BURLINGTON, Vt. - Gary "The Mentor" Payton made his presence felt yesterday at Patrick Gymnasium. He clapped to offer encouragement. He pulled Marcus Banks aside for pointers. He talked about his favorite role, as team leader. By force of physical fitness and personality, Payton dominated the first day of Celtics training camp on the court and in conversation.
"Gary was impressive because of his conditioning," said coach Doc Rivers. "I thought he went as hard as anyone in practice today. And he did some things I was really happy with. One, he grabbed Marcus five or six times and told him the right way to do things. Gary's a pro. He came in with a great frame of mind and he came in playing hard. That's one of the things you can see. You can see why his teams play hard because he demands it. I bet four, five, six times, he got on guys today.
"At the end of the day, you are who you are. Gary Payton is a guy who plays hard, likes to defend and he loves pushing the ball up the floor. When I put our early offense in and he was pushing the ball up the floor and going to the post and making cuts, he acted like he was out of jail almost. He had the ball in his hands again and you could see how natural that was for him. So, that was good. I want him to be aggressive. I want him to be Gary. We'll figure out how to play with him and around him."
According to reports from Rivers and the rest of the players, Payton has fit in with his new teammates. But what sounds and seems good on Day One can wear on teammates and coaches. There will be times when Payton and Paul Pierce enjoy a productive partnership and times when egos inevitably get in the way. With regard to the new head coach and new players in camp, the Celtics are still in the honeymoon phase.
"[Gary] is going to be great with us," said Pierce. "He's going to solidify the point guard spot, really show us some leadership at that position, something we haven't had there in a while. We both can definitely feed off one another. He has a great passion for the game along with myself. We're just going to push each other every day and make each other better."
For now, Pierce must make the biggest adjustment, not necessarily in how he plays, but in how he views his leadership role. Payton has clearly taken it upon himself to be a vocal leader, to impart the knowledge gained over a 14-year career, particularly to backup point guard Banks and rookie Delonte West.
"He was more vocal than I thought he was going to be, at least at the first practice," said Banks.
"He explained a lot of things to me. He told me not to think so much, just go out there and play. It's real different [coming from Payton]. He was once that player that fought and made mistakes, now he's grown into an All-Star and one of the premier players in the league. I'm going to soak up everything he knows about the game and put it into my game."
On the court, Payton will not only serve as a role model to the Celtics' young point guards, but also take pressure off Pierce and pass the captain the ball exactly where he wants it. Off the court, Payton will take some attention away from Pierce, creating a dynamic reminiscent of the days when Antoine Walker played for the Celtics.
Yesterday, reporters were more eager to talk with Payton than Pierce, worried they would miss something if not listening to the veteran point guard.
For his part, Payton has taken to making statements on behalf of Boston, assuming his observations carry more weight than others. And they may.
After all, as Rivers noted, "Gary has carried a team in his career and that could be a great lesson for Paul." Rivers hopes the been-there, done-that factor will not only help Pierce be a more effective captain, but also teach the Celtics what it takes to win.
"I'm not trying to make my game a lot better," said Payton. "I'm trying to get in shape and be better, but I'm trying to help the younger guys. They're the ones that are going to help us when we need it. Sometimes when me and Paul might be having a bad game or Ricky [Davis] is in foul trouble, they've got to come in and help.
"You can't leave everything on Paul. Paul has been trying to do it for years here. He needs some help. He needs a little guidance himself, so that he can understand that he can go out and play basketball, too. He needs a veteran like me."
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