August 28, 1994
None of those players will be the X factor that determines Boston's level of success this season. That falls in the lap of Pervis Ellison.
The reason is simple. The Celtics have no way of knowing what they will get from the veteran big man, who has battled injuries and a reputation for being soft.
If Ellison is a bust, the Celtics are in trouble. They are counting on him to log serious minutes in the center spot; if he can't, the time goes to an eager but inexperienced rookie (Eric Montross) and a curiously lackluster and inexperienced former rookie (Acie Earl).
Ellison, a former No. 1 overall pick, understands the situation. He also recognizes this as his last chance to redeem himself in the NBA. That is why he has been going through two-a-day sessions with trainer Ed Lacerte at Brandeis both to strengthen his knee and reach the necessary level of conditioning.
While it's encouraging that Ellison has been so motivated, the truth is, nothing else is acceptable at this juncture.
"Pervis is a vital part of the transition," acknowledged basketball chief M.L. Carr. "We'll be looking for points from him in the middle. There is a big need there, and it's vital that he's healthy."
Ah, there's the rub. There are no guarantees that Ellison can overcome his chronic knee problems. He is a long way from 100 percent; in fact, if the season started today, he would not be in uniform.
The Celtics hope that by Opening Night in November, that status will have changed, but the front office has already prepared itself for the fact that Ellison may not be ready.
"There's a distinct possibility he won't be," Carr said. "But if he continues working like he is now, we're hopeful he'll be right there.
"If he isn't, that's OK. I purposely told Ed Lacerte I'm not looking for a sprint. I wantPervis to finish the marathon. If that means a December start, then we'll live with that."
Bill Strickland, Ellison's agent, said the Celtics' willingness to be patient was one of the most attractive things about them.
"I believe one of Pervis' biggest problems last season was he tried to get back too soon," said Strickland. "He was feeling the pressure of the team Washington and his contract situation.
"There are no such pressures this time. And I think he's in good hands in terms of rehabbing his body. Ed Lacerte was part of the team that examined Ellison as a rookie at the predraft camp in Chicago, and he said unless Pervis got on a program to strengthen his legs, he was going to have problems.
"Eddie predicted what happened to Pervis. Now he's in a position to help him."
Ultimately, however, it will be up to Ellison to help himself.