Celtics in a rush to adjust
Big Three critical of hasty opening
WALTHAM - The Big Three are back together for one final run. There is genuine excitement at Celtics training camp because finally there appears to be some quality depth behind the team’s All-Stars.
Still, the Celtics appear a bit disturbed at the residual effects of the NBA lockout, including the prospects of December training camp, vetoed trades, and last-minute amnesty decisions.
The new collective bargaining agreement, the NBA’s handling of the lockout, and the compressed schedule that will cram 66 games into 124 days are bothering those Celtics who are accustomed to a routine and perhaps feel they are the sacrificial lambs in the league’s quest to begin the season with a Christmas Day ratings bonanza.
The Celtics are 11 days away from their season opener, have played zero preseason games. They have practiced just twice with close to a full squad. It’s as if they are still scanning the syllabus and the midterm is in less than two weeks away. The expedience of the preseason is not lost on those whose voices have the most influence.
“I just don’t think you can take a couple of days and get ready,’’ Kevin Garnett said at Celtics’ media day with a sarcastic chuckle. “[The state of the league] is up in the air and we’re all dealing with it and we are figuring it out and there’s going to be a period where everybody’s adjusting.’’
Said Paul Pierce, “This is something that could have been avoided. Especially you see all the different trades going through, falling through; there probably should have been a period where you had a free agent signing period, then training camp. The Christmas Day [date] was something that was really pushed amongst the players as a key date and that’s why we’ve been rushed the way we’ve been rushed.’’
The older the player, the more set in his ways. And the Big Three have established a routine in preparing for the season. While all three reported to camp in admirable shape, they have to familiarize themselves with several new teammates and work themselves into basketball shape.
That even goes for Ray Allen, perhaps the league’s best-conditioned player who is lighter than in his rookie season. While Allen ran relentlessly during the lockout, he acknowledged being winded during early workouts. Most teams have nearly two weeks between the start of training camp and the first preseason game. The Celtics have nine days.
“Yeah, I feel very rushed,’’ Allen said. “I can’t say that I have been particularly happy with the way things have transpired over the last two or three weeks. But I think everybody’s in a situation where we just have to do the best with what we have. We have to adjust to the situation at hand and it’s a challenge for all of us. For the veteran guys, we’ve got to get our comfort zones and be ready for difficulties and great challenges.’’
Allen and several other players were unhappy with how the labor negotiations turned up an agreement that could have likely been sealed three weeks earlier. The sides did not strike a deal until Nov. 25, and commissioner David Stern gave each team approximately 30 days to prepare for the opener.
Allen and new teammate Keyon Dooling, a member of the NBAPA executive committee, have discussed at length over the past two days how the players association handled the negotiations. Allen participated in a conference call regarding decertifying the players union and the union eventually disbanded before returning to the bargaining table a few days later to strike a deal.
“Overall, we still did give back $350 million a year - it was a tradeoff we had to make, a decision we had to come to,’’ Dooling said. “I have talked with some guys who had had their issues and we have agreed to disagree but I respect all the opinions.’’
Team president of operations Danny Ainge said he expected more relief and anticipation from the lockout than ill feelings about the conditions and the delay. That may be the case, but the players are definitely annoyed with the compressed training camp and schedule and how the league is handling the impending free agency of Chris Paul.
“I think we’re in a rushed league right now,’’ Garnett said. “I think everybody’s paying attention to the Chris Paul situation. I don’t know why everybody’s shocked. Commissioner Stern’s been pretty adamant about how he wants to do things and how he does things, and now everybody has a voice about it.’’
The Big Three said they are excited for the opportunity to play together and legitimately compete for a title at least one more year, but they couldn’t help but show their disappointment in how this season is beginning.
“This year will test everybody’s endurance and their willingness,’’ Garnett said. “This will be more mental than physical. But again, we’re dealing with limited time with major issues to resolve and we’re in this period of transition and everybody’s going to have to adjust to it. I’m not coming off mad. I’m not coming off as emotional; I’m coming off as a professional.’’