October 4, 2005
The Celtics finally waived mid-summer trade acquisition Qyntel Woods yesterday, whittling the number of roster players with guaranteed contracts from 18 to 17. During training camp, executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers must cut two more players to reach the maximum of 15.
Those decisions will be weighed carefully in the most competitive training camp of the Ainge Era. Only Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis have been assured substantial playing time by Rivers. Most starting jobs, minutes, and roster spots remain up for grabs.
"I look forward to the day when we have our eight or nine rotation guys already set, and we've had great success the year before then you bring in people to fill the gaps," said Ainge. "But right now, we've got guys fighting for jobs, fighting for minutes, fighting for opportunities. Where we are as a franchise, I'm OK with that."
Knowing what is at stake this exhibition season, up to 11 players at one time visited the Celtics' practice facility for summer workouts. Everyone wanted an edge, though Ainge and Rivers will judge players on more than individual skill.
According to Rivers, "fit" will be the No. 1 criteria in determining starters and the rest of the rotation. What guard combination works best? Which front-court players provide the rebounding and inside scoring Rivers wants? Rivers hopes the answers become obvious after eight exhibition games. Although the coach wants to work with his regular-season roster as soon as possible, he promises not to rush the process. In other words, every player with a guaranteed contract is guaranteed a shot.
The toughest challenge for Rivers may be fostering team chemistry amid the competition. A lot of offseason additions will be vying for starting jobs, playing time, and roster spots, from rookies Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Orien Greene, and Will Bynum to veterans Brian Scalabrine and Dan Dickau. For free agents like Scalabrine and Dickau, Boston was an attractive team precisely because of the opportunities available.
"It's easier in some ways when you have eight very talented players and four guys who are just happy to be there," said Rivers. "We're not that type of team. We have 12 guys who can play. Hell, we have 15 guys, 17 guys who can play when you think about it. Before we do anything, we have to have two guys who aren't going to be in a Celtic uniform just to start [the season]. Then, we get it to 15 and we're going to cut that down to 12 [active players].
"The key thing is this whole thing is we're doing this to win. If every player understands that every decision is about winning, then the roles will be accepted. If the 'me' gets into the 'we' process, then you have problems."
Among the five point guards in camp, there will either be a lot of "we" or a lot of players looking out for themselves.
It will be interesting to watch the point guard race, since players like Dickau and Delonte West are fighting for the starting job while Bynum and Greene are hoping to make the roster. While West may have the most complete game, Dickau is more polished offensively and Marcus Banks appears the best ball-pressure defender. Bynum and Greene have yet to establish their credentials.
"As a player, you never really want anything handed to you," said Dickau. "You always want to be pushed by other players and then by the coaching staff to get the most out of your potential. That does nothing but help a team."
The shooting guard and small forward positions raise a myriad of possibilities, especially since almost 75 percent of the roster can play at one or the other spot. To further complicate matters, Rivers plans to experiment with some point guards playing shooting guard and various backcourt combinations. He has also thought about letting wing players Davis and Tony Allen, when he returns from injury, handle the ball more. Dickau could see time beside West. They can go small with Davis at shooting guard and Pierce at small forward. They can go big with Pierce at shooting guard and Gomes, Scalabrine, or Justin Reed at small forward.
When asked about the plethora of wing players and possible mixing and matchings, Pierce said, "We've been [stocking up on wing players] since I've been here. Remember we drafted Joe Johnson, Joe Forte, and Kedrick Brown right after I signed [a contract extension.] That's been going on since I've been here."
If Rivers starts Pierce at shooting guard, Scalabrine, Gomes, and Reed will compete for the starting job at small forward. Meanwhile, Mark Blount will challenge Raef Lafrentz for minutes at center, vowing to redeem himself after disappointing last season.
With camaraderie built over summer workouts still engendering good feelings, all the players from the point guards to the centers spoke positively of the competitive training camp environment. It will be interesting to see if the positive attitude remains a week or two from now. Some of the players might not be as charitable as they sounded yesterday at Media Day. Or, there may be some refreshing surprises.
"You want competition," said Scalabrine. "But you have to realize it's not about me or the next guy. It is ultimately about the Boston Celtics getting better. Whatever decision is made is going to be best for the team. You go out there and do what you have to do. When you see [a younger player] do something that could help them, you just let them know.
"Ultimately, me and Justin could play at the same time. And me and Ryan Gomes could be out there together. I've got to learn how they play because I'm not used to it yet. There's a different chemistry. It's about working together and trying to find the right things [to do]. I've got to learn how Paul plays as much as I've got to learn how the point guard plays. We're all trying to get to the same point."