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Welcome back, gym rat

Posted by Scott Souza October 2, 2008 05:58 AM

Scanning the plastic-wrapped Celtics locker room the night of the championship celebration, it wouldn't have been a stretch to name Sam Cassell "Least Likely to Return" among the suds-soaked crew.

Billed as the answer to any lingering backup point guard concerns when acquired just after the trade deadline, Cassell proved an uneven contributor, and at times in the playoffs unnerving to those who watched the offense grind to an isolation-filled halt whenever old No. 28 made his way on the court.

Yet Cassell was back on the parquet when the team broke for training camp in Newport, R.I., this week. A little more than a month shy of his 39th birthday, Cassell decided he wanted to give it one more run, and somewhat surprisingly, the Celtics were willing to let him attempt it in Boston.

"I wasn't going nowhere else," he said. "Why would I? I didn't put it out there to play for another team. If I had, I think I could have gone someplace else. But why? We're the champions."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said there was always a place for Cassell on the Celtics' bench if he wanted it, and that he always figured he would take it.

"I just think you're going to have to drag Sam away from the NBA," said Rivers. "He's a gym rat. I think Sam's one of those guys who can play forever. It's not like Sam relies on his speed. He hasn't for 10 years, and he's still very effective."

He wasn't always effective last season in Boston. Battling back pain, and adjusting to a reserve role for the first time since his Timberwolves days, Cassell shot 38.5 percent, averaging 7.7 points, in 17 regular-season games. He sat out five playoff games entirely -- including the Game 6 clincher against the Lakers -- and the team's ball movement often ceased when he did play.

At the time, much of it was chalked up to Cassell being unfamiliar with the schemes. That excuse won't work this year.

"The difference is now when he takes one of those shots I know he broke the offense," Rivers said. "Last year, he kept saying he didn't know the offense. When he takes one of those shots, and he will, I now know he's breaking the offense for sure."

Cassell, who enters camp not assured of a spot on the opening-night roster, reiterated his pledge from last year to be the good soldier regardless of playing time.

"The fire never left," he said. "It was just me deciding this is what I want to do one more time. I came in winning two. It would be great to go out winning two."

A different outlook for Perkins
For all the upheaval in last year's training camp, the one who may have felt it most was Kendrick Perkins. His best friend on the team, Al Jefferson, had just been traded, and he'd engaged in some not-so-friendly battles on the court with megastar Kevin Garnett, suddenly sharing the starting frontcourt with him.

Despite the effects of offseason shoulder surgery, which Perkins said will keep him out of at least the first two preseason games, there is a lot more certainty this camp.

"It's just more focus, man," Perkins said. "People are still talking a lot, talking about repeating, but I am pretty much locked in."

Perkins, who spent much of the summer near his home in Texas, said winning it all has its privileges. "Just a lot of free meals," he said of the title treatment. "I love to eat, so that's great for me."

Wheels coming off
Paul Pierce has proclaimed himself fully recovered from the knee injury that hampered him throughout the NBA Finals. What was for a few moments of Game 1 the ultimate heart-stopper is now an amusing footnote in the historic run.

"You watch the game, and watch the whole theatrics," Rivers said, "and if I were [Lakers coach] Phil Jackson I would have said: 'Ah, that's [expletive].'

"What people miss is that it's not like Paul signaled for the wheelchair to come. I think everybody overreacted. But, honestly, I thought he was hurt. Where he was grabbing [the knee], and having gone through that injury, I thought we were going to have to do it another way. I am glad I didn't see [the wheelchair], now that I think about it."

Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at ssouza@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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