Cassell Watch Continues at Waltham
"Sam who? Never heard of him," cracked Doc Rivers. That was before Monday night's 104-76 win over the Clippers (in which Cassell didn't play because of a sore right wrist). By the end of the week, Rivers not only might be able to publicly identify Cassell, but also coach him. But for that to happen, the Clippers have to agree to the buyout. As of Monday night, the consensus was that the divorce was all but finished (although owner Donald Sterling said he had no knowledge of it, nor did he understand how it worked).
Yesterday, however, there was no news, other than the emergence of one NBA truism: Sterling and his money are not easily parted. The owner actually said Monday night that he figured if Cassell were to leave the team, then the Clippers' financial obligation to him would go with the player. Doesn't work that way, Donald.
Cassell wants to leave. His coach, Mike Dunleavy, would not oppose the move and would see it as a good-faith gesture by a team going nowhere. It would also send a sign to other players who might end up in a similar situation. But if Sterling doesn't sign off, it won't happen. He didn't want to part with the team's No. 1 pick in 2008 for a chance to get the Grizzlies' Mike Miller, and the deal died at last week's trading deadline.
While the Cassell situation got a little murkier, the Brent Barry situation, thought to be dead, has gotten some life. On Monday, an NBA source said Barry was poised to join the Suns. That hasn't happened yet, although Phoenix boss Steve Kerr visited with Barry yesterday in San Antonio and remains hopeful. The Rockets also were in the hunt, but the season-ending injury to Yao Ming takes them out of the loop. The Spurs are still in the picture and, frankly, Barry is comfortable there and the team has a legitimate chance to repeat.
What about the Celtics? He'd be a great fit for Boston as well, but it would involve a lot of logistical stuff. If he waits another three weeks, he can re-up with the Spurs and be ready for the playoffs. But as of yesterday, he hadn't signed anywhere.
Cassell, however, has publicly expressed a desire to play for Boston (which he told the Globe's Marc Spears) and the feeling is mutual. He would be a tremendous and significant addition for a number of reasons. While Danny Ainge has consistently said that he likes the Celtics as constructed, he also has said that he wouldn't mind having a veteran point guard around for the playoffs. It just had to be the right one (read: not Troy Hudson or Mike Wilks). Cassell fits the bill in a number of ways.
He has been in 115 playoff games. He has championship experience, having won two rings with the Rockets in his first two years in the league. He's also been to conference finals with the Timberwolves (2004) and the Bucks (2001.) Minnesota fans still feel that if Cassell had been healthy for the Western Conference finals against the Lakers, the Timberwolves would have won the series.
He not only can run a team, which is critical when Rajon Rondo isn't on the floor, he's big enough and savvy enough to slide over to shooting guard and play with Rondo. He won't get rattled or frazzled by the pestering Lindsey Hunter or anyone else. He's wily, savvy, and smart. And if he's on the floor at the end of a close game, leave him alone at your peril. He not only wants to take the big shot, he's made a few along the way.
You'd have to also think that from a chemistry standpoint, Cassell would be a seamless fit. He's played with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, both of whom have said kind things about him. Garnett's only serious playoff run came with Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. Allen's only serious playoff run came with Cassell and Glenn Robinson. You'd also have to think Ainge has sounded out Garnett, Allen, and Paul Pierce and gotten the green light. Otherwise, why bring in someone who could mess things up?
Cassell's role will be to back up Rondo, not supplant him. He has to be OK with that. He has to be OK with nights when he plays 10 minutes. He'd also have a much better chance at a third ring by going to the East and getting out of the wild West.
And, even at the grizzled age of 38, Cassell has shown he still has game. He poured in 35 points against the Pacers Nov. 7. Only one Celtic, Pierce, has scored more points in a game this season. He's gone 39 minutes on two occasions. He joked Monday night that he was "damaged goods" because of his wrist injury, but then quickly added, "I'll be fine in no time."
If that's the case, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be, then the Celtics have made their move for the playoffs. The Lakers, Mavericks, Spurs, Suns, Rockets, Hornets, Jazz, and Cavaliers all made theirs. The Pistons may still do something.
But now, the team with the best record and best defense since Day One hopes to add the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae. Can we just fast-forward to May?