Sunday basketball notes

Recalling the many good points of Havlicek

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 12, 2012
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The occasion of Paul Pierce passing Larry Bird for second place on the Celtics’ all-time scoring list prompts further examination into the remarkable career of the gentleman who is first, John Havlicek.

Pierce, despite playing his entire career with the 3-point shot, is 4,568 points behind Havlicek and potentially would need three full seasons to pass him. Havlicek is 12th on the all-time NBA list, and of the top 12, only he, Oscar Robertson (10th), and Wilt Chamberlain (fourth) did not play in the 3-point era, making their achievement even more impressive.

“The 3-point shot would have certainly added more to my career points, but I don’t know how many,’’ Havlicek said. “It’s one of those things that people will speculate on. I’m just happy with what I have.’’

Havlicek began his career as a role player for the Celtics in the early 1960s and turned into one of the game’s premier scorers during the 1970s, averaging 28.9 points during the 1970-71 season and 27.5 the next. He was a staple on Boston’s two championship teams in the 1970s before retiring in 1978, averaging a not-so shabby 16.1 points in his final season. He finished with eight NBA titles.

Former teammate and coach Tom Heinsohn recalls a young Havlicek fresh out of Ohio State.

“He had a great pair of hands and he was playing his first year with [Bob] Cousy,’’ Heinsohn said. “He didn’t have a shot. He would play defense and would develop his game, but offensively he came back the next year a different player.’’

As Heinsohn, Bill Russell, Don Nelson, Sam Jones, and K.C. Jones aged, Havlicek grew into his prime. He and Dave Cowens were the key reasons the Celtics were strong in the 1970s. They bridged the gap between Russell and Larry Bird.

“I came into a great situation where I had all veterans around me, and through the process of osmosis, I guess, I became one of the people they could rely on,’’ said Havlicek.

“When Russell and all the great players were there, I was just sort of one of the people that contributed, and then when he left, I had to carry the team a little bit more, so my numbers became a little bit better. But I would have preferred it the other way.

“These days, you have players with numbers: ‘He’s a 1 or a 2 or a 3.’ We didn’t have numbers, we were basketball players. Sam Jones and I, neither one of us were point guards, but we played the backcourt a lot together because we were basketball players. Frank Ramsey guarded [center] Nate Thurmond. We were versatile. That’s kind of talent that we had.’’

Havlicek said he was able to develop a personality and style in Boston because there was little player movement in the league.

“When you have a team as we had, we didn’t make any trades,’’ he said. “The only trade Red Auerbach made in my first 10 years there was Mel Counts for Bailey Howell, and of course there wasn’t free agency, so you were allowed to keep your players for a long period of time.

“Maybe that contributed to the efficiency we had. Every year when we came to training camp, there was no new offense or defense. So I think I benefited from that.

“And as far as records are concerned, all records are going to be broken. You only have them for a certain period of time.’’


Bryant still among best

Kobe Bryant is part of that special draft class of 1996 that includes Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Marcus Camby, and Derek Fisher, and he is the youngest of the crew because he came to the NBA fresh out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania.

Having reached fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, Bryant paused to reflect.

He is in his 16th NBA season and has established himself as one of the game’s all-time greats. His rise was rather unlikely because he was only the second in the new generation of high school draft entries after Kevin Garnett in 1995.

If teams had the chance to re-draft, of course, Bryant would have been grabbed first overall by his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. But he fell to 13th, picked by the Charlotte Hornets, who made the huge mistake of trading him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac.

The Celtics selected Antoine Walker seven picks ahead of Bryant, but they did have him in for a predraft workout.

“I remember being terrified of going to work out for the Celtics, because I was such a Lakers fan growing up,’’ he said. “I was like, ‘Am I doing the right thing working out for the Celtics?’

“I’m in there with Dennis Johnson and I’m speaking with him and I learned so much from him. It was a great workout. I had a blast.’’

Five championships later, Bryant is considered among the greatest Lakers of all-time and is still going strong. Like Michael Jordan in his later years, Bryant depends more on his fadeaway jumper and midrange game than his formerly dominant above-the-rim game. And the Lakers are a flawed team, unable to give him capable complements for another title run.

But he remains championship-driven.

“This is what I play for,’’ he said. “I can think of nothing else. As a kid growing up, that’s all I saw. I watched [Larry] Bird and I watched Magic[Johnson] and I watched them win multiple titles.

“You kind of grow up and say, ‘This is how it should be. This is what I must do.’ After winning one, you become addicted to it and you just become greedy. I want another one.

“Father Time will eventually catch up. It won’t catch up this year. It could be next year, maybe the year after that, but that’s kind of the challenge that I enjoy going through.’’

And at 33, Bryant continues to pound his body. He said he is committed to playing for the US team this summer in the London Olympics.

“I’m definitely going to play, and not going to let Pau [Gasol] win a gold medal [for Spain],’’ he said.

Bryant will be the team’s oldest player, but there is no debate that he remains one of the premier players in the world.

“The challenge is always putting together a mix of players that play well together,’’ he said. “It’s not always the best players, but the best players that fit together.

“Spain plays extremely well together. Argentina plays extremely well together. That’s going to be our challenge.”


A helping of Mayo here?

O.J. Mayo was nearly traded twice by Memphis to the Pacers over the past year, as the Grizzlies felt they were so deep that his combo guard skills were expendable. But neither deal was consummated, and Mayo, the third overall pick in the 2008 draft, will be a restricted free agent this summer.

Mayo may be the type of player the Celtics will target. He is still on his rookie contract, will not demand an exorbitant amount of money, and has yet to enter his prime. With Rudy Gay the Grizzlies’ dominant scorer and Mike Conley the point guard - both on long-term deals - Mayo comes off the bench.

The Celtics will be looking for an heir apparent to Ray Allen at shooting guard, and Mayo understands that the Grizzlies may not re-sign him. Memphis waited until restricted free agency to re-sign Gay and already has committed long-term deals to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

Mayo, who is averaging 12.4 points in 26 minutes per game, giggled when asked about the possibility of playing in Boston.

“I’m just focused on this season, and the Memphis Grizzlies, that’s my main focus,’’ he said. “It’s hard for me to do two things at once.’’

Still, he acknowledged that he is intrigued by his potential worth around the league. Memphis has been his only NBA team; he was considered a future star when it acquired him on draft night from Minnesota for Kevin Love.

“It [free agency] is interesting for any player to go through,’’ Mayo said. “My play on the court will determine that. I try to play hard every single time I’m on the court.’’

But the Grizzlies have been willing to part with him. The first proposed deal was in January 2011 for Josh McRoberts and a first-round pick, but the Grizzlies backed away at the last minute. The second was in December, a preseason sign-and-trade for McRoberts and Brandon Rush. That fell apart at the last minute, too.

The Grizzlies may look to deal Mayo before the trade deadline, but the cost could be high.

“The main thing is to just stay focused, understand it’s a blessing to be in this league anyways,’’ he said, “so every day I just try to remain professional. I work out hard, practice hard, be a good teammate, a positive guy in the locker room, just count my blessings.’’

Mayo said he wasn’t surprised or disappointed that Memphis did not offer him a contract extension before the Jan. 25 deadline for fourth-year players.

“No biggie,’’ he said. “It’s not going to determine how hard I play or how hard I practice or my attitude in or out of the locker room.’’

Mayo turned 24 in November, and as with many one-and-out college players, it seems as if he has been in the NBA for 10 years already.

He may be the steal of the offseason because he essentially has played out of position for five years.

“I’m going to continue getting better, that’s what it’s all about,’’ he said. “In the offseason, just focus on a part of the game that you feel is a weakness. Just try to get better, that’s all I can do.’’


Shaq becomes gentler giant

After his tell-all book ruffled some feathers a few months ago, Shaquille O’Neal has been nothing but gracious in retirement, and the Lakers aren’t waiting long to retire his No. 34. The club announced that the ceremony will take place next season, perhaps an opportunity for O’Neal and former teammate/adversary Kobe Bryant to reconcile. After Bryant passed O’Neal last week for fifth place on the all-time NBA scoring list, O’Neal called him the greatest Laker of all time. It seems as if O’Neal, after making some mistakes in judgment during his tenure in Los Angeles (including demanding his trade to Miami), has learned to appreciate those days.

Caution on concussion

The NBA doesn’t implement its concussion policy often, but the Cavaliers have held out rookie Kyrie Irving for three games because of a concussion he sustained last Tuesday against the Heat. Irving was kicked in the head and felt aftereffects following the game. After being examined at the Cleveland Clinic, he was held out against the Clippers Wednesday, the Bucks Friday, and the 76ers yesterday. Irving will have to go through conditioning and motor tests before he is cleared to return.


The season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury to Chauncey Billups gives former All-Star Mo Williams an opportunity for more playing time with the Clippers after feeling buried when the team acquired Billups and Chris Paul. But coach Vinny Del Negro chose to start Randy Foye at shooting guard over Williams, and now Williams wants a contract extension. He is signed through next season. Williams has seen better NBA days, and it’s curious why he would risk hurting team chemistry with that request during this critical season in Los Angeles . . . The NBA chose Houston as its 2013 All-Star site, which is interesting considering the Texas city hosted the game just six years ago. The league is running out of interested cities, yet has passed up Boston, which hasn’t hosted the game since 1964. Mayor Thomas Menino told the Globe in August that Boston would be interested in presenting a package to the NBA, but there has been no movement. The NBA generally likes to avoid cold-weather cities for the game, but many smaller and medium markets are passing on the opportunity because of the financial burden . . . The Hawks signed 37-year-old Erick Dampier to a 10-day contract, which should indicate to Celtics fans the scarcity of quality centers on the market. Boston is thin in the middle with Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox, and Greg Stiemsma, and there are virtually no big men out there who can help. Stiemsma’s contract was guaranteed for the season by the Celtics, but coach Doc Rivers said he needs to improve his pick-and-roll defense if he is to get more playing time. Opponents took full advantage of Stiemsma after scouting reports began to circulate.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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