He had no plans to appear at the doorstep of Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Antonio Daniels or Shareef Abdur-Rahim at 12:01 this morning when teams could officially start talking to free agents. He pulled that stunt two years ago in pursuit of Karl Malone.
This time around, Ainge will follow a more traditional strategy and work the phones from his office. He will call Antoine Walker's agent, Mark Bartelstein, along with a lengthy list of other team and player representatives. The Celtics promise to be proactive in free agency, though they can only do so much with just the midlevel exception, worth about $5 million, available. The big issue facing the Celtics is how to use the midlevel exception. Do they offer it all to one player they really want? Do they divide it up in hopes of landing a couple of players? Ainge won't have an answer to those questions until he sees how the free agent market shapes up.
The movers and shakers will be teams with the most anticipated cap room, including Atlanta (about $24 million), Seattle ($21 million), Cleveland ($21 million), Charlotte ($20 million), Los Angeles Clippers ($11 million), New Orleans ($11 million), and Milwaukee ($9 million). The franchises with money to spend will set the market.
"I do not anticipate we will agree [to terms] with anyone on July 1," said Ainge. "There will be a lot of negotiations and posturing. We have a good idea of what people will be around. We have some needs and we'll try to fill those needs. We want shooting in the frontcourt. We want basketball IQ. We want to improve our point guard play."
Given the wish list, some free agents who might be a fit for the Celtics could include: forward Swift, forward Abdur-Rahim, point guard Earl Watson, Maccabi Tel Aviv point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, forward Scott Padgett, guard/forward Bobby Simmons, forward Brian Scalabrine, point guard Dan Dickau, point guard Jeff McInnis, guard Larry Hughes, and point guard Travis Best.
The Celtics hope that by the time teams can officially sign free agents July 22, they get lucky again and land a player or two who will add valuable experience to a young team. With Boston exercising its option on Justin Reed yesterday, and soon to sign first-round pick Gerald Green, the team will have 11 players under contract for next season. Coach Doc Rivers and Ainge seem fairly certain second-round pick Ryan Gomes will be on the roster at the end of camp. That would leave two spots available before Boston reaches the 14-player minimum.
It remains to be seen whether Walker will fill one of those places. Gary Payton will not be back next season. Ainge does not plan to call Payton's agent, Aaron Goodwin, today and said with regard to the veteran point guard, "We're moving in a different direction." When Ainge calls Bartelstein, there will not be an offer. That would be too premature. Plus, Walker expects more than the midlevel exception, though he may not have a suitor among the teams with money to spend.
Walker's experiences in Dallas and Atlanta taught him the value of playing in a city such as Boston. But does that value equal or even come close to what the Celtics might offer? Again, that remains a question to be answered in the weeks ahead.
"We'll see what happens," said Bartelstein. "He'd love to be back in Boston. We'll see what their plans are going to be. Danny did a masterful job bringing Antoine back last year. I think it saved the season.
"There's a certain magic with Antoine being back with the Celtics. Our hope is Danny would want to keep him so he can be part of the Celtics' future. We're hoping to follow through with that, but we'll have to see how the market plays out."
A look at the Celtics' payroll for the 2005-06 season. So far, the team is committed to more than $48.9 million. (First-round pick Gerald Green's salary is projected.) The league's projected salary cap is $45 million. Figures will be determined after the new collective bargaining agreement is finalized.
Tony Allen $969,600
Vin Baker $5,243,333
Marcus Banks $1,724,280
Mark Blount $5,515,875
Ricky Davis $5,909,800
Gerald Green $1,000,000
Al Jefferson $1,512,840
Raef LaFrentz $10,623,288
Kendrick Perkins $936,480
Paul Pierce $13,843,156
Justin Reed $620,046
Delonte West $1,010,040