ORLANDO — If LeBron James spurns the Miami Heat and returns home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Danny Ainge deserves some of the credit.
After all, Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, helped facilitate a three-team deal Wednesday that helped the Cavaliers clear enough salary cap space necessary to acquire James.
Though Ainge was more concerned with his own team in the deal, such a move could ultimately be considered another juicy chapter in the vicious Celtics-Heat rivalry. For Ainge, it could also be considered potential payback to Pat Riley.
Riley, the Heat’s president, became enraged last year when Ainge said that James should be embarrassed for complaining to the officials.
In a statement issued through the team, Riley said, “Danny Ainge needs to shut the [expletive] up and manage his own team.”
Although Celtics fans may enjoy seeing James potentially bid farewell to South Beach and a bitter rival, Ainge said he won’t be doing any celebrating.
“No, I don’t take any pleasure in anyone’s pain,” Ainge said Thursday before the Celtics’ 76-67 summer league win over Orlando at the Magic’s practice facility.
“I know this is a tough business and free agency and [it’s] all part of what we all go through. I certainly don’t take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them.”
Ainge also said, “Wherever LeBron goes, the team is a contender. That’s how good of a player he is.”
Because the NBA’s moratorium was lifted Thursday, Ainge could formally discuss the deal involving the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Brooklyn Nets that freed up more than $20 million in cap space for the Cavaliers.
“Who knows what’s going to happen with Cleveland?” Ainge said. “It could end up being a good deal for them. We’re all waiting to see what’s going on with their cap space. I wish I was in their position.”
The Celtics acquired a future first-round pick from Cleveland, along with center Tyler Zeller. They also received guard Marcus Thornton from the Nets.
“I think Tyler was a good get for us,” Ainge said. “We are short on centers and we like the way he runs the court. He can make shots, complement our guard play. A 7-footer that knows how to play is very good.
“Marcus can bring us some scoring, probably a bench scorer, and can really get hot in stretches — [he] had a 42-point game last year. He’s a guy that can shoot the ball from the 3-point line and adds shooting and depth to our team.”
More importantly, the Celtics were able to use their $10.3 million trade exception before it expired Saturday. That exception was gained through last summer’s blockbuster deal with the Nets.
“It was not burning a hole in our pocket,” Ainge said. “This was a perfect situation where we were, at a time in place, and it worked.”
But Ainge said that until James — and likely Carmelo Anthony — commit to teams, free agency is in a logjam. “Sure, I think things start moving once the top guys are out of free agency,” Ainge said.
For now, the Celtics have some roster decisions to make. They will soon have 17 players under contract and will be above next season’s luxury tax line of $76.8 million.
“We have a competition everywhere,” said Ainge. “We have, I don’t know, 17 guys now under contract — maybe more. So we’ll see how that goes.”
Wait, maybe more? Will they be adding bodies?
“I don’t know,” Ainge said. “It’s 17 or 18. I lost track.”
The Celtics finalized deals with their two first-round picks, Marcus Smart and James Young. Ainge said the team hasn’t made any decisions on the future of their players with non-guaranteed deals — Phil Pressey, Chris Babb, Chris Johnson, and Keith Bogans.
Pressey is the most pressing issue, as his deal becomes fully guaranteed July 15, meaning the Celtics would owe him $947,276 next season.
Ainge added that guard Avery Bradley’s four-year deal worth $32 million should be finalized in a couple of days.
“Avery is a big part of our future,” Ainge said.