COLUMBUS, Ohio - A conversation about Walter McCarty never stays focused on the Celtics' versatile forward for long. Just ask coach Doc Rivers.
When questioned about what role he envisioned for McCarty this season, Rivers quickly mentioned veteran leadership and locker room presence. It took only a sentence or two before Rivers transitioned to the importance of balancing youthful exuberance with experience. A couple of more sentences and Rivers had moved on to the leadership of Gary Payton.
"Walter has an importance on the floor and obviously off the floor as well," said Rivers. "This is a good locker room because we have so many veteran guys. It's been pretty good, with Googs [Tom Gugliotta] and Raef [LaFrentz]. Walter falls right into that. It's a good locker room. It's a strange locker room. You have guys who grew up on "The Flintstones," then you have guys on whatever is the cartoon of the day.
"But I like the split. I like the fact that the veterans feel responsible for the young guys. It's amazing how well Gary has just walked into our locker room and become one of our leaders immediately. It's that old saying, 'You are who you are.' If you're a leader, you're a leader. He's been as positive a leader as I've seen in a long time."
Clearly, there were bigger egos to stroke, players who needed attention more than McCarty ever will. And therein lies the true value of McCarty for the Celtics. When it comes to community outreach and benefit concerts, McCarty serves as the team's go-to guy. When it comes to playing time and points, he doesn't mind being in the background as a role player.
During the exhibition season, McCarty has averaged slightly fewer than 20 minutes per game, down slightly from last season, but about what he expected. He owns career averages of 5.6 points per game, 2.8 rebounds, and 18.8 minutes. It's not how much McCarty plays or how many points he scores, but when he takes the court.
Coaches can depend on the veteran to stretch the defense with 3-point shooting and make crucial shots. He can come up with a high-scoring, high-energy performance when his teammates are struggling. He can start, as he did during all four of the Celtics' playoff games last spring. Or he can sit for three quarters, come off the bench and acclimate to the play in an instant. That versatility makes it interesting for Rivers, who has not determined how to best use McCarty or when. While the minutes will likely be inconsistent, McCarty will certainly be called on to provide energy.
"My thing is to be ready to play," said McCarty. "I'm very fortunate to do what I do. My thing is to play hard, and when I get the opportunity, try to help this team win. I've never been a guy who worried about stats or anything like that. But I've been a guy who's been able to be very productive and be instrumental at very key times of the game."
The mental toughness McCarty employs to stay ready for games sets a valuable example for the rest of the Celtics, particularly the young players. Rivers believes if Boston can find some mental toughness, everything else will fall into place. But last night against the Cavaliers at Value City Arena, mental toughness was nowhere to be found. The Celtics fell behind early in the exhibition game, and the visitors struggled to regain their composure and confidence.
After trailing by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, McCarty gave Boston its first and only lead of the second half (80-78) with his second straight 3-pointer. But even with energy and the 3-pointer by McCarty, the Celtics did not have enough and fell to the Cavaliers, 95-88.
The Green showed its real fight in front of its locker room after the contest. But by that time, it was too late. McCarty finished with 8 points and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench. Gary Payton (14 points, 5 assists) and Paul Pierce (14 points, 6 assists) led the Celtics offensively.
Meanwhile, LeBron James finished with a game-high 21 points and game-high 8 assists for the Cavaliers. Boston's youngsters didn't fare as well; Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen scored 6 points each.
The young players have a lot to learn, and McCarty relishes his role as one of many mentors in the locker room.
"It's fun," said McCarty. "It reminds me of myself coming in the league, very excited. I just try to pass on what was told to me. I do enjoy that part."