Gastclown Gets Last Laugh

June 20, 1995

No, it isn't. Not funny in a "ha-ha" sense, at least not if you happen to be interested in the fortunes of the Boston Celtics. But M.L. Carr naming himself coach of the team is funny in an alternate sense, more along the lines of funny as in weird, bizarre or inexplicable. So in that sense, yeah, it most certainly is funny.

Think about this: M.L. Carr is now, on paper, the second-most powerful individual in the history of the Boston Celtics. Not since Red Auerbach retired as coach at the conclusion of the 1965-66 season has anyone been both coach and general manager - Basketball VP, Hoop Honcho, the title doesn't matter - of this team. Bill Russell wasn't. Tom Heinsohn wasn't. Bill Fitch may have thought he was, at times, but he wasn't. K.C. Jones? Please. Jimmy Rodgers wasn't. Chris Ford wasn't.

But M.L Carr is.

M.L. Carr?

M.L. Carr.


The answer is simple, actually. When an unqualified person ascends to a position in business, my theory is you don't hold him or her accountable. You look to the person who put him or her in that position.

I am speaking of Paul Gaston. He hired M.L. Carr.

What am I missing here? More importantly, what are savvy Celtic insiders missing? What, in fact, is the entire NBA missing? What does Paul Gaston see in Michael Leon Carr that no one else on this earth sees that qualifies him to be invested with such astonishing power?

"It comes down to people," says Gaston. "It's definitely a crapshoot. I think he has a special spark to him. He's real. There's no b.s. He's not some spin doctor's product."

OK, but where was Carr 18 months ago? Was he working side-by-side with Dave Gavitt, learning the NBA personnel ropes? No. Was he out on the road, a la Dennis Johnson, Rick Weitzman or Jon Jennings, assessing talent along the highways and byways of America? No. Was he on the bench, studying under Chris Ford and Don Casey, watching how practices are run, learning the sophisticated NBA defensive schemes and finding out just how much the dynamics of the league have changed since his 1985 retirement? No.

No, no and no. He was back here, tending to his businesses and (occasionally) cutting a ribbon or signing autographs in the guise of Community Relations Director, a job, from all accounts, at which he was no fanatic, workaholicly speaking.

Now he is King. Amazing.

What he had to have been doing is obvious. He had to have been schmoozing the owner, and schmoozing him big-time. Sometime in the winter of '93-94 he began showing up at Brandeis, shooting hoops and just kind of hanging around. No one took him seriously. No one knew that he was busy getting the owner's ear.

"He started coming by occasionally a couple of years ago," Gaston says. "He wasn't happy with the way the organization was going, from the standpoint of both a fan and an alumnus. I got to know him pretty well, and I developed a lot of faith in him."

And how. His appointment as Gavitt's successor was shocking. I mean a major, gigantic shock-ah! He had served no apprenticeship whatsoever. The only reasonable explanation anyone could come up with for Gaston naming him the chief basketball officer was that he could put a happy face on a deteriorating public relations situation. Gaston was taking a battering from the press and public, and, being new around here, figured he could get people off his back by giving them smiling, effervescent M.L. as a symbolic leader. The idea that Gaston actually thought M.L. was qualified was unthinkable.

So what is anyone to think now that Gaston has allowed M.L. to consolidate his power in this frightening package? There are only two possible motivations for Gaston. The first is cynicism; i.e, he is using M.L. as a pawn in pursuit of a much larger agenda. The second is stupidity; i.e. he honestly and truly believes M.L. Carr is the best man available to complete the Herculean task of restoring the Celtics to basketball prominence.

The first theory could easily be true. After all, have we not learned that these days the real news about the Celtics is to be found on the business pages, not the sports pages? The Gastons, pere et fils, are very good at making money, which is their constitutional right. There could be a grand scheme in play here; something, perhaps, to do with the eventual sale of the team. With these people, anything is possible.

The second theory is chilling.

On the GM front, M.L. is still learning the league. When the Lakers acquired Cedric Ceballos, he pooh-poohed it because he had Ceballos confused with Richard Dumas. As a casual observer, as a Celtic alum, he can be excused for not knowing which guy was the routine pain-in-the-butt and which was the druggie. As the GM, he is paid to know these things.

As for his new job, someone with a good working knowledge of the Celtics' inner workings says that this management views coaches as "glorified phys ed instructors." If that's the case, then apparently they think that there is no real need to go out and get a professional coach. They think any reasonably astute ex-jock - and M.L. is certainly that - can do it.

There was talk yesterday of M.L.'s "enthusiasm." That's nice. There was talk of a pressing defense and running and all the things the Old Celtics and Bird Celtics used to do. Earth to M.L.: You ain't pressing nobody with Dominque Wilkins and Dino Radja.

Enthusiasm? That will carry him for about three days, or until the team figures out that they are Dorothy and M.L. is the Wizard of Oz. Paul Gaston may not believe M.L. is some "spin doctor's product," but that is not a universally held opinion. Once the players get clued in to the fact that their new mentor is faking it, bluffing it, yellow-brick-roading it, they will quickly tune him out.

This is a highly sophisticated league. You are asking M.L. Carr to go up against the Jerry Wests and Jerry Colangelos of the world during the day as well as the Rudy T's and Larry Browns at night. Paul Gaston does not understand what this means. He simply can't, not if he thinks M.L. can do either one of his jobs without adequate training.

What fans must understand is that the Boston Celtics they knew and loved do not exist anymore. The team moving into the FleetCenter is the Clippers East. Based on that standard, perhaps M.L. is the right man for these jobs.

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