Commentary

Celtics may have to overpay for Nate

Price might be a little high, but can Green afford to let Robinson walk away?

Updated: July 13, 2010, 2:35 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

While discussing the early stages of free agency last week in Orlando, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge expressed a desire to retain the services of reserves Tony Allen and Nate Robinson.

Now that Allen is reportedly set to sign a three-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, will the Celtics overpay to bring Robinson back to the Boston bench next season?

[+] EnlargeNate Robinson
AP Photo/Charles KrupaAs one half of "Shrek and Donkey," Nate Robinson played a big role in the Celtics' victory over the Lakers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Robinson's agent, Aaron Goodwin, suggested to the Boston Herald that the two sides are working toward a deal that could be consummated by week's end.

"Things are going well," Goodwin told the paper. "We're just trying to get something worked out. But both parties are talking."

Robinson's four months in Boston were as much of a roller coaster as his time with the New York Knicks, the difference being he was never a distraction in Beantown. Acquired with Marcus Landry in exchange for Eddie House, J.R. Giddens, and Bill Walker, there was a honeymoon period upon Robinson's arrival and he got red-hot from beyond the 3-point arc, posting double-figure point totals in three of his first five games while connecting on 10 of his first 19 treys in a Boston uniform.

But Robinson registered just three more games with double-figure scoring the rest of the season, including a 12-point effort in what amounted to a glorified exhibition against Milwaukee in the regular-season finale.

Robinson's playing time evaporated in April and he drew a pair of DNPs, which reportedly cost him a $1 million in performance bonuses. He played sparingly over the first 16 games of the postseason until a rather unexpected Game 6 outburst against Orlando elevated him back into the rotation for the NBA Finals.

Those final eight games might have re-opened the possibility of Robinson's return and now, with Boston limited by the salary cap, the Celtics might ultimately be forced to pay a little more than they might like in order to keep the sparkplug around.

While the Celtics do not boast full Larry Bird Rights with Robinson, they do appear to hold non-Bird Rights, which, as Larry Coon explains in his NBA Salary Cap bible, is really a sort of Bird Rights that allows a team to re-sign its own free agent (one who doesn't qualify for the larger Bird Rights based on time with team).

With non-Bird Rights, the Celtics can offer Robinson as much as 120 percent of his 2009-10 salary ($5 million) to stay in Boston. It's unlikely Robinson would net more than that on the open market, so the two sides are likely working to find a comfortable number for both sides.

The Celtics would likely be interested in a one- or two-year deal, maybe near the same base $4 million salary he earned last year with similar performance bonuses.

The catch here is that such a deal will continue to push Boston over the luxury tax threshold, meaning the team will likely pay dollar-for-dollar on any deal they offer him. A $4 million salary essentially becomes $8 million, but clearly that number is a derivative of all the big-money contracts Boston boasts (the starting five is pegged to earn roughly $57 million next season, about a $1 million away from the 2010-11 salary cap of $58.04 million).

The positives in bringing Robinson back? By year's end he finally bought into the system and seemed to put an increased emphasis on defense, something that gave coach Doc Rivers the confidence to re-insert him in the lineup.

Robinson is a high-energy player who can score in bunches and hit the 3-pointer, something the Celtics desire from a bench player. He simply has to be more consistent to get his scoring average closer to his career mark of 12 points per game, rather than the 6.5 he averaged over 26 contests in Boston last season.

The Celtics also don't have a lot of alternatives here. If they pass on Robinson, they are limited to the veteran minimums to acquire an experienced replacement. It would be mighty hard to replace the Robinson/Allen combo for minimum deals, which range from $762,195 for a player with one-year experience to $1.3 million for someone with 10-plus years of time.

Boston did draft Avery Bradley, a defensive-minded guard, who has potential to serve as the backup point guard behind Rajon Rondo. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the Celtics could use Robinson to be more of a shoot-first player and maybe relieve him of ball-handling duties. But Boston's guards are sorely lacking in height, something increasingly vital at the shooting guard spot.

Regardless, unless Boston is content to fill out its roster with as many as five minimum players, the team might have to overpay to retain Robinson. The only way around that situation is if the Celtics can trade Rasheed Wallace's contract and net an experienced guard as part of the return package. Alas, with no indication of how Wallace's potential retirement might play out, the Celtics likely don't have the luxury of waiting, for fear of losing Robinson after watching Tony Allen walk away.

It's the typical risk/reward situation. The Celtics might spend more money than they'd like to, but as long as they can keep the length of the deal reasonable and stay on track for a large-scale changeover following the 2011-12 season (when contracts for Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Jermaine O'Neal, and, potentially, Wallace, all come off the books), then maybe it's worth another go around with Kryptonate.

Brace yourself for more of the Robinson roller coaster. Wordaapp.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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