October 10, 1991
He decided to drop the 20 pounds on his own, with no decree from the front office attached. Joe Kleine doesn't do much talking to Celtics management; he just shows up to work every day trying to make their lives as difficult as possible.
How so? One of the worst-kept secrets in preseason camp is that Stojko Vrankovic will be guaranteed minutes to determine whether he can develop into a legitimate NBA player. The second-worst-kept secret is that Kleine has been shopped around the league for the better part of five months as a result.
There have been no takers, so Kleine has showed up at camp lean, hungry - and realistic.
"I'm not looking at it as going against Stojko," said Kleine. "Whether I like it or not, they're going to give him a chance.
"It's just that I get afraid sometimes they forget about me."
Kleine was truly the forgotten man of the 1990-91 season. His previous 1 1/2 years with Boston enabled him to settle in as a dependable backup to Robert Parish, but when coach Chris Ford took over, he implemented an up-tempo offense and experimented with a rotation that logged Kevin McHale some serious minutes at the backup center spot. McHale flourished in the role, and with Larry Bird almost exclusively a power forward these days, Kleine was the odd man out.
He struggled with the running game and posted career lows in both scoring (3.6 points a game) and rebounding (3.3). He was as erratic as his minutes played. He logged nine DNPs, Coach's Decision.
The forecast for this season is even more bleak. Ford is committed to a similar rotation, only now Vrankovic factors in, too.
That has left Kleine with the helpless feeling that no matter what he does, for the moment, anyway, it won't make any difference.
"I've said a thousand times I'd love to stay here," he said. "I have no problems with anyone in the organization.
"But I've got to be realistic, and when you are realistic, you understand you could be traded.
"I don't want to make the team as a 12th man. I'm not looking just to make the team.
"I'm interested in trying to crack the rotation."
Trade talk historically takes its toll on athletes, and the Celtics made a point of calling Brian Shaw this summer to assure him they were not trying to move him. No such phone calls were made to Kleine.
Asked point-blank about what reassurances he could offer his center, Ford said, "I haven't said anything to him one way or another.
"This is part of the business," Ford continued. "There will always be guys we will be willing to deal and others who are untouchable.
"It's the hardest part of the game. Guys get released or traded and it's just not them that's affected. It's their families, their friends, their teammates."
Kleine's teammates are in no hurry to see him go. He is affable, hard-working and doesn't complain about playing time. He is also, in the minds of folks like Parish, an asset on the floor.
"We need Joe Kleine on this team - period," said Parish. "We can't afford to lose him."
Other players quietly agree. They wonder if Stojko is ready, if he will ever have the mental toughness and the work ethic he has failed to exhibit thus far. And what if after all this training, he leaves next year, anyway?
"I can't speak to that," said Kleine. "I'm in a very tough situation here."
So what can Kleine do besides lose 20 pounds and keep banging away?
"There isn't anything he can do," said Ford. "You can't worry about things you can't control. You play as well as you can and hope that's enough."
Only one problem: Joe Kleine already knows it isn't.