Marcus Starting to Listen


Listen to the voice of wisdom: "It's early."

The speaker? Marcus Banks. He appears to have learned quite a bit in a very short period.

   You remember Marcus? The human rocket ship out of UNLV? A central part of The Vision in April. On Doc Rivers's you-know-what list in July after an uninspiring summer camp. Traded to the Lakers in August. Returned to Boston in August when Gary Payton didn't show up for a physical.

How do they say mea culpa in Las Vegas, where there aren't any second chances and even fewer apologies?

"He's listening now, that's the difference," Rivers said after the Celtics' pocket rocket helped his team to a pretty ugly, 91-74 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. "It's pretty easy. I just wanted him to play our way. I never disliked him."

It would be wrong to presume that Banks has broken through, turned the corner, found religion (pick your cliche). He's still very much a work in progress, but, after two pretty good games, would it be presumptuous to suggest that he is as much progress as he is work? Or even more? He had 13 points and four assists in 17 minutes last night, continually beating to the basket what passes for the Bobcats' point guards.

"Marcus Banks," said Rivers, "was terrific."

This is the same guy, Rivers, who before the game talked generically of how difficult it is to deal with Banks because Rivers has to "coach him and make him feel good. It's tough to do both." Both? Banks got a laugh out of that one.

"Me and Tony Allen are the whipping boys," he said. "But you have to take the criticism." He meant to say coaching, I think.

Rivers basically is trying to rein in the ultra-athletic, lightning-quick, occasionally-out-of-control, never-a-dull-moment dynamo and make him an efficient playmaker without losing any of the aforementioned attributes. It hasn't been easy for either of them. Last year, Danny Ainge pretty much concluded that he had drafted a scatback instead of a quarterback. That might have had something to do with the decision to deal him.

Banks didn't play much for Jim O'Brien. He didn't play much for John Carroll. The feeling was that he thought he deserved more, that he thought he was better than he really was. When Payton decided to finally come to Boston, it immediately relegated Banks to minority status once again. This time, however, the Celtics had another recruit (Delonte West) on hand to compete for minutes, and West played reasonably well in the exhibition season.

Only the Celtics' brain trust know for sure what would have happened had West not broken his right thumb Nov. 1 in practice. Would he still have been on the injured list? Or would someone else have gone there in his place? There was speculation that Banks might have been that someone. We'll have to wait for the memoirs.

But while West mends, Banks gets a chance. Through the first four games, he was averaging only 9.5 minutes. He had played well in the Knicks blowout - who hadn't? - and then acquitted himself well in nine minutes against the Blazers.

Last night, he led a second unit that basically won the game. (OK, the Bobcats had a big hand in their demise, coughing it up an unseemly 26 times, good for 31 points. (And who was dressed as Gerald Wallace last night?) It was the bench who reversed a 7-point Bobcats lead in the first half - and then simply blew out the guests in the second half.

"Our second unit was phenomenal," Rivers gushed. "I thought they won the game."

Banks had 9 of his 13 in the fourth quarter and, yes, a few were worthy of Golden Trash Can consideration (a driving finger roll with 31.6 seconds left and an ensuing free throw come to mind). But there was no mistaking that Banks put his stamp on the outcome. He drove to the hoop. He knocked down jumpers. He defended, which has always been his forte.

"He's doing it," Rivers said. "But we've got to keep him doing it. You can't let up just because you had a couple good games."

Said Banks, "I'm feeling more patient now, trying to understand my role. But it's early."

As Banks talked to reporters afterward, his next-door neighbor, the voluble Payton, started chattering away. "That's him," Payton said. "Star of the game."

Cracked Banks of Payton, "He's pretty old. I'm learning all his old tricks."

Said Payton, "He did all right. I might even take him to the concert."

That would be Jay-Z and other big-name rappers tomorrow night. That might be the real sign that Banks has finally arrived, even if it goes real late.

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