A moment of great opportunity. Or one of great concern.
The Hall of Fame threesome — plus Rajon Rondo — is still intact. Veteran center Jermaine O'Neal and second-year guard Avery Bradley are players Nos. 5 and 6 on the roster, and team president Danny Ainge will likely tie the knot with JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore soon after Dec. 9, when free agency is set to begin.
Beyond that, the walls are blank.
Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Jeff Green, Delonte West — they're all free agents in some capacity. The rest of the guys from the 2010-11 lineup (Sasha Pavlovic, Nenad Krstic, Carlos Arroyo, Von Wafer and Troy Murphy) have either jetted overseas or probably aren't worth re-signing ahead of what'll likely be Boston's final shot at a title with this core.
So, what to do? And how does the new CBA hamstring or help Ainge with each decision?
Let's deal first with the 6-foot-9, 290-pound elephant in the room.
Glen Davis: Sign him
Yes, I know he fell apart in the 2011 playoffs, but that was an anomaly in an otherwise career season. Baby topped personal bests in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and free throws — and, despite his sometimes perplexing antics, proved he's tough by taking 46 charges.
Problem is, all the above means Davis will be highly coveted. In this case, the new CBA works both for and against Boston.
The tentative agreement restricts teams over the luxury tax threshold (Celtics included in that group) to a $3 million mid-level exception, while all others can use up to $5 million. That means Ainge would have to use "real" cash to keep Davis.
The CBA does, however, retain so-called Larry Bird rights, allowing the Celtics to offer Baby a larger, longer-lasting contract than any other team.
In other words, Ainge and the Boston brass would likely have to dish somewhere in the $5 million to $6 million range to keep the power forward. Given the 2012-13 season will bring a major restructuring (Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will no longer be under contract), that's a small price to pay for a seasoned, still-young power forward who can be a 15-and-10 guy every night.
If nothing else, signing Davis allows Ainge to engineer a sign-and-trade. If the Celtics simply let him go to the highest bidder, they get nothing in return.
Jeff Green: Sign him
As with Davis, plenty of Celtics fans have their reservations about this kid. He's the face of the Kendrick Perkins trade, after all, which many feel cost Boston its shot at the 2011 championship. It didn't help that the forward under-performed, struggling to find his rhythm in the Celtics' more plodding offensive system.
But with enough minutes and a lot more confidence, Green's a central piece in the Celtics' plans for the future. He can take the ball to the hoop. He can shoot from outside (36 percent from the 3-point arc over his last three seasons). He's a solid defender with great wingspan and lateral speed. He's precisely the kind of guy Boston will need to compete with LeBron James and the Heat in the coming years.
Under the new CBA, qualifying offers remain essentially the same. Ainge already put a one-year, $6 million proposal on the table for Green, and will be able to match anything pricier that comes down the line.
Delonte West: Sign him
Because of his injury-riddled past and mental-health concerns, Delonte will be available for far less than he's worth. We're talking probably less than $1 million for a guy who at times looked better than Rondo down the stretch of the 2010-11 campaign. Mind you, Rondo was suffering from plantar fasciitis and then a spaghetti elbow, but still.
What's more, the new CBA will allow Boston to pick up additional reserve guards on the super-cheap. That should relieve any concerns that West could get injured and leave Rondo without a viable backup.
If Johnson and Moore don't begin the season in the D-League, the above signings would leave the C's with three open roster spots. Given he's already in luxury-tax land, Ainge will likely fill those spots with the mid-level exception (the bi-annual exception can only be used by non-taxpayers, so that's no longer an option) and a couple of veterans looking for a final title shot.
Mid-level exception: Jason Richardson
The 30-year-old has said he's willing to take a pay cut to compete for a title. Does that mean he'd take $3 million to be a sixth or seventh man in Boston? Maybe not. But if it does, the Celtics would suddenly have a second-unit backcourt of Richardson and West. Can you say "offense"?
If that fails, take a swing at Michael Redd or Anthony Parker. They're both free agents looking to add a ring before retirement.
Veteran deal: Kwame Brown
Don't look at me that way. Brown is coming off one of his better NBA seasons, averaging eight points and seven rebounds in just 26 minutes of play. The Celtics desperately need a legitimate center behind the oft-ailing O'Neal, who won't start all 66 games of the regular season. Sure, the 29-year-old's not a great defender and doesn't score much from outside the paint, but he's likely the best option for the price.
Veteran deal: Grant Hill
Tell me this guy doesn't fit into the Celtics philosophy. He's old, it's true. Thirty-nine, to be exact. But he started 80 games in Phoenix last year and didn't show many signs of wear, averaging 13.2 points and 4.3 boards. At 6-foot-8, he's become almost a better defender with age, forcing opponents to a 37.6 percent field-goal mark against him, according to Synergy Stats. He also played under Doc Rivers while both were in Orlando.
Those deals would give the Celtics one of the best second units (West, Richardson, Green, Davis and Brown) in the conference and leave the balance sheet mostly clean for the 2012-13 campaign.
Have your cake and eat it, too. One more title with the Big Three, and hope beyond their departure.
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