The Celtics’ desire for help turned into a pressing need yesterday when tests revealed for certain that Leandro Barbosa will miss the rest of the season with a torn left ACL.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge was already looking to fill out a roster thinned by injuries to starters Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger when Barbosa pulled up on a drive late in the third quarter of Monday’s loss in Charlotte. Ainge promised to add players by the Feb. 21 NBA trade deadline, but now he has to move faster.
“All three of them are real blows to us,” said Ainge. “First of all, we lose our star player and then Jared and then Barbosa. That’s devastating. We’re short on guards now, and we have to bring someone in. We have players we like in the D-League, and we have a little more than a week before the trade deadline. And we’ll explore all of that.
“Immediately we will probably bring someone in on a 10-day contract, and we’re going through all those names. There’s a lot of names actually, but it’s going to be very difficult to replace Leandro Barbosa.”
“Immediately” will likely mean the end of the All-Star break that starts tomorrow, and in terms of free agents, the Celtics are looking beyond the D-League and the U.S. border.
“There are guys playing all around the world, and I need to figure out when they may become available with their contracts,” said Ainge. “So there’s a lot to go through here.”
In addition, he must also weigh what he can sign now as a free agent against what could be available between now and next week.
“The problem with trades now is we don’t have enough bodies to trade,” Ainge said. “Like, we can’t afford to trade a big for a guard. It’s not like we have an excess amount of anything. We have nine or 10 players, and we’re not trading draft picks unless someone really special becomes available.”
Add to all this the fact the Celtics’ position against the final luxury tax level — a hard cap for them — leaves them able to essentially add just two minimum contracts. The club is currently over the salary cap and into the luxury tax area.
But Ainge knows he still needs to add a better-than-average piece if the Celts are to continue the promise they’ve shown over the last several games and give Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett a reasonable chance for playoff success in these precious latter years of their careers.
“Those guys are hard to find, someone with veteran NBA experience that has the athleticism to make an impact,” said Ainge. “There’s a lot of players out there that are good enough to play in the NBA, that could come into an NBA game today and contribute. I’m not worried about that, but to find someone who can play to Leandro’s level, to have an impact and be one of the best players on the court for a quarter like Leandro, that’s what’s going to be a challenge.
“We need someone that can help us more now. If there’s a decent player that could contribute some now and might have a bright future, we’d look at that as well, but I think that’s less likely at this moment. But we’d really like to get someone who could step in and play an important role right away, if we can.”
The fact the Celtics had Barbosa in the first place was due to foresight during the preseason.
“Even with the tax threshold that we were working under this summer, we signed Barbosa because we knew that there’s no way we could find a player of his quality available throughout the course of the year,” said Ainge. “We knew that it was a luxury for us to do that, but we calculated that, ‘Hey, listen, this guy is too good of a player to find if something happens.’ Leandro was a luxury for us when we signed him.
“When something did happen to Rajon, we had the luxury of having a really good guard unit, and those guys have played really well.”
With the luxury section of the roster now removed, the Celtics are scrambling just to stay viable for the postseason. ——