There have been a number of feel good stories about the aging veterans in the past few weeks and the pace has just picked up since camp started. Jason Terry has taken Dionte Christmas under his wing resulting in positive effects on the intensity of his workouts, his professional carriage, and his psyche. Garnett has been holding catch-up sessions for the new big men after practices and continues to mentor the mecurical Rondo
“Doc is the coach around here,” said Pierce. “I trust his judgment and everything he does. We’ve been together a long time. I’m giving myself to the team. Whatever’s going to be best for the team, that’s what it’s gotta be. I think with me and Doc, we’ll figure things out, because if I’m on fire the first five minutes I can’t come out. Simple as that.”
To a man, every Celtic who was asked about the pre-preseason workouts gave Rondo the credit for making it happen. The two veteran leaders on this team, Garnett and Pierce, quickly call Rondo the team leader now, and the team’s best player. Pierce has been receptive to a 5-5-5 pattern similar to Garnett’s (although he laments “He can’t take me out when I have it going.”)
The buzz is all about the rebirth of Ubuntu (or is that Ubun2 or Ubunt-two?) I think this resurrection of team camaraderie has everything to do with subtraction—namely the absence of Ray Allen and Jermaine O’Neal.
It would have been great if Ray Allen was providing the spark off the bench, injecting firepower into the second unit (so deficit in the playoffs), and serving as role model and on-the-court coach for an increasingly young team. But that didn’t, and wasn’t going to happen. Contrast his pique (with Rondo, with Bradley’s replacing him in the starting unit, with being involved in trade rumors, with anyone or anything perturbing his ritual preparations, with being offered $6M [or double what Miami is paying him] to resign) with the attitudes of Pierce and especially Garnett. As positive as the aging and declining All-Star’s influence can be, even more extreme is the negativity that their chafing can bring.
It is for those reasons that I am thrilled at the leadership, stewardship of the franchise really, that Pierce and Garnett (and now Terry) bring to this year’s team. Allen was the consummate professional so long as the topic was his personal preparation for each game. His inability to handle the decline of his physical talents and the perceived slights to his pride have shown that while there may be no “I” in TEAM, there certainly was a ME, and it superseded team.
Pierce has welcomed the charge from the opposite end of the roster. “When you have a third team that can come out there and push the first unit and the second unit, it’s only going to make your team better,” said Paul Pierce. “Usually your third team is the team that’s always getting blown out, losing every game, but that’s not going to be the case here.”
Garnett holds mini-camps for the newbie bigs at the end of practices (when you know his high-mileage knees would prefer to be icing in the training room. He is the de facto big-man coach (not to disrespect Mike Longabardi). His charges speak in glowing terms of how much he has helped them, and this after only half a dozen practices. He has become Rondo’s big brother, cheerleader, confidant, and guidance counselor all rolled into one.
Jason Terry vowed to do anything in his power to help his new team, even offering to do the laundry during his introductory press conference. Terry took Christmas under his wing long before camp ever began. Since preseason games have begun Doc has commented on Terry’s being ahead of the players on the court and going to the right places even before it becomes obvious. What better than a coach-on-the-floor when Rondo’s resting.
“Push the starters, that’s our job,” Terry told CSNNE.com. “Our job is to make them better and make it game-like every time we step on the floor. We want it to be even tougher than the game is.”
He continued with a laugh, “They’re young, so they’re going to do whatever I say anyways. If I tell them jump on one leg, bark like a dog, they’re going to do it. But what I do is lead by example. I have to make sure I’m right every day, make sure I’m early, make sure I’m in tune with what’s going on, and then direct them with my voice.”
This remaining mid-thirties group of stars all seem to be at ease with their advancing years and declining energy, and are embracing the tutelage of their following generation of Celtics. I would actually have expected Ray Allen to so adapt, and I was wrong. Oh well, as I often told our daughter, “Even bad examples are useful, so long as you remember they are bad examples.”
Great players often do not make good coaches. I think even less often do great players make a successful transition from alpha-dog star to role-playing mentor. Their egos and psyche just aren’t geared toward assuming a lesser role in games while assuming a greater role in, around, and after practice. To have played (lived and breathed) within the Celtics’ Ubuntu milieu, to have been steeped in the Celtic Way, to have placed team above me even in their stardom–this experience makes it more likely that they can make the transition; but still, hardly a guarantee.
Pride and decline are an ill-fitting couple. To manage their coexistence and turn the conflict into a positive influence on their their team, and heirs apparent, is both remarkable and admirable. Perhaps rather than be dismayed that Allen failed, we should be impressed and bouyed that our other aging Green stars have embraced the role.
Boston, and all points beyond