August 27, 2005
While you've been busy worrying about Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, new outfield sod, Tom Brady's arm, Tom Brady's GQ picture holding the goat, and if you'll ever be able to drive underneath downtown Boston without worrying about drowning, Danny Ainge has been busy, too.
The Celtics' executive director of basketball operations has been trying to buy up every available point guard in the known universe.
Well, lots of 'em anyway.
Until further notice, the Celtics will go to training camp with five point guards, none of them, unfortunately, named Kidd or Billups or Parker, and perhaps this is not the time to remind everyone that Chauncey Billups was once in a Celtics uniform and Tony Parker should have been.
But that's all part of the sorry recent past, and this regime is rightly concerned only about the present. The Celtics aren't going anywhere this season if somebody, or a couple of somebodies, don't give Doc Rivers some quality minutes at this most crucial position. Say this for Ainge: He has certainly given his coach some options. Pretty darn good options, too, according to Ainge.
"I think we have guys who can do the job," Ainge insists.
Almost forgot. For those of you a bit out of touch with Celtics matters these days (understandable, given our preoccupation with the local, ahem, championship teams), the five young men and the oldest is 26 are Marcus Banks, Delonte West, Dan Dickau, Will Bynum, and Orien Greene. None is in line to dislodge the Cooz as point guard on the all-time Celtics team.
Of course, we wouldn't be having this conversation if Banks had turned out to be what Ainge hoped he'd be when he selected him 13th overall in the 2003 NBA Draft.
"I won't say I'm disappointed with Marcus," Ainge maintains. "Marcus has proven to be an NBA player. But I'd have to say his strength is in the open floor and exerting full-court defensive pressure. He has struggled in the half-court."
We've noticed. And so have his coaches.
Three years in, the rocket ship from UNLV is essentially the same player he was when he arrived. There isn't much to add to Ainge's assessment, other than to say that Banks can make an occasional 3-pointer.
Next up is West. The southpaw from Saint Joe's may, in fact, be the Celtics' secret weapon. Forget his numbers. Forget the fact that injuries messed up his rookie progress. Delonte West will never, ever, ever, ever be about the numbers.
"They all say they want to win, but Delonte is one of the rare young players I have ever come across who actually plays to win," Ainge says. "He does not care about stats. He moves the ball. He blocks out. He goes after loose balls. He truly does all the little things."
He can also make shots, which is a pretty nice bonus.
But from the first minute he stepped onto the floor in an NBA game, he possessed that certain je ne sais quoi that stamps someone as an honest-to-goodness ballplayer, rather than just a good athlete.
"There must have been five or six times last year when Doc came in after a game and said, 'You know, Delonte may be our smartest player,' " Ainge explains.
Open Door No. 3 and say hello to Dickau.
Forgive him if he occasionally has a hard time remembering exactly where he is, because he's been a regular Arthur Frommer as he's attempted to establish himself as an NBA player. This will be team No. 6 in a career that began with him being taken by Sacramento with the 28th pick of the '02 draft. Well, not really. He was immediately shipped to Atlanta in one of those annual you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours, draft-day specials. After that it was Portland and Dallas, until he reached New Orleans last season and opened a few eyes with a solid performance (13.2 points and 5.2 assists per game in 67 games as a Hornet). Now he has landed with the Celtics after a sign-and-trade deal.
And he might be a steal. "He has really improved his ballhandling skills and he can shoot the ball," analyzes Ainge. "He just has a knack for offensive basketball. If you run a pick-and-roll with him, he must be honored."
That's the core trio. But just to spice the plot, Ainge has also imported a pair of intriguing young players. He drafted Greene in the second round and he signed former Arizona and Georgia Tech standout Bynum.
"Orien Greene caught my eye when he played an NCAA Tournament game for Louisiana-Lafayette against North Carolina State a year ago," Ainge says. "He was a [6-foot-5-inch] point guard who made steals, blocked shots, and was all over the floor. He has interesting overall basketball skills. He's just a different look for us."
Bynum should be a familiar name to college hoop buffs. He's a sturdy, 6-1 guy who can shoot and who is essentially fearless. You might recall his heroics in the '04 NCAA national semifinal game when his layup gave the Yellow Jackets the victory over Oklahoma State.
"He can play defense at that position, and he can score," Ainge declares. "He is a playground legend in Chicago," continues the executive director, polishing up his street cred a bit.
Ainge candidly perhaps even boldly admits he likes his players better than the pool of more celebrated guards in the last two drafts. "Guys like Chris Paul and Sebastian Telfair are good players, but it's all about them ," he says.
The obvious contrast to the me-first bit is West. Let's get to the proverbial chase. Delonte West is the one Danny Ainge is counting on in the long run. "I think Delonte is a big-time player," he confirms. Meanwhile, he has given his coach some options.
And if all else fails, he's got himself (an '87 All-Star) and his coach (an '88 All-Star) to unretire, and there's even one additional in-house possibility.
Brooklyn native Red Auerbach was second-team All-City as a senior, and, as he's often pointed out, "that's better than All-State everywhere else."
Who needs Jason Kidd?