By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Dec 24 2011 7:05PM - Updated Dec 24 2011 8:09PM
From the minute it became clear that veteran swingman Mickael Pietrus was not going to remain with the Phoenix Suns, almost all interested parties around the NBA expected the 29-year-old to wind up with the Boston Celtics if he cleared waivers, and that's precisely what happened Saturday, with Pietrus agreeing on a veteran minimum deal for the rest of the season when no team opted to pick up his $4 million pro-rated salary.
Boston was desperate to land Pietrus, a rugged defender and, normally, clutch shooter that had bedeviled the Celtics in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals while with the Magic, averaging 12 points in the seven-game Orlando victory, including 17 off the bench in the decisive Game 7.With Paul Pierce (heel) uncertain for Sunday's season opener against the Knicks, the need for a proven small forward is even bigger. Sasha Pavlovic is expected to start Sunday against New York.
Pietrus, whose own right knee swelling voided a trade from Phoenix to Toronto earlier this month, said in a telephone interview Saturday night that he was not yet ready to play, and wouldn't be in New York Sunday, but hoped to join the Celtics in Miami for Tuesday's game against the Heat. He doesn't have a timetable for his return to the court.
"My knee's feeling better," he said. "I had time to get it stronger and I think I'll be fine, ready to go, ready to help the Celtics whenever I'm healthy. In the case of the Celtics or the Lakers or the Magic, the most important thing is to get ready for the playoffs. I think I'm very close. I can't say [when he'll play], but I'm very close."
Pietrus's agent, Bill McCandless, had said Friday there was a 15 percent chance a team that had tried to trade for Pietrus would claim him off of waivers. That team turned out to be the Pacers, but they passed, leaving Pietrus free to go to Boston.
"It was sort of a fait accompli," McCandless said. "The question was, would Indiana claim him off of waivers since they were close to a trade? And they did not. Put aside all the tradition and stuff that we all know, and even that Mike knows growing up on a Caribbean island. The Celtics worked harder (than any other team). That's a nice combo."
McCandless said that Pietrus got a clean bill of health from an independent medical examination on his right knee on Wednesday. After the trade with Toronto was voided, the Raptors signed veteran Rasual Butler and got forward Gary Forbes from Denver via offer sheet. After examining Pietrus, the independent physician "said he's fine and ready to go," McCandless said.
Pietrus fell out of favor in both Orlando, which traded him to Phoenix last December as part of the deal that sent center Marcin Gortat to the Suns for Jason Richardson, and in Phoenix, where he played in 38 games last season but was not part of the team's rebuilding plans going forward. The Suns worked out a buyout of the pro-rated $4.2 million Pietrus would be paid during the 66-game regular season (his full-season salary would have been $5.3 million), giving him $3 million in exchange for his freedom.
But while Pietrus said he didn't know what went wrong in Phoenix, it was obvious he wanted again to be on a contender.
"I think it's going to be good for me," he said. "I think I can help them both ways, offensively and defensively. They have guys who know how to win games. Those guys know how to win championships. For me, it's an honor to play for the Celtics. I'm very excited to playing with a team that has a chance to win a championship. My agent talked to other teams but for me it was important to get to a team that was going to make the playoffs...Right now I'm going to try to improve the Celtics. There's someone I really like on the team, Kevin Garnett. And I like Doc Rivers, too. It's going to be a perfect fit for me.
Even though he's just signed for the rest of the season, Pietrus said he hopes to be with the Celtics long-term.
"I'm not in Boston for only four months," he said. "I'm in Boston for six years. I love that team."
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