He's positioned to succeed
LaFrentz is ready to go playing forward or center
With a little less fanfare, and wearing a Celtics practice jersey, Raef LaFrentz was officially introduced as the team's newest member yesterday morning. Fresh from an hourlong shootaround, LaFrentz fielded questions for five minutes in the Hall of Fame room at the team's practice facility. With regard to the right knee that briefly gave the Celtics pause, LaFrentz said it was "dinged up" as a result of the rigors of training camp.
After finishing his physical too late to practice Tuesday, the power forward/center showed up two hours before the start of yesterday morning's workout for a cram course in the Celtics' system. Last night, he made his Boston debut at the FleetCenter against Minnesota, playing 19 minutes and finishing with 9 points and 5 rebounds in the Celtics' 96-80 victory.
"It feels pretty positive," said LaFrentz, despite the fact that he entered last night's contest knowing only one offensive set. "Initially, it feels like they're going to give me opportunities to do what I do best. Anytime you're in a system like that it's a good thing."
The standard scouting report on LaFrentz describes the 6-foot-11-inch, 237-pound player as a big man who can shoot the perimeter jumper and stretch opposing defenses. In the first half, he made his only 3-point attempt. He can block shots and pass out of the high post. While some have criticized LaFrentz as "soft," he views himself as a "finesse" player. Last night, LaFrentz showed good hands and a willingness to dive after loose balls. He looked surprisingly comfortable for a player in town for only two days.
LaFrentz displayed good passing skills against Minnesota, finding Eric Williams cutting through the lane on a few occasions. The one assist LaFrentz tallied was misleading. And he should have been credited with a block when he aggressively challenged a shot by Gary Trent with 1 minutes 12 seconds remaining in the third. Instead, Trent went to the line much to the vocal dismay of coach Jim O'Brien. Overall, O'Brien credited LaFrentz with playing a "composed game" and added "it would be hard to believe that he just was here for one day and didn't start practicing until [yesterday] morning." It was clear LaFrentz paid careful attention during his morning tutorial.
Following the game, LaFrentz felt he performed well in the first half then became a little confused on different offensive plays in the second half. On the defensive end, he was most impressed with the Celtics' overall effort. LaFrentz was pleasantly surprised by the "intensity and focus" of the Boston defense, certainly something he had not experienced in Dallas.
When asked if he considered himself more of a center or power forward, LaFrentz said, "That's the most asked question of me since I've been a pro. I've been a `5' pretty much my whole career, though an undersized 5 at that. But I spend the majority of the time on the perimeter, so I can pull some of those big centers away from the basket. I think I can play either spot, either 4 or 5. In some systems, it's easier to do that than others." Still, it has been a long time since LaFrentz has truly played in the post. He had to go all the way back to his years with the Nuggets (1998-February 2002) to remember post plays being called for him.
"For the most part, I've played 5, but there's no point in me trying to get deep post position on some of the bigger centers. I pull them out to 15 feet and explore my game that way. And it's been effective for me. But [post play] will be something I'll get back to and something I look forward to getting back to and working on. I didn't do that in Dallas. It's just not how I was used. I'm very excited with some of the schemes and some of the ideas that coach [Jim] O'Brien has involving myself. I just look forward to getting started.
"I'm very aware of the expectations. This is the franchise with the most tradition in the NBA. Growing up I was a Celtics fan, my whole family was Celtics fans. I'm just excited and eager to wear the green."
O'Brien sounded even more eager. He was irritated when the Celtics' two new acquisitions did not arrive in time for Tuesday's practice. So, yesterday, he planned a busy morning for the pair. And this time around, the two players made the most of an extended workout.
LaFrentz and fellow newcomer Jiri Welsch spent 3 1/2 hours becoming familiar with what the Celtics are trying to accomplish. The players met with O'Brien for an hour, then they went on the court and learned some of the Celtics' offensive and defensive principles. Lastly, LaFrentz and Welsch went through a full-squad practice for about an hour and a half. O'Brien called it a productive morning, though he still didn't know what to expect from LaFrentz prior to the game.
"We have a very limited number of plays in for Raef, just at the 4 spot, not that the 4 or the 5 is that much different in what we do," said O'Brien. "We tried to give him the very, very basics of our defense. And I think he'll pick that up pretty well. We could have a good defensive team this year, even better with Raef in the lineup because of his size and what I've observed in my studying of him.
"It's really too early [to consider starting lineup combinations]. I'm just trying to really get a feel at our point guard spot, at our center spot still. There's a lot of things in flux at this point in time. Certainly, I would anticipate fairly quickly that Raef would be in the starting lineup. I think he has that type of talent. No matter how soon we have to start the season, he needs to be out there and he needs to be out there at key times." The biggest question for LaFrentz remains how quickly he can learn the Celtics system. Everyone involved in the trade admits the timing was awkward. While eager for the regular season to begin, director of basketball operations Danny Ainge now wishes training camp lasted an extra week or so. But six days remain until opening night when Boston faces Miami at the FleetCenter. For the Celtics and LaFrentz, that means five more practices, one more shootaround, and one more game to get the reconfigured Celtics together.
"Veteran players usually pick up things pretty quick," said Ainge. "I don't think it will be too much of an adjustment for Raef. There will be some adjustment time to get him comfortable and loose. But I believe he'll get better and better as time goes on. I believe he'll be able to play by opening night and be a contributor."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.