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For Boston, that's the Ticket

Celtics will become instant threat in East with Garnett

Posted: Monday July 30, 2007 1:09PM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 4:36PM
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Kevin Garnett has spent his entire 12-year career with the Timberwolves.
Kevin Garnett has spent his entire 12-year career with the Timberwolves.
Kirby Lee/WireImage.com
Celtics Acquire Kevin Garnett
Celtics obtain Garnett for five players, two picks
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ASCHBURNER: McHale wasted Garnett's prime
EKSTRAND: Potential trouble spots for Boston
MANNIX: Supporing cast will be key for Celtics
THOMSEN: Celtics are instant East contenders
GALLERIES: KG in Minny | MVPs who were dealt

The Celtics have a deal in place for Kevin Garnett that not only will restore the hopes of the league's winningest franchise, but it will also make traditional Eastern basketball relevant again. The Celtics have boldly shown the Knicks and 76ers that the old powerhouses still can compete against the warm-weather capitals of San Antonio, Miami, Dallas and Phoenix.

The Celtics spent the recent days trying to hold onto second-year point guard Rajon Rondo and keep him out of the trade. They were also negotiating an extension of three to four years with Garnett, who has two years and $45 million remaining on his current contract with Minnesota. Garnett may amend his 15 percent trade kicker -- worth an additional $6.75 million over the next two years -- in exchange for the extension.

With their new All-Star trio of the 31-year-old Garnett, Paul Pierce (who turns 30 in October) and the 32-year-old Ray Allen, who was acquired in a draft-day deal with Seattle, the Celtics should instantly join Cleveland and Detroit among the favorites in the East. If Boston is able to finish its rotation by acquiring a veteran point guard (such as Tyronn Lue or Brevin Knight) and another center (Dale Davis?) to complement Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, respectively, the Celtics could be headed for their first NBA Finals since the Larry Bird era of five Finals appearances from 1981-87.

But the Celtics' run at a 17th championship will come at a terrific price, as they'll be a luxury-tax team for as long as they keep Garnett under contract. They'll be paying their three stars close to $58 million next season, which is within $5 million of their entire team payroll this year.

It's a daring move by the ownership group led by managing partner Wyc Grousbeck, who purchased the Celtics for $360 million five years ago. Celtics VP Danny Ainge appeared to be moving the team in reverse while developing young players whom he had drafted no better than No. 15 in the first round. Count me among those who spent the last two years arguing that Al Jefferson and Delonte West would have little trade value.

Count me as wrong on that score. Ainge found two trade partners in Seattle and Minnesota that were seeking to unload big salaries in exchange for young players of high character. The personnel boss who made the disastrous Brandon Roy-for-Sebastian Telfair deal in a cost-cutting move one year ago is the same personnel boss who has now shrewdly landed a pair of All-Stars -- thanks to owners who are willing to absorb their monstrous salaries.

All of this has happened in the two months since the Celtics suffered the horrible luck of tumbling three spots to No. 5 in the draft lottery. Now their fans may look back on that night as one of the best things that ever happened to them: By losing the opportunity to draft Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, which would have extended their youthful rebuilding plans for several more years, the Celtics were forced to make trades and build an instant winner around Pierce.

The arrival of Allen in Boston surely made the Celtics appear more attractive to Garnett. But money was an even bigger issue, according to league sources. The word circulating through the recent NBA Summer League in Las Vegas was that any team interested in acquiring Garnett would have to satisfy his request for an extension in the neighborhood of his current salary.

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