Ainge looks back at run, ahead to future

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Paul Pierce and Danny Ainge chat on the sidelines before a playoff game.Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he was communicating with Rajon Rondo Wednesday night during Game 4 of the NBA Finals and the two lamented not being one of this year's participants.

"I was just texting him about something and (Rondo) was saying, ‘Oh, we could have beat these guys,’" Ainge said during a lengthy in-studio appearance Wednesday afternoon with Boston sports radio WEEI (93.7 FM).

The Celtics, of course, bowed to the Heat in seven games during the Eastern Conference finals, preventing them from a chance to tangle with the Oklahoma City Thunder for that elusive second title.

"You don’t get over it, for a long, long time," admitted Ainge. "At the same time, I’m very excited about our team and proud of what they accomplished. I thought Doc (Rivers) did a great job coaching this year and keeping these guys together. And I thought the team overachieved. I thought that, ultimately, Miami got (Chris) Bosh back (in Game 5) and they started playing really well.

"Game 6, I think our guys were ready to play, LeBron (James) had something to do with that game -- (he) had all the momentum, was making crazy shots, shot an unbelievable percentage for his 40 points in the first three quarters. Then Game 7, it was close, again, (the Heat) turned it up to another level. I don’t necessarily think it was anything we didn’t do, as much as LeBron was really good."

Ainge admitted the expectations for his team changed given all the adversity it encountered this season, but Boston was ultimately where it expected to be.

"I thought where we got -- with a chance (to make the NBA Finals) -- was expected when the season started, when we looked at our roster and we thought we would have Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, (as well as) Brandon Bass coming off our bench," said Ainge. "I thought that was a very good team with high expectations. Not only with the three guys (Bradley, Green and Wilcox) that we didn’t have in the playoffs, but Paul (Pierce) and Ray (Allen) were not 100 percent through playoffs and those guys gutted it out and were very gritty. They had some spectacular games, some flashbacks, but in the end we just didn’t have enough."

A handful of other highlights from Ainge's appearance (not including the Kevin Garnett chatter):

* Despite the uncertainty surrounding Garnett this offseason, Ainge hinted that keeping the core of this team together next season could be Boston's best plan of attack (as we wrote last week). Ainge explained how cap holds will likely prevent the team from being spenders on other teams' free agents (we explained why earlier this week), and Boston is unlikely to renounce the rights to any of its major free agents with the potential to reassemble.

"It’s unlikely, because they are good players," Ainge said of renouncing the team's free agents in order to free cap space. "All of those guys are starters, big-time contributors on a good team. And the free-agent market isn’t that great."

Ainge seemed to think Boston could make another run with better health, which makes the fact that they're not playing now sting more.

"Had we had our 24- (Green) and 21-year-old (Bradley) healthy, we could be in the NBA Finals right now," said Ainge.

* Asked if the team would consider the nuclear route and amnesty captain Paul Pierce to free even more cap space, Ainge offered a firm "No." And the conversation quickly moved in another direction.

* Ainge said it came as no surprise that Bass opted out of the final year of his contract. "I thought all year that he was having a great year and figured he would (opt out). Brandon is looking for a long-term contract, he's sort of at that age and that stage of his career where I was pretty certain he was going to opt out."

Ainge said the team could use its rights to re-sign Bass above the cap, noting again that Boston's own free agents might be better than the ones available on the open market, but wouldn't commit to whether Bass could come back in a starting role again.

"We don’t have an answer to that," said Ainge. "We were successful with Brandon in the starting five and moving KG to center. His shooting really helped open the court. The size was a factor as well. We could use a center. Brandon is a quality player, and he complements Rondo, in particular, with his shooting."

* Ainge said the Celtics are not necessarily bound to simply re-signing their own free agents. They can get creative and utilize sign-and-trades -- much like they did in snagging Bass in exchange for Glen Davis last offseason -- in order to retool the roster this summer.

* Ainge acknowledged a desire to get younger, but also noted how the most detrimental (and severe) injuries were to the younger players like Green and Bradley.

"We want to get younger, we want to add younger pieces, but these guys not (being) healthy -- Ray and Paul were more healthy than our young guys," said Ainge. Later while trying to hammer home the solid play of the veterans, Ainge added, "The reality of it is, this team is not old. ... These guys are playing well."

* Ainge said he sees no reason why the likes of Green or Wilcox couldn't step back onto the court and regain their previous form with their heart procedures in the rearview mirror.