3.30.2014

Celtics have an Identity Crisis

October 3, 1997

Beginning today, you and the Celtics will be asking the same question: Who exactly are the Celtics?

The query is normal for most teams at the start of training camp, which begins today. After offseasons of rust and roster-tweaking, teams usually struggle to reestablish themselves. But we are talking about an extreme, find-your-identity case with the reconstructed Celtics.

You probably won't recognize the men in old green uniforms and new white shoes. That's good, considering the Celtics won 15 games last season. The bad news? They may not recognize each other for a while, either.

Quick: Who is No. 42? Nope, not Steve Hamer. It's Chris Mills. The point guard wears No. 4, but it's not David Wesley. The shortest man on the roster is no longer Dana Barros. And the new coach is 6 inches shorter than the old one.

There are several questions the Celtics will try to answer in the privacy of their home (their camp in Newport, R.I., is closed to the public) before Oct. 10. That's when the team goes to State College, Pa., for its first exhibition game.

Some of the questions:

- How do you put 13 into 12?

There are 13 guaranteed contracts. There are 12 roster spots. Training camp is made for situations like this.

- How do you get closer to the top eight?

That's how many teams make the NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference. And although the Celtics appear to have improved dramatically from last season, so did everyone else. Each of the eight playoff teams maintained its level or got better. So did nonplayoff teams Milwaukee (Terrell Brandon, Tyrone Hill), Indiana (coach Larry Bird and Chris Mullin), and Cleveland (Shawn Kemp, Wesley Person).

- How much do Rick Pitino and Chris Wallace love youth?

If they wanted, the Celtics could easily field the youngest starting five in basketball. Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer would be college juniors if they had stayed in school. Antoine Walker would be a senior. Travis Knight is 22. And free agent signee Mills is 27. The "old" men on the roster: 30-year-olds Barros and Pervis Ellison.
Apparently, the Nuggets are quite pleased with former Celtic Eric Williams. They signed the forward to a six-year contract extension late Wednesday night. The deal is worth $ 33m and has an out clause after three years.

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