|At times, the season was too much to bear for Sebastian Telfair, on and off the court. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)|
Telfair never belonged
He's an undersized point guard. He's a (to be polite) marginal shooter. He can't guard.
He seems to have a recurrent handgun issue.
He also seems to have an expired driver's license issue and a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time issue.
He is a soon-to-be-former Celtic, at least according to co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, who alerted the media via e-mail to the fact that Sebastian Telfair was not going to be a part of any Celtics' plans. "I wanted to let you know that we have removed Sebastian's nameplate from his locker in Waltham," Grousbeck wrote. "The facts and circumstances of his case have not yet been determined but he does not have a Celtics locker and we do not anticipate that he will."
Putting aside for a moment the inventive and unprecedented (around here, anyway) nature of the act of dismissal, one question remains:
What was Sebastian Telfair doing here in the first place?
"I still think he's going to be a productive NBA player," maintains Danny Ainge, who brought him here, "but it didn't work out for us."
The degree to which Telfair was a disappointment depends on how much you valued him in the first place. Ainge obviously valued him quite a lot. Telfair was the Boston centerpiece of a 2006 draft-day deal with Portland in which the Celtics sent Raef LaFrentz (and his gargantuan contract), Dan Dickau, and their first-round pick to the Trail Blazers for Telfair, Theo Ratliff (and both his bad back and his gargantuan contract), and a 2008 second-round pick.
The Celtics didn't want Dickau, and they were desperate to get out from under the LaFrentz deal. But the seventh pick in the draft certainly had value, and that is basically what Ainge gave up to get Telfair, who is now, less than a year after he was acquired, officially persona non grata with the Boston Celtics. The Trail Blazers flipped that pick with Minnesota, the former getting Brandon Roy and the latter getting Randy Foye. Mr. Roy will soon be named Rookie of the Year, perhaps unanimously. Yeah, ouch. It was not Danny's finest hour.
The 6-foot (5-11? 5-10 1/2?) Telfair was a big high school item in New York at Coney Island's Lincoln High School, but you can argue he was most famous for being famous. He was first presented to the world at large in early adolescence, a budding star on the court and a business-oriented 13-going-on-30 off it. Telfair is a classic worldly-wise product of the sick, corrupted AAU world. He has had adults fawning over him since he was 12, with predictable consequences. It was complicated in his case because he is a first cousin to the Marburys, a notoriously grasping clan that sorted through basketball prospects, one by one, until Stephon (the last hope) finally emerged as the one who would become fabulously rich and thus be able to provide for all the rest.
Cousin Sebastian took it to the hoop often enough to average 18, 27, 29, and 33 points during his four years at Lincoln, capping his career by scoring 25 as the Railsplitters (I just love employing that nickname) defeated Cardozo to win the PSAL, or New York City Public School, title. He became the subject of a fascinating Ian O'Connor book ("The Jump: Sebastian Telfair and the High-Stakes Business of High School Ball") and an ESPN documentary ("Through the Fire"), each detailing his wooing by the sneaker companies and the process by which he decided whether to attend college (it would have been Louisville) or subject himself to the draft directly from high school, the first point guard to do so.
He took the Adidas money, put his name in the draft, and found himself going at No. 13 to Portland. But after two drab years, the Trail Blazers were quite pleased to find him a new home. Now we know why.
Let's get serious: Telfair's off-court escapades, aggravating and embarrassing as they may be, were not deviant enough by the general rules of modern athletic behavior to merit his banishment if he had been remotely useful as a basketball player.
Telfair will be dumped because he has been deemed expendable. He contributed nothing to the team, and the Celtics obviously believed that wasn't going to change.
Look, I'm not pooh-poohing his transgressions. I don't think it's wonderful that he was found carrying a loaded handgun registered to his future wife aboard a Trail Blazers' charter at Hanscom Field in February 2006.
I still think there's a fair amount of 'splainin' to do about the bizarre events of last October, when, as he exited a restaurant owned by a Mr. Sean Combs (currently known as "Diddy"), he was removed of his $50,000 necklace by a pair of thugs, all of which seemed to lead, directly or indirectly, to the shooting of a rapper named Fabolous a few hours later. "Bassie" (this is as good a time as any to introduce his own cute nickname) has been exonerated by the New York police of any involvement in Mr. Fab's unfortunate "accident," but active minds are free to wander. Indeed, there is a fascinating clip on YouTube, complete with audio, that raises some interesting questions about just what went on that evening.
I certainly do not condone our friend Bassie's latest caper, in which, after being stopped going 77 miles per hour in a 45-m.p.h. zone by Yonkers police, and after he had produced no viable driver's license -- he did offer an expired one from Florida, where he has never lived -- yet another, yup, handgun (a semiautomatic .45-caliber Colt) was spied under the seat. Neither Bassie nor his companion, one Al Eden Fuentes, could identify its owner, although we are now being told it is registered to Mrs. Telfair.
All this might be construed as a major negative were you employed on, say, Wall Street, but in the world of professional sports, it hardly raises an eyebrow. Pacman Jones, for example, was tolerated into the double figures with regard to police encounters before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell struck him down. His own team, the Tennessee Titans, did virtually nothing to discipline him. He got the benefit of the doubt, and the extra doubt. Why? Because he is an extraordinary talent, that's why.
Bassie is not. "He was clearly our best point guard coming out of training camp," Ainge declares. "At the time, we were running an offense called 'Random,' which is more of an uptempo style that fits his game. We stopped doing that, and I'm not saying we shouldn't have, due to our personnel. But it wasn't good for Sebastian."
Telfair went from starter to backup, to backup's backup, to occasional DNP. It was the second year in a row he had fallen to third guard on a team with the second-worst record in the league. It's not an elegant résumé.
Ainge insists that Telfair is redeemable. "He's no trouble on a team," Danny says. "He never complained. He works hard. He comes in every day competing for a job. I know how people view him. He is a product of how he was raised. The off-the-court things we do take seriously. We do have a code of conduct. But I really think he'll learn from all this."
He'll do that learning somewhere else. Perhaps it's time for Bassie to scale down his expectations. I learned a long time ago that in the matter of professional basketball, it's wise to remember there is a country for everybody, even for point guards who can't shoot and can't guard.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.