Celtics principal owner Wyc Grousbeck said via e-mail last week that he has given Danny Ainge the green light to use whatever becomes of the mid-level exception in the next collective bargaining agreement. (There is one rumor that it will be divided into two exceptions, with the total being the same, around $5 million-$5.5 million. "If there is a mid-level exception or similar way to spend money on a veteran, Danny is authorized and encouraged to use it," wrote Grousbeck. "He has a current confidential plan to use it, in fact."
Team payroll will be an issue. The Celtics have nine players under contract, not counting Justin Reed (who has a club option for next season) and Vin Baker , who is still on the books for $5.3 million for the next two seasons. Gary Payton won't be back ("He's Rod Strickland in different clothes," said one league personnel man) and Antoine Walker , a free agent, had better be prepared to take a substantial cut from the $14.625 million he made last year. The Celtics could play hardball with Walker and offer him the mid-level, knowing he won't get more than that in the open market. The other option is a sign-and-trade.
As for the team captain, one league official said last week, "Right now, there is no demand for Paul Pierce out there. None."