First Glove, Now Googs


WALTHAM - In his first appearance as a Celtic, Tom Gugliotta appeared more prop than player at a press conference yesterday afternoon. After director of basketball operations Danny Ainge spent all of three minutes discussing the Gary Payton trade next to an empty chair and a microphone, the team's PR staff paraded in Gugliotta, who signed a one-year deal worth $2.6 million with the Celtics yesterday.

"Boston gave me a good opportunity to play," said Gugliotta. "The whole process I went through with Danny and [coach] Doc Rivers, speaking to them, made me feel very comfortable coming here and knowing what my role is. It was kind of a gut feeling. And the Boston Celtics didn't hurt - that's still a lure for NBA players."

   Not only was the veteran big man eager and on time for his physical, he gladly shared details from the exam, noting how the integrity of his surgically repaired left knee impressed team doctors. That was good news considering he ruptured three ligaments and tore cartilage in the knee on March 10, 2000, then returned too soon from the injury, sidetracking a successful career that included an All-Star appearance in 1997 with Minnesota. He has spent the last 2 1/2 years retraining his body to work properly when jumping, cutting, and running. He now feels as confident as he did before the injury.

Gugliotta believes he can earn big minutes and make big contributions to Boston, though he averaged only 2.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 14.9 minutes splitting the 2003-04 season between Phoenix and Utah. It was during Gugliotta's nearly six-year stint with the Suns (1998-2004) that Ainge, in his capacity as Phoenix's coach, got a close-up look at the 6-foot-10-inch, 240-pound forward.

"I don't want anybody to promise me minutes," said Gugliotta. "You have to earn minutes, and obviously Danny thinks I might be able to earn minutes, otherwise I wouldn't be here. I'm hoping to be capable of playing 20 to 30-35 minutes a game, depending on who's in foul trouble. I know I'll get a chance and I feel very comfortable I will be able to do it."

After 12 seasons in the NBA, Gugliotta expects to bring veteran leadership and professionalism to the Celtics. That's why coaches who have had Gugliotta on their roster pursued him during free agency, including Scott Skiles in Chicago, Flip Saunders in Minnesota, and Portland GM John Nash, who selected Gugliotta sixth overall for Washington in the 1992 NBA draft.

Ainge sees Gugliotta as a strong rebounder and defender, a player who will fit the Celtics' style because he can front the post and blitz pick-and-rolls, a complement to Mark Blount and Raef LaFrentz.

Offensively, Rivers wants to implement Sacramento-style ball, which Ainge sees as another good fit for Gugliotta: big men catching the ball at the high post and guards cutting.

Those coaches, said Ainge, "know who Tom is, his capabilities as a player, his leadership abilities, his desire to play, his love for the game and his ability to complement other people. His greatest qualities are his intensity and his basketball instinct. I think that Tom is a player that can really complement Paul Pierce, Gary Payton, those type of players. He's a passer, he can shoot it, and he can think the game."

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