Mailbag: The Celtics' missing piece

My letter carrier hates trade season. This week's mailbag was overflowing with questions about the upcoming trade deadline (Feb. 18) and what the Celtics might do to strengthen their roster entering the second half of the season.

Readers suggested a smorgasbord of potential targets from Kevin Martin to Andre Iguodala to Caron Butler. Even more suggested dumping salary
(read: Ray Allen) hoping to land an All-Star talent in the offseason in the shade of Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade, or LeBron James, but those thoughts are a little misguided.

Let's start with the big picture: I'm not sure Doc Rivers has made it through a press conference in the past three weeks without stating how much he likes this year's team. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has stressed that Boston is focused on winning a world title and doing whatever it takes to reach that ultimate goal, but that doesn't necessarily mean blowing up the team amidst recent struggles.

As stated in this space plenty of times before, barring long-term injuries, I believe the Celtics are content to simply make minor alterations to their roster and feel that with the proper balance of health and motivation, this team can compete with anyone, even as currently constructed.

As eager as opposing teams may be to obtain expiring contracts, and thereby setting themselves up for a charge at the prized free-agent pool this offseason, I don't believe the Celtics will move Ray Allen.
Sure, the 34-year-old Allen is struggling and the knee-jerk reaction is to assume he's washed up and should be moved for younger players.
But, if he returns to form, there's not a player on the trade market who will help this team more in the postseason than Allen. And there's something to be said for continuity and chemistry.

Alright, bring on the trade talk (or use the handy quick-navigation below to hop to a different topic):

Get THIS guy! | If I Coached the Team | Loose Balls | Lightning Round

Get THIS guy!

Q: Please start the rumor of the Celtics going after Sacramento's Kevin Martin. They could get him if they agree to take Andres Nocioni's contract on as well. Here's the deal: Ray Allen, Tony Allen, J.R.
Giddens for KMart, Nocioni, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim's expiring contract, plus a swap of first-round picks. Money works for both teams.
Sacramento gets rid of two long-term deals, plus pairs a great shooter with an expiring contract next to Tyreke Evans. The C's would have KMart locked up to 2013!!! Start the rumor, let's make it happen!!! -- Matt (Millinocket, Maine)

A: ESPN's Trade Machine literally exploded when I tried to put this one through, particularly since Abdur-Rahim's career was pretty much over before the new Big Three were even united in the summer of 2007. Amazingly, the deal appears to work, which makes you one of the few to suggest a legit trade. I still think the deal leans a little too heavy in Boston's favor, especially since Martin's contract is reasonable through 2012-13. All of which leads me to believe a third team would have to get involved to even consider it.

Q: Why hasn't anyone mentioned the possibility that Ray Allen's expiring contract could be turned into a long-term deal on a stud free agent like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, or LeBron James? Ray's salary of
$18.8 million is a pretty sizable contract to be able to offer those guys, no? Maybe I'm missing something with the Celtics' cap situation, but it would seem to me that they could slot one of those guys right in. I'd imagine that even if they got more money elsewhere, they'd play with Garnett and Pierce for the chance at a championship. -- Scott (Vallejo, Calif.)

A: We'd need an entire mailbag to explain all the moving pieces of the NBA salary cap and, heck, we won't profess to be experts on it yet, either (the Collective Bargaining Agreement is daunting). But, in a nutshell, it's not as simple as clearing Allen's salary and re-appropriating on another player. Remember, too, Boston has already committed $62.2 million (including Pierce's $21.5 million player
option) for seven players (Boston is spending $85.2 million this year). Due to Larry Bird Rights, the Celtics can go over the salary cap to re-sign Allen, but wouldn't have the ability to add a similar contract (especially one that would likely require a max deal).

Q: Do you see the Celtics making a move before the trade deadline to acquire a power forward to relieve Kevin Garnett? -- Josh (Wayne, Mich.)

A: The Celtics have always shown a desire to solidify their frontcourt for the home stretch, and P.J. Brown played a monster role during the championship season of 2007-08 (and we all saw how much the Celtics struggled in the postseason without injured Leon Powe adding depth there last season). Given Shelden Williams' fall from the rotation, it would seem Boston would keep their eyes open for a cost-efficient, defensive-minded forward to slot behind Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, and Brian Scalabrine.

Q: Given that the Celts have an open roster spot and need additional scoring off the bench, and with the Wizards potentially being broken up, do you think there is a possibility that Danny Ainge might deal for either Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison? Maybe trade Glen Davis as part of the package? -- Scott (San Francisco)

A: I don't see the Wizards' interest in that deal (especially with Davis entering the final year of his extension next season, no matter how modest his current salary is), but it speaks to a larger point. A lot of readers have jumped off the Davis bandwagon this season and I think people need to hang in there. Sure, he's been head-shaking frustrating at times this season, with his incidents on and off the court. But I keep reminding people this is someone who averaged 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in the playoffs last season, while filling in for Garnett. He's going to be a major factor in the Celtics' frontcourt moving forward, and you just have to hope that 1) his production returns as his thumb continues to heal, and
2) he keeps his focus on basketball and not the extracurricular.

Q: Can you please incorporate into one of your articles that Danny Ainge needs to do all that he can to go after Rudy Gay for next season. The new Big Three of Rondo, Gay, and Perkins. Keep Ray Allen and make him your sixth man. -- Zack (Warren, R.I.)

A: Gay is certainly an attractive player given his current bargain salary ($3.28 million this season), but, on the open market, I'm not sure he'll be priced in a position for the Celtics to obtain.
Boston really needs to rely on those cap-friendly deals like Marquis Daniels inked this past offseason, where the player comes for short money with a chance to win a ring and improve his own value. But I love that others are already thinking of Rondo, Perk, and Player X as the next Big Three. I'm on that bandwagon.

If I coached the team...

Q: As the Celtics keep losing games down the stretch, do you think Doc will try something different? How about decreasing minutes for Glen Davis and giving Shelden Williams and Rasheed Wallace a chance to produce? -- Nick (Auburn, Mass.)

A: Shelden Williams? Really? That's the solution? A guy who hasn't taken off his warm-up jersey since Jan. 14 (eight straight
DNPs) and who is in danger of being remembered solely for a hysteria-causing, false-alarm Tweet? But I see where you're going, Nick. Remember, there's no need to slam the panic button just yet. The minutes are far more valuable with Davis, who might be struggling to find his form from last year's postseason, but should slowly adapt after missing 27 games with a fractured thumb on his right shooting hand. As we mentioned above, hang in there on Davis.

Q: The Celtics need to be more aggressive, drive to the hoop, draw fouls, and not keep shooting those 3-pointers. That's hurting them a lot. Go for higher-percentages shots. -- Mark (New York City)

A: Boston is directly in the middle of the pack in 3-point shooting at 35 percent (tied for 14th best in NBA). But consider this:
Boston is also 15th in the league in 3-pointers attempted. Sometimes it just feels like that number is inflated due to the struggles of Ray Allen, Eddie House, and Rasheed Wallace. But Rivers continues to stress that he's more likely to pull a player who doesn't shoot an open 3-pointer than one who keeps missing those open looks.
And those shots have to start falling, eventually.

Loose Balls

Q: Why didn't the Celtics just break out Paul Pierce's magic wheelchair? -- Don (New York City)

A. Lakers fans are still bitter about Pierce being carted off in a wheelchair after suffering a right knee sprain during the third quarter of Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals -- only to return before the end of the frame and lead Boston to a 98-88 victory. Pierce certainly tends to sell injuries like professional wrestlers react when they get hit with steel chairs.

Q: Your blog regarding the Celtics-Magic game is absurd. For you to whine about officiating when the Celtics get every call is ludicrous.
Name one foul during that game that wasn't justified. You can't. -- Chris (Melrose, Mass.)

A: I don't recall whining about the officials (though Wallace's "And One!" technical was a joke) and I don't think the zebras played too big of a role in the Celtics' loss, but if you're looking for a phantom foul call, watch the tape of Kevin Garnett's "foul" on Marcin Gortat with about eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Doc Rivers could only shake his head after watching the replay on the video board. He didn't even touch him.

Q: I don't understand your observation that Rose most deserves the All Star start over Allen Iverson. Rose is certainly an unstoppable, dynamic scorer but, considering other facets of a point guard's game, namely passing and defense, how in the world can you put him ahead of Rondo? Maybe in the future, but this season we must not be watching the same games. -- Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.)

A: No, I'm with you, Thomas. I believe I said that Rose simply deserves a spot more than Iverson, not necessarily the starting spot.
Rose had a fantastic January (averaging 23.1 points and 6.4 assists, while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor), but I'll agree that Rondo is more deserving of the start.

Q: When did Pete Maravich play for the Celtics? Did he wear No. 7?
-- Dave (Boston)

A: Maravich spent the final 26 games of the 1979-80 season with Boston, averaging 11.5 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. That was Larry Bird's rookie season and Boston went 61-21 and won the Atlantic Division title before falling to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Ironically, he wore No. 44, two seasons before Ainge took over that jersey. (Ainge would later wear No. 7, Maravich's number in New Orleans, in Sacramento). Read more on Maravich target="new">HERE.

Q: Chris, why the long face? Time to change your photo because, man, you look like you're breaking bricks, not writing sports. Can you please smile, dude? -- Brian (Boston)

A: ::Sigh:: The only question/comment I get more than trade proposals is about how bad my mug shot is. I'm changing it up soon enough. Get your jabs in while you can.

Lightning Round

Q: Do you think getting back Marquis Daniels will solve a lot of the problems the Celtics are having right now? -- Ben (Santa Clara, Calif.)

A: I do. I think the absence of Daniels has dramatically affected the Boston bench, which, in the preseason, was regarded as one of the team's biggest strengths. As Daniels regains form, I expect the bench production to soar. All those extra minutes for Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace will pay dividends.

Q: Are the Celtics good enough to go to the Finals? -- Michael (San Antonio, Texas)

A: If healthy, yes. And I really don't think it's going to take a major move for them to make it there. That said, I don't think this team can just flip a switch in the postseason, and we'll need to see more consistent play over the final half of the season for them to be truly considered championship contenders.

Q: Chris -- Do you think the other players will rally behind what Rondo said or do you think it will rub guys the wrong way? -- Jimmy (Roxbury, Mass.)

A: They won Wednesday night, right? I love the way Kevin Garnett stepped in to field the chemistry question posed to Rondo after Wednesday's game. KG cleared the air with one 30-second response and all is well again in Ubuntu-Nation. Of course, winning games is the ultimate cure for all discord.

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.