Friday, September 4, 2009
It is the sign of being even more special that Brian Scalabrine never complains.
For years, Scal has been the laughingstock of the Boston Celtics' organization. Sure, he has been considered a fan favorite for a long time, but it's been because of the things he doesn't do, rather than what he does. By NBA standards, Scal is slow and unathletic. By any standards, he is chunky and a little (a lot?) goofy.
But that's never stopped him from being ready to play during any and all situations. From one night to the next, Scal doesn't know whether he'll start or register a DNP-CD. When he gets to the gym, he has no idea whether, at the end of the game, he'll wind up sweaty and tired or fresh and still wearing his warmup suit. Somehow, Scal takes it all in stride.
As a college basketball player whose desire to win and to compete far out-shined my middling (to be very generous) athletic abilities, I know how hard it is to arrive at a gym every day and not know whether, or how much, you're going to play. I know how hard it is to sit on a bench and watch your teammates – not you – play the game you love, the game you desperately wish you were better at. I know how hard it is to suck up the pain of not playing and throw it aside in order to cheer on your teammates, to feel happy about a win when every win you don't play in further marks how little your team needs your presence. I know how hard it is to show up every day at practice and give it your all, knowing that it doesn't matter how hard you play, how well you shoot. I had teammates who were better than I was, and I wasn't going to get playing time no matter how many jumpers I hit in practice, no matter how many times I dove on the floor after a loose ball.
Granted, I never made $3 million a year – like Scal – but I'm sure he doesn't once think about the money while riding the pine during a close loss, while wishing he could still play, still compete, at the game he loves. Scal rode the bench for many years, but he did it with a smile on his face and a winning attitude in his heart.
Then, finally, his chance came. After Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe went down to injury – and, really, even before the injury to a certain extent – Scal was relied on by Doc Rivers like never before. The big redhead was just returning from a series of concussions that left him out of play for a long time, but he came back ready to contribute anything he had to the Celtics, even wearing the thickest headband ever manufactured.
All of a sudden, Scal – the forgotten man, the laughingstock, the overpaid bench-warmer – was a reliable performer, a key component to the Celtics' limited playoff success. With a smooth outside stroke to stretch the defense and an underrated ability to move his feet defensively, Scal provided the Celtics with a steady presence and a jolt of energy every time he touched the floor. For a big, goofy guy with an oversized stomach, Scal is a lot tougher than he looks. He was more than willing to bruise inside, providing the injury-ravaged Celtics with their best post defender off the bench.
The man who had so long been overlooked, except by half-mocking fans serenading his name, became a pivotal member of the C's, and he did it all with the knowledge that the next time he bumped his head could be the last time he ever played basketball. After all those concussions, Scal was still willing to sacrifice his body, still ready to take a charge, still ready to dive after loose balls, still ready to bang with bigger men in the post. It took Scal a long time, but he had finally carved out his niche as a Boston Celtic.
But the NBA is a fickle game and, just as quickly as he earned his spot in the rotation, Scal once again is on the outside of the rotation looking in. The Celtics signed Rasheed Wallace and Shelden Williams to bolster last year's thin frontcourt, and Scal will enter the season not knowing when, or even if, he'll play any minutes in each game.
It's a familiar spot for the big redhead, but one he is willing to, if not embrace, understand.
And you can be damn sure he'll be ready whenever Doc decides to call his name.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Will Kevin Garnett remain healthy?
You could make a strong argument that, with the Big Ticket on the court rather than in street clothes on the bench, the Boston Celtics would be two-time defending champions. The Celtics are a different team with Garnett on the floor, especially defensively. If he makes a healthy return, it will go a long way towards reestablishing the Celtics as NBA title favorites.
Without KG, the Celtics still have a formidable frontcourt. With him? They could be downright scary.
How quickly will age catch up to the Boston Celtics?
By now, you’ve heard it before – The Celtics are getting old, and it’s their stars who are the old ones. The Big Three plus newcomer Rasheed Wallace are all at least 31, and they all have logged A LOT of minutes. With an improved bench, Doc Rivers should be able to find a lot more rest for his superstars, but they could be on the way down anyways – once players hit a certain amount of minutes played, they tend to hit a wall, and the Celtics’ stars have all played a very substantial amount of minutes (30,526 minutes for Pierce, 39,635 for Garnett, 35,099 for Allen and 34,166 for Wallace – and none of those include the playoffs).
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce both looked bruised and battered by the end of last year’s playoffs. Hopefully, the return of Garnett and the additions of Wallace and Marquis Daniels will take some pressure of Boston’s stars, and they will be energized and fresh entering the playoffs.
Can Rasheed Wallace coexist with Garnett and Perkins?
There are rumors that Wallace is washed up, that he doesn’t have it anymore, that his bad series against Cleveland in round one of the playoffs was a sign that he already has deteriorated. And you know what? I’d say he has. Rasheed is no longer the player he used to be.
But that’s fine for the Celtics. They don’t need ‘Sheed to come in and be a star; all they need is a good defender off the bench and another big man who can spread the floor. If Rasheed can comfortably accept a backup role and settle for being the leader of Boston’s second unit rather than one of the team’s stars, Boston will have a huge upgrade in its frontcourt. But if he sulks about coming off the bench, gets ill-advised technicals during the wrong parts of games and bombs too many threes at the worst possible times? The Celtics could have an aging, 6’11” problem on their hands.
Who will play backup point guard?
Danny Ainge claims the Celtics are happy with their backup point guard position as is. He believes Eddie House and Marquis Daniels are ready to man the position. And I agree...in a pinch. But for a whole season, I’d be far happier if the Celtics had a reliable point guard who actually plays the position.
As an aside, don’t forget about Lester Hudson. The 6’3” waterbug out of UT-Martin impresses with his athleticism and defensive intensity and, if he can get comfortable running Doc Rivers’ offense, the Celtics could have a steal on their hands with their lone draft pick.
Can Rajon Rondo take the next step towards stardom?
In the 2009 playoffs, Rondo showed just how close he is to being one of the top point guards in the entire NBA. When he’s going well, there is no point guard in the NBA who combines his defensive ball-hawking, terrific rebounding, great court vision and incredible speed.
Rondo was close to turning the corner last season, and could still improve in leaps and bounds if he improves his consistency and his jumpshot. With his blazing speed, Rajon doesn’t need a deadeye jumpshot like Ray Allen, just a sufficient one to keep defenses from collapsing off him.
How well do Cleveland, LA, and Orlando mesh after their new additions?
I know these are questions about the Boston Celtics, but including their closest competitors makes a lot of sense. The C’s are the only top contender to maintain all its core players (sorry Denver fans, I don’t consider your team true contenders) – all the other contenders made a lot of moves, but the jury is out on how the new starting fives will coexist.
If the Cavs, Lakers or Magic can reacquire the solidarity that made them so tough to play last year, the Celtics might be a step behind their rivals.
How many technical fouls will Boston lead the league by?
With a frontcourt that includes Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace, the question isn’t whether the Celts will lead the league in technical fouls...it’s by how much. The addition of the ever-combustible Rasheed Wallace makes the C’s a good bet to be one the highest technical foul-accumulating teams of all-time.
Let’s just hope none of those come with the game, or even the season, on the line.