Danny Ainge, Celtics Look Ahead to Uncertain Summer With Lockout Looming Over NBA

Danny Ainge, Celtics Look Ahead to Uncertain Summer With Lockout Looming Over NBA This is a pivotal offseason for the Celtics, no doubt.

Doc Rivers is back and will be for the next five years, and Rajon Rondo is similarly signed long-term as a franchise cornerstone. But beyond that, a lot is in doubt.

This will likely be the final season that we see Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Jermaine O'Neal together with captain Paul Pierce in Celtic green, and therefore it might be the last time in a long while that we view the C's as serious championship contenders.

Before they can make their plans to pursue that championship, there are plentiful questions to be answered. They need depth, they need youth and they need an army of capable big men who can come off their bench, get rebounds and make plays defensively.

But they can't answer any of those questions now, with a lockout approaching.

The Celtics have a mere six players under contract — the aforementioned five starters plus the young Avery Bradley — and when the NBA's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) bites the dust on July 1, they'll be forbidden from improving upon that core group. Their current players will no longer be employees, and any prospective newcomers will be unable to negotiate with the C's.

This is a tough time to be Danny Ainge, the man who only wishes he were allowed to retool his Celtics this summer.

"It doesn't really change our approach," Ainge said. "It's the same for everybody. We're all in this situation. Nobody wants to not be doing business as normal, but we're patiently waiting and preparing for the time that we will be doing business. We don't know what the rules will be, or maybe they stay the same, who knows, but we'll be prepared. We're in the same boat with every team."

That's true. But not every team has the same urgency that Ainge and the Celtics do. With Garnett, Allen and O'Neal all coming off the books in 2012, there is a very clear and present danger of his team's title window closing. It's now or never for the C's.

Some GMs can sleep easy every night knowing that one way or another, it'll all work out. But for Ainge, the man who built this Celtic team in the summer of 2007 with multiple championships in mind, there's immense pressure.

There are guys out there who can help this team. The draft yielded a pair of promising Purdue Boilermakers in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, but more importantly the Celtics need veterans. They need players who are prepared, both physically and mentally, for the rigors of chasing a ring.

"We're prepared," Ainge said. "We have a long list of guys that will be our priorities. In free agency, the challenge is to get out of the gate fast and let everyone know you like them and how much you want them to come. But so much of it is dependent upon our obligations contractually with players. We don't have a lot to go chase free agents. We have try to go get free agents that want to come play here, maybe for a little less money in some cases. Chase a lot of minimum contracts, like we did last year with [Shaquille O'Neal] for example. Free agency is a challenging ordeal, but we'll be prepared for it."

The Celtics were over the salary cap last summer but achieved an extraordinary level of success recruiting minimum-salary free agents. Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West and Von Wafer all agreed to come to Boston on the cheap. Then when buyout season rolled around in late February, Ainge also recruited Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic and Carlos Arroyo.

It was quite the haul. But all of the above players are looking uncertain for next season, so Ainge might need to strike gold on the open market again.

It's a daunting task, and it's even more daunting when the Celtics' exec has no idea when — or how — to begin.

Someday, the C's will resume their quest for Banner 18. Someday.

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