered.

"I know he’s going through a lot," Nelson said. "It’s tough on a young man to go through. We all go through things and we handle things differently. I just hope that he gets through it."

Few NBA players can appreciate the depths of West's despair the way Nelson can. Not only are they friends and former teammates,  but Nelson also has endured more than his share of hardship. Only weeks before the start of the 2007-08 season, Nelson's father, Floyd, died accidentally while working as a welder for a tugboat company on the Delaware River. He was 57. Nelson suffered through his pain and grief while trying to do his job as a professional basketball player. And so he wants to be there for West, when his former teammate is ready.

"He's in my prayers," Nelson said. "I know this about Delonte: He’s a strong person and he's a great person. I don’t want anybody to think because of what’s going on and what happened to him that he’s a bad person. He’s a great person, and people need to understand that."
Posted on: August 6, 2009 5:47 pm
Edited on: August 6, 2009 7:13 pm

Lewis suspension should be warning to NBA

I tend to believe Rashard Lewis when he says that he tested positive for a banned, testosterone-producing substance as a result of not reading the fine print on his nutritional supplements closely enough.

If Stephon Marbury can eat Vaseline, then anything's possible.

Lewis getting suspended for 10 games without pay for violating the NBA's drug policy isn't Armageddon. This isn't Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, or even Big Papi we're talking about. If you've seen Rashard Lewis lately, Thin Lizzy is more like it.

But what this should be is a cautionary tale for everyone -- including David Stern -- to file away in the memory banks. Every time he's been asked about the NBA's drug testing policy and its stance on performance-enhancing drugs, Stern has scoffed at any notion that the NBA has a steroids problem in any way, shape, or form.

Eerily, the tone he uses in these forums reminds me of the dismissive tone he used in defending the integrity of his referees whenever it was questioned. Then, Tim Donaghy happened.

I'm not saying that the equivalent of roided-up Donaghys are juicing up under the radar in the NBA. Hardly. But it's wrong to assume that only bodybuilding, power lifting, football, baseball, track and field, and swimming have steroid problems. The marketplace for performance-enhancing substances is diverse, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of them readily available that do more than make your biceps blow up like party balloons. There are perfectly legal substances that help muscles with recovery, endurance, and the kind of explosive movements that basketball players use to make a very substantial living. The problem is that nobody knows for sure exactly what is contained in those supplements.

If an aging NBA player who's made millions in his career with his speed, quickness, and agility had a chance to get one more contract by taking something to preserve those abilities, do you think he would do it? If he thought the substances were legal, of course. If he thought they were borderline but that he might get away with it, maybe.

Stern may be right, and the NBA may have the best, most thorough, and most successful drug testing program in the universe. I disagree with my colleague, Mike Freeman, that the Lewis suspension is only the tip of the iceberg. I don't think so at all. But I caution you that the area of performance-enhancing drugs and unregulated or loosely regulated nutritional supplements is not one where overconfidence and arrogance are advisable or even acceptable.

And I offer a piece of advice to every other NBA player taking nutritional supplements. Read the label, and get the stuff cleared with the NBA or the players' association before you ingest it. It's not worth the embarrassment, not to mention the lost pay from the suspension.

Category: NBA
Posted on: July 6, 2009 11:07 am

'Sheed gets green

Rasheed Wallace intended to spend the weekend contemplating which of the three teams that wanted him to visit with next. By Sunday night, he decided there was no point. 'Sheed wanted to be in green.

"The important thing is that Rasheed felt this was the best fit for him," Wallace's agent, Bill Strickland, said on the phone Monday. "And he decided, 'Let's not waste other people's time.'"

San Antonio, Orlando, and Dallas were hoping Wallace would delay his decision and hear what they had to say. But when Wallace called Strickland Sunday night, he'd already decided that Boston was where he wanted to sign what likely will be the last contract of his career. It's for two years at the mid-level exception of about $5.6 million annually.

The Celtics' star-studded recruiting pitch, spearheaded by Kevin Garnett, certainly paid off. Wallace was sold on being a complementary piece on a star-laden, championship-ready roster, and was wowed by coach Doc Rivers' presentation on how he would fit in.

"He has respect for the organization, likes the players and respects their abilities," Strickland said. "He has a certain affection for and is sort of a kindred spirit with K.G."
Posted on: July 3, 2009 7:23 pm

'Sheed receptive to Celts, but will shop

Rasheed Wallace was receptive to the Celtics' All-Star recruiting pitch, but will be listening to other teams before deciding his future, a person with knowledge of the discussions told CBSSports.com.

The pitch Thursday in Detroit, attended by Celtics players, coach Doc Rivers, president Danny Ainge, and managing partner Wyc Grousbeck, impressed Wallace and was termed "very good meeting." Contract parameters were discussed -- it is believed Wallace would get the mid-level for 2-3 years -- but Wallace wants to hear other offers. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cavaliers have yet to contact Wallace, indicating their lack of interest. San Antonio has expressed interest, and the Orlando Sentinel reported Friday that the Magic have contacted Wallace's agent, Bill Strickland.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com