WALTHAM - The uncertainty during the first two days of Celtics camp is a positive sign. It indicates that they are working to improve immediately, shuttling players in and out to position themselves for a legitimate championship run.
The roster, as it was a few days ago, was good enough to win the Atlantic Division, and reach the second round of the playoffs, but not much beyond that. The Celtics had to get younger and more productive off the bench. Last season’s experiments involving Troy Murphy, Von Wafer, Sasha Pavlovic, and Carlos Arroyo failed miserably.
And late Friday night, the Celtics even explored acquiring free agent David West, a pick-and-pop swingman who could greatly boost their offense. The cost would only be the expiring contract of center Jermaine O’Neal, whom the Hornets likely would trade to another club seeking cap space for next summer.
The potential West trade had to be acknowledged after yesterday’s practice, and although coach Doc Rivers couldn’t mention specific players, he did say the Celtics are waiting for free agents to decide on offers.
The Celtics likely would offer West a three-year deal, a risk in that he is coming off left anterior cruciate ligament surgery in March. Reports have indicated his recovery has progressed smoothly, but it apparently has been an issue with some teams.
According to an NBA source, the potential Chris Paul trade to the Lakers is holding up the West deal, so players are in limbo, including O’Neal, who practiced yesterday with the Celtics. With an expiring contract and bad knees, O’Neal realizes he’s trade bait, especially when the Celtics could land a proven scorer who is only 31.
“If it was a deal to New Orleans, I am sure it would be a third team. My stop wouldn’t be New Orleans,’’ said O’Neal. “They are not trying to get older, they are trying to clear cap space.
“At this point in my career, I don’t think any young team that’s trying to get under the cap would trade for me. I’m not concerned about that. If I’m not in Boston, I am going to be where I can win a championship.’’
West averaged 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds last season, teaming with Paul to give the Hornets a formidable offensive duo. But he opted out of the final year of his contract, seeking a longer, more lucrative deal. He then tore his ACL, missing the final two months of last season.
Leave it to Celtics president Danny Ainge to pursue West when other large-market teams are bypassing him or chasing bigger carrots. The Heat signed Shane Battier Friday night, and the Knicks acquired defensive stopper Tyson Chandler from the Mavericks yesterday. The Nets, meanwhile, are hunting for Magic center Dwight Howard, who requested a trade yesterday.
The action in the Eastern Conference is ramping up, and the Celtics needed to respond. Ainge has said on several occasions that he has no plans to watch the Celtics age quickly, and become insignificant. Adding West would greatly improve the Celtics’ chances of competing whenever Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen depart.
Ainge already has added Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox, and Marquis Daniels, giving the Celtics a solid, versatile bench. Bass was at practice yesterday, slapping hands with his new teammates. He is not allowed to work out with the team until physicals are completed and the NBA approves his trade from Orlando.
Change is expected in the NBA, and in this situation it is embraced.
“I think this whole league is in a bunch of uncertainty at this point, and I fall in line with that,’’ said Garnett. “A lot of people here, both in the office and players, don’t know what it is. So we sit around and we just wait.
“Last year was last year. It was definitely a motivating factor coming in. But it doesn’t take much to motivate this team. I’m glad we re-signed Jeff [Green], we got some great solid guys, Keyon. We just saw Brandon. So I’m looking forward to this year. I’m embracing everything.’’
Rivers indicated he was unable to field a full 10 players for practice because some weren’t allowed to work out and Paul Pierce skipped the session because of a minor heel injury. But come Dec. 25, the Celtics will field and full and productive roster. Ainge will make sure of that, but it is likely to involve more changes.