LOS ANGELES - The Celtics’ brass understands the enormity of the next few days in terms of the team’s future.
They have three future Hall of Famers who are in their mid-30s and two of them have expiring contracts. The Celtics also want to avoid the draft lottery as they rebuild and move forward from the Big Three era.
So management’s activity before Thursday’s trade deadline could determine the state of the franchise in the coming years, and whether the Celtics remain a contender in the Eastern Conference. Co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said he believes the team is playing better and could be a contender this season.
“I just had lunch with Doc [Rivers] and he was saying he likes the way they’re playing and they’re coming together and I do, too,’’ Grousbeck said. “I see energy and heart. I do see [Sunday against the Lakers] as a game of energy and effort and we could have won it. We didn’t. I like the way they’re playing.’’
Grousbeck said he is aware of the Celtics’ brand and the team’s tradition.
“I asked for this responsibility and we, the ownership group, asked for this responsibility, we take it really seriously, we feel like we are trustees of something that’s bigger than ourselves,’’ he said. “The Celtics mean a lot more than the current ownership. It’s a legacy and we want to take good care of it. It’s not always obvious what you should do. When it works out you get one of these shiny [title] rings and it’s awful nice, but we’re always looking for the next one.’’
Grousbeck and team president Danny Ainge will have to determine when to break up the Big Three.
“Everybody knows Danny is listening to what’s out there,’’ Grousbeck said. “Everybody knows we feel very sentimental about this team and also feel like they’ve got possibilities this year and we just have to see what happens. We love this team and we have to think short term and long term at the same time.’’
No backup plan
Backup center Greg Stiemsma has been pressed into an even more demanding role with the injury situations of Chris Wilcox (out indefinitely after a heart exam) and Jermaine O’Neal, who has been out 10 games because of a wrist injury. Stiemsma played 22 minutes in Monday’s 94-85 win over the Clippers with a sore right foot sustained Friday against the Trail Blazers.
With little depth at center, more is going to asked of Stiemsma, who was signed in training camp from the Sioux Falls Sky Force of the NBA Development League.
“Yeah, I am just going to play him and I’ll keep an eye on him running by me,’’ Rivers said jokingly. “Other than that, he’s not doing great but we don’t have another option right now. And the one thing I went and told him is if it’s to the point where you just can’t play, then you have to tell us. Other than that you have to play injured. We don’t have another body.’’
The tension is obvious with Thursday’s trade deadline approaching. The Celtics have several players with expiring contracts - which could be used as trade pieces - including Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and O’Neal.
Ainge said nothing is imminent, although Rivers believes the players are handling the situation well, especially Rajon Rondo, who has been the subject of rumors since December.
“I don’t worry about the trade deadline, it’s coming and there’s nothing I’m going to do about it,’’ Rivers said. “So I don’t worry about that. I don’t think our guys worry about it a lot. They only get asked about it, 15, 20, 30 times a day. So that’s it. But I don’t think it bothers them that much. If you’re human it bothers you a little bit. But I think a lot of the guys have been through it and as a coach I can’t wait until Friday.’’
Pushing and shoving Lakers mammoth center Andrew Bynum was a difficult chore for Garnett, especially for 35 minutes in Sunday’s 97-94 loss. Rivers said he planned to limit Garnett’s minutes against the Clippers, but Garnett ended up playing 34:23. The Celtics have Tuesday off and play Wednesday at Golden State.
The Celtics’ goal is for Garnett to average 30 minutes but he has been logging heavy playing time since returning from a two-game absence because of a family issue last month.
“I have to get him back to the 30 number, no matter what,’’ Rivers said. “So we’re hoping somehow we can get away with other guys on the floor. I usually don’t do that in back-to-backs with Kevin but I just thought that was a hard game, going against Bynum, those were hard minutes. So I want to try to keep him off the floor as much as I can.’’Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.