July 17, 2003
Yesterday, the Celtics re-signed Blount to a two-year deal worth approximately $2 million with a player option the second year. The 7-foot center received several offers starting at the $1.5 million exception, but he felt most comfortable remaining in Boston.
"Chris Wallace and Leo Papile took the time to come down and have dinner with me," said Blount. "That sent the message that they really wanted me. After those guys came down and we had a great conversation over dinner, it was just a matter of getting it done.
"I could have gone somewhere else. But I just looked at what we were trying to do in Boston, what the overall picture was. That was more important than trying to go somewhere else in the NBA. I'm very comfortable with my situation. I looked at it and said, 'Let's keep what we're doing here and keep moving forward.' "
Boston wasted no time bringing back Blount, making the new deal official on the first day players were allowed to sign contracts. By signing Blount to a deal worth more than the veteran minimum, the Celtics showed they were willing to spend extra when they deemed it necessary. Although Boston could not match the offers being made by some of the other suitors, director of basketball operations Danny Ainge remained flexible in his dealing with Blount's agent, Mark Bartelstein.
"It was a tough decision because he had a number of people pursuing him," said Bartelstein. "People really liked the way he played the second half of the season for the Celtics. But he felt like he was in the process of building something there. He felt he was making a lot of strides with the Celtics and with the coaching staff. He wanted to see it through and see where he could take it to. He's making basically an investment in himself and the Celtics. One that we really hope is going to pay off."
After being reacquired by Boston at the trading deadline last February, Blountaveraged 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds over 27 regular-season games. The center played in all 10 of the Celtics' playoff contests, averaging 3.1 points and 3.6 rebounds and blocking a total of eight shots. Blount immediately infused the team with a tougher, more physical presence inside. Coach Jim O'Brien was desperately seeking greater toughness as Boston headed toward the postseason.
It was appropriate that the news of Blount's re-signing came during the Reebok Pro Summer League. Playing for the Celtics' entry in 2000, Blount first proved to the Boston front office that he deserved a second shot at the NBA. He signed a free agent contract with the Celtics Aug. 1, 2000, and appeared in 64 games during the 2000-01 season. He proved a valuable addition by starting 50 games in place of injured starter Tony Battie. That season, he led the team in blocks with 76, the most by any Celticsrookie since Kevin McHale. Blount's shot-blocking and rebounding abilities were certainly two of the reasons the Celtics were willing to pay more than the veteran minimum to re-sign him.
Owner Steve Pagliuca defended the Celtics' spending policies and said that "conservative estimates put spending up $22 million over the past year." That figure includes money spent on an increased scouting budget with more resources aimed overseas, additions to the basketball staff and contract extensions for the coaches as well as player personnel. It also covers the approximately $1.5 million Pagliuca said the Celtics would pay in luxury taxes on the Blount contract. Pagliuca cited Blount as an example that the team will pay to acquire or keep talent Ainge wants. Pagliuca added that ownership has faith in the "comprehensive strategy" Ainge is developing that will upgrade the team over a three-year period.
But yesterday, Ainge was crediting Blount for getting the deal done. "Mark went extra and Mark wanted to be with us," said Ainge. "He could have made more money in other places and we feel that Mark still has some upside. We feel he's a player that's still improving. A lot of times bigger guys take a little longer to develop. He's starting to get comfortable. He's confident in our system with our coaching staff. He wanted to stay. He's been at other places and it hasn't been as well for him. He really wanted to be back here. And we really wanted him back."