Through the Big Three Era, the Celtics have dealt with their share of injuries. The Kevin Garnett knee ailment that robbed them of a chance to defend their title with a full squad in 2009. The Kendrick Perkins torn ACL that may have cost them a second title in 2010. And that Achilles’ tendon injury that prevented Celtics fans from seeing anything close to the real Shaquille O’Neal.
Such setbacks are customary for NBA teams; significant injuries occur all the time. But for the Celtics, the past 16 days have been a medical nightmare. On Tuesday, they lost their third player in that span to a season-ending injury, as Leandro Barbosa was diagnosed with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
Barbosa, a sparkplug off the bench who was flourishing in his increased role, was driving to the basket against Charlotte’s Ramon Sessions late in the third quarter of the Bobcats’ 94-91 win Monday when he tweaked his left knee, causing him to stop and hop on his right leg before heaving the ball to Jeff Green near midcourt.
After he released the ball, Barbosa crumbled near the photographers’ area and stayed there until he was carried off the court by rookie center Fab Melo and head trainer Ed Lacerte. After being examined, Barbosa was able to walk out of the locker room at Time Warner Cable Arena and onto the team bus.
The Celtics’ worst fears were realized when an MRI revealed the torn ligament. Like Rajon Rondo, Barbosa is expected to return to the NBA next season, but he may have played his final game as a Celtic. He signed a one-year deal and will be a free agent this summer.
In 41 games, Barbosa averaged 5.2 points and 1.4 assists, shooting 43 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from the 3-point line. He helped the Celtics greatly because of his ability to score in bunches, evidenced by his 12-point fourth quarter in a 99-95 win over the Raptors last Wednesday.
The Celtics are expected to sign one or maybe two players immediately to help with depth. In Rondo’s absence, Barbosa was helping Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, and Jason Terry with point guard duties.
The club could use another ball handler, but it likely won’t be former Celtic Delonte West, who is out of the NBA and looking for work. An NBA source said the Celtics have not reached out to West and were not pleased with his second stint as a Celtic that ended with him not being re-signed after the 2010-11 season.
The Celtics could dig into their pool at NBADL Maine for well-traveled guard Shelvin Mack, who was a draft pick of the Wizards in 2011. Mack was expected to be in the lineup for Maine’s game at Rio Grande Valley Tuesday night.
Players such as Jannero Pargo and Jonny Flynn are available.
The Celtics won seven consecutive games after Rondo’s injury, so perhaps their outlook on whether to be buyers or sellers before the Feb. 21 trade deadline has changed.
The Celtics entered Tuesday in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, just 3½ games behind third-seeded Indiana. They certainly could improve their playoff seeding, given their surge and the inconsistencies of teams such as Brooklyn, Indiana, and Atlanta.
The club may release or waive Barbosa to gain another roster spot, but unless the Celtics sign a player before Wednesday’s home game against the Bulls, they will enter the All-Star break with 10 healthy players — and that includes the little-used Melo — so president of basketball operations Danny Ainge may be working feverishly to add bodies over the next few days.