WALTHAM — Shortly after the Feb. 21 trade deadline, Chris Wilcox approached Doc Rivers.
Wilcox wanted to know what role he’d be playing now that he was the only backup center on the Celtics roster, as Jason Collins had just been traded to Washington in a deal for guard Jordan Crawford.
The coach gave Wilcox a straightforward answer.
“He told me that he wanted me to go out, play hard, be aggressive, and bring energy every night,” Wilcox said Sunday before practice.
That is a very simple request, partly because there isn’t any one area in which Wilcox has been asked to improve. Instead, he has been asked to improve his overall game because he has struggled this season with consistency and injuries, missing nearly a month with a thumb sprain.
Wilcox has played better in two of the four games since the trade deadline. He had 14 points and 8 rebounds off the bench in a win against Phoenix and had 8 points on 4-of-4 shooting and 7 rebounds in Friday night’s 94-86 win against Golden State at TD Garden.
He also said that he feels healthy, that “things are starting to come along,” which is more or less what Rivers said after the Golden State win.
“Since we made the trade, Chris has been pretty good,” Rivers said. “He’s playing with great effort. He’s running the floor, setting great picks. He’s been good for us.”
It’s worth noting, though, that Wilcox also nearly was traded to the Wizards instead of Collins, but Wilcox declined to give up his impending early Bird rights, which allow the Celtics to re-sign him without it counting against the salary cap.
Had Wilcox given up those rights, it would have facilitated the deal, and he would’ve been wearing a Wizards uniform.
On the day of the trade deadline, Rivers lamented the dealing away of Collins, saying, “We lost a very important guy in our locker room.” Rivers then said of Wilcox, “We’re putting a lot of pressure on Chris. Chris is going to have to play well.”
A day later, when Wilcox did play well against Phoenix, Rivers praised him, but said, “It can’t be one game and go have a parade. He’s got to keep doing it.”
And after Wilcox played well against Golden State, Rivers again lauded Wilcox, but added, “You’ve got to do it every night.”
Of his decision to not waive his early Bird rights, Wilcox said, “I just wanted to come back here and prove my point and let them know that I appreciate everything they’ve done for me so far.”
So far, Wilcox, who is averaging 4.4 points and 2.7 rebounds this season, has played, at the very least, better than before.
Wilcox attributed his improved play partly to knowing his role.
“My role has basically been the same the whole time, but it’s just more so being consistent and having the minutes to play it in,” he said. “At one point in time, I was playing like four or five minutes and it was kind of tough to be consistent and not know if you were going to play tonight or not.
“But now, I know my role and I know when I’m coming in and I know what I need to do to prepare.”
Repeat after me
The Celtics held an open practice Sunday in the presence of a corporate sponsor, but Rivers didn’t attend and the 35-and-up trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry didn’t do too much, as per orders.
Instead, the Celtics focused on helping their new players — Terrence Williams, DJ White, and Shavlik Randolph — get adjusted.
“We’re trying to get the young guys, the new guys, to understand what we’re looking for in a play,” said assistant coach Armond Hill. “And repetition is the only way, so we have to keep going over and over and over.”
Rookie forward Jared Sullinger, who is rehabbing from back surgery, watched from the sideline and signed autographs afterward.
Rivers was in Maine watching the Celtics’ D-League team, the Maine Red Claws, play the Erie Bayhawks. Rivers’s son Jeremiah plays for the Red Claws.
Making it official
The Celtics formally announced the signing of Williams to a multiyear contract. It is for the remainder of this season with a conditional deal for next season.
Williams has appeared in four games, averaging 3.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 11.5 minutes per game. He joined the team after playing for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.