Red Weighs in on the 1990-91 Celtics

1990-91 Boston Celtics

These days, his absence is more noticeable than his presence. If Red Auerbach isn't perched in his loge seat across the way from the Celtics ' bench on game night, people start whispering. Where is he? What's wrong? Is he sick?

Auerbach wants you to relax. He's been scarce lately because of a back injury suffered while playing racquetball. That has not prevented him from observing Boston's fast start.

"The time to start worrying is when you are winning," he said. "The time to improve your ballclub is when you are winning. Chris Ford is doing an excellent job, but we still need a little help."

In other words, Boston is still trying to make a deal. According to the old master, the locals are still two players away from being a true contender. Red is thrilled with Brian Shaw, disappointed with John Bagley and happy with the way The Big Three have approached the 1990-91 season. Here are Auerbach's thoughts on the troops:

- On Chris Ford: "I like how he's got them going. I wanted him to be the coach all along. I felt going from assistant to head coach would not be a problem with him because he can be tough. I'll be curious to find out what he does during adversity, but my guess is he'll be fine."

- On former coach Jimmy Rodgers: "Jimmy was a damn good coach. If he had any failing, it was he liked his players too much. There's got to be a line you can't cross, and Jimmy crossed it. That affected the motivation of his players. In fairness, Jimmy didn't have Brian Shaw or Dee Brown, but that's the way the life of a coach is. It's too bad Jimmy has sort of gone into hiding instead of saying, 'Hey, I have a good record and I'm going to profit from my mistakes.' So many other coaches have had three, four, five jobs. Look at Dick Motta, Gene Shue, Bill Fitch. I wish Jimmy would get back out there."

- On Larry Bird: "He's happier this year because he's got more freedom of motion. Ballplayers like that. Playing in a strictly half-court game means more of a physical beating, and it's not fun. Last year was hard for Larry, I think. This is a guy who built his whole career on pride. But as great as Larry is, he needed to be told certain things. Last year he wasn't told anything. I coached my share of superstars, and sometimes you need to give them hell, whether it's a Russell or a Heinsohn. Players actually like it. Otherwise, they get in a rut, get careless."

- On Kevin Gamble: "He's been the best surprise, no question. We always knew he had talent; it was whether he could sustain it. Now that he's getting the opportunity, he's doing it. Last year he got into periods of sulkiness, the kind of attitude where he said, 'Well, I'm not playing, anyway; why should I bother?' But that's the whole key for bench players: to work harder when you're not playing, so you'll be ready when the time comes."

- On Brian Shaw: "He's been the key to the whole thing. He's brought it together. I told everyone the whole thing would blow over. I really don't care what happened. Doesn't matter. He's here and he's running, playing defense, rebounding very well from that guard spot. Bird is the leader now, but this kid will be later. His shooting will improve, too. I always thought he was a good kid. I still think that."

- On Michael Smith: "I haven't seen much of him this year. I'll tell you one thing: I'm impressed with his work ethic. He's doing now what Gamble should have done last year. I'm not ready to give up on him. He's got a lot of talent."

- On John Bagley: (Long silence.) "I don't know what to think. He made the same mistake Mike Smith made last year. He came in heavy. When you come in heavy, you get hurt. It's up to Chris what happens with him. He's going to have to earn his job back in practice."

- On Kevin McHale: "Boy, is he happy as can be. He's just the greatest influence you could ask for. There was talk years ago about trading McHale, and I'm telling you none of it was true. There was no way he was going to be traded. Owners Alan Cohen and Don Gaston totally agreed with me on that. Players like him come around once in a long, long while. If you trade guys like that, you never win a championship."

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