Making the big bucks leaves Blount feeling like spare change
INDIANAPOLIS -- The contract has done him in. Isn't that always the way? If Celtics center Mark Blount were still an overachiever making short dollars, his poor shooting in Game 2 of the Celtics-Pacers playoff series would have been an unfortunate showing, not a call for him to be burned in effigy.
He is a spot-up center whose most tangible skill is hitting those 15- to 18-footers. Monday night, Blount came up short in that role -- again and again and again. His first miss left the capacity crowd murmuring its disapproval. The second caused a low, unhappy buzz. And, by the time he front-rimmed it for the third time in a row, his own fans were booing him off the floor. He finished 2 of 8 from the floor with five rebounds and two turnovers, and you would have thought it was his fault Boston blew that 6-point lead down the stretch.
They want more from this guy. The Celtics signed him to a six-year, $42 million contract last summer, and the locals want their money's worth. They want the 10.3 points and 7.2 rebounds he averaged last season, when he was one of the lone bright spots in a dismal campaign.
Here's a news flash for you: It's not going to happen.
Mark Blount averaged nearly 30 minutes per game in 2003-04. He was the center on a team that had virtually no inside presence. Someone had to grab the rebounds, and Mark Blount was that someone. Rebounding has never been his strength. He's not a particularly effective shot-blocker. His stone hands are notorious. What he does better than most big men in the league is knock down that jumper. His numbers last year were career highs, including the 56.6 percent shooting. There's no question hoops boss Danny Ainge overpaid for Blount last summer because the free agent market offered skimpy alternatives, and he knew Memphis, Philadelphia, or Toronto would grab him if he didn't.
Ainge never had any illusions about Blount duplicating his performance from last season. For one thing, Antoine Walker is back to handle the board work, and Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins are coming on. Blount was averaging 15.5 minutes a game in this series, and that changed only for the worse last night when he had 0 points and 0 rebounds in three minutes.
"I feel for Mark," said Doc Rivers before last night's Game 3 blowout loss. "He's like Jon Koncak in Atlanta. He was everybody's favorite guy -- until he signed that big contract, and they started wanting him to do things he couldn't do.
"I hate it when that happens. This is a different year. It's a different coaching staff and Mark has a different role. I keep telling him, 'Don't worry about it. Keep doing what you do.' He's one of the top shooting big men in the game. Like I told him, 'If your coach is happy with you, don't worry about anyone else.' "
Easier said than done. Blount lost his starting job, his best friend on the team (Walter McCarty, who requested a trade to Phoenix), and, it would appear, some of his confidence. He stopped talking to the print media without explanation some six weeks ago and has, at times, looked downright miserable. Of course, keep in mind Blount often looked that way last year, too, when he submitted the season of his dreams.
"I'm not worried," Blount insisted last night, in his first interview since that time. "I know what kind of player I am. I didn't pay attention [to the boos]. I'm a strong individual."
Even the strongest guys are human. Nobody likes to be booed by their own fans, and what the Celtics want to do is make sure it doesn't make Blount force the issue, or worse, stop shooting.
"Shooters have good and bad spells," Ainge said. "And it's pretty hard to be a consistent shooter when you are playing short minutes. Do I worry about his confidence? I worry about everybody's confidence who don't play a lot of minutes.
"But here's the thing about Mark that people are missing. He does whatever the coaches ask him to do. I looked at the film [of Game 2] and he did everything right -- except get those shots to go in. He played excellent defense. He is always a high-energy guy on the defensive end."
Blount understands it may never be as good again as it was in 2003-04.
"I loved it," he said, smiling ruefully. "I loved it. But it was different last year. They ran a lot of stuff for me. I was picking and popping all over the place. This year we started out running, then we slowed the tempo a little bit, and my role changed. So you learn and you grow. That's what I'm trying to do."
The money is in the bank. Nobody is going to take it back, and Blount doesn't plan on offering any refunds. Did he consider the ramifications of signing a deal like that last summer?
"I thought about it a little bit at the time," he acknowledged. "I knew a lot of people would look at me different. But what can I do? I know who I am. That's all that matters."
Last night, Blount sat and waited for his chance to straighten out his shooting touch. He did so knowing nobody in Conseco Fieldhouse would boo him if he missed.