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Monday, April 14, 11:57 a.m.
Sports

Column: Aging Celtics need to make deadline moves

Ever since dispatching the Orlando Magic on Christmas Day to bring their record to 23-5, the Boston Celtics have been amidst a precipitous slide toward mediocrity. In the past 21 games, Boston has only mustered a 9-12 record that includes exactly zero wins against quality opponents.

More importantly, as the effective midpoint of the NBA season approaches — the All-Star Break — the Celtics, who are preparing for another title run, look a few steps too slow. If General Manager Danny Ainge wants to keep his team’s title hopes alive, it has become painstakingly clear that a trade or two needs to be made.

Rumors have been swirling in recent months about deals involving Ray Allen for Kevin Martin and Glen Davis for D.J. Augustin to give the Celtics some much-needed youth and ball-handling skills. Using ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, which is as frustrating to use as it is enlightening to the complexities of the NBA salary cap, I have proposed two trades that Ainge needs to make to keep Boston’s title dreams alive.

1.) Boston Celtics receive Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Martin; Sacramento Kings receive Charlie Villanueva; Detroit Pistons receive Ray Allen.

Ray Allen is the biggest bargaining chip the Celtics have on their roster due to his enormous $18.7 million dollar expiring contract. His value to a playoff contender like Boston has dropped off with his age, but to a team like the Pistons it is a relief. Detroit sees a light at the end of their rebuilding tunnel with the monstrous 2010 free agent class looming: Allen’s contract coming off of next year’s books is huge.

Charlie Villanueva has underperformed in the tempestuous basketball climate that has overtaken the once-un-waveringly stable Detroit Pistons franchise. With a change of scenery, he can be the versatile and effective power forward the Kings covet.

As far as Kevin Martin goes, he isn’t necessarily a player the Kings hate, but he happens to play the same position as 2009 NBA Draft golden boy Tyreke Evans. Sacramento would be wise to rebuild around their dynamic young shooting guard and complement him with Villanueva, while simultaneously cutting $4 million off their already league-low payroll.

This trade would put Sacramento and Detroit in prime position to make a run at a big name or two in free agency next year, but the Celtics would have their future insured as well. Kevin Martin has been described as a younger, poor man’s version of Ray Allen, which at this point in the latter’s career is a big upgrade considering the salary disparities.

Martin, who has four years left on his contract, is currently making $10 million per year to put up scoring numbers (20.5 points per game, .365 three-point percentage for Martin to 16 ppg, .338 for Allen) that are favorable to the elder statesman of the Boston Three party.

Tayshaun Prince also gives the Celtics a lift off the bench as a long, athletic wing player that thrives when surrounded by superior talent. Prince is also the kind of defender that could take the onus of stopping the opposing team’s best player off Paul Pierce toward the end of the season to spell him for a playoff run.

2. Boston Celtics receive D.J. Augustin and Stephen Graham; Charlotte Bobcats receive Glen Davis and Bill Walker.

This trade makes perfect sense for both parties: The Celtics desperately need a backup point guard that can handle the ball and facilitate the offense, and the Bobcats are clamoring for a big man to shore up their front line.

Augustin showed flashes of brilliance in limited playing time last year, but the emergence of Raymond Felton this year has relegated the 2008 10th overall pick to a limited role off the bench. Davis has also played well sporadically — filling in admirably for Kevin Garnett last year, but he has been an off-court distraction for an otherwise business-like Celtics squad.

The Celtics’ second unit would be vastly improved with Augustin taking over for the ball handling duties from the inept Eddie House. House was once rated the fifth-worst ball handler in the NBA by a Sports Illustrated player poll. They wouldn’t lose much, if anything, rotating Prince, Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine into the frontline. Graham and Walker are simply throw-ins needed to balance salaries.

It’s always tough to part with a superstar, especially one who did as much for the chemistry and success of a team as Ray Allen did for the Celtics, but professional sports are ultimately a business. The “Three Party” has gone on too long and if Ainge does not pull the trigger on a deadline deal he is going to face a noise complaint when the aging Celtics bow out of the playoffs to a younger, deeper team.