Rajon Rondo and Eddie House have been through this sort of thing before.
This time last year, Sam Cassell landed in the Celtics’ locker room with a long resume and large personality. Though everyone tried to say the right things, they clearly felt uncertainty, for good reason.
Rondo joked that Cassell was there to take all his minutes. Then, for stretches of the early part of the playoffs when Rondo struggled on the road, he did just that.
House said he would stay professional no matter what happened, and to his credit, he did. He sat and watched nearly two full playoff series while the role he’d carved out over the previous six months vanished.
House wound up coming back with a huge impact in some of the C’s biggest playoff victories — most significantly, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cleveland and the Game 4 NBA Finals comeback in Los Angeles — then opted to return to Boston as a free agent when he had longer, more lucrative offers to go elsewhere. Asked in August if he was worried about history repeating, he responded emphatically.
“I don’t think they would re-sign me not to play, or so they could go find somebody else,” he said. “Even though at the time I was unhappy about not playing, nobody knew it. I stayed working hard, waited for my opportunity. Then when I got it, I seized it. That should be rewarded.”
Now along comes Stephon Marbury, who signed with the C’s Feb. 27 after negotiating a buyout with the Knicks. Another point guard, with a resume almost as long as Cassell’s and a persona that may be even larger.
The sentiment, at least initially, is that things will be different this time around. Marbury figures to be more of a complement to Rondo and House than a replacement.
“I think it’ll help Eddie because it will move Eddie off the ball more,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “So I think [he’s the] guy who benefits the most.”
House has played well at point guard this year but has been much more effective as a 3-point threat at shooting guard. For now, he’s buying it.
“I think [Marbury] will be a great addition,” House said. “The guy can score and add scoring punch to the second unit. It takes pressure off me having to bring the ball up. Then [last Sunday], I took pressure off him bringing the ball up. So we can work together and it will be beneficial to both of us.”
Unlike Cassell, who was a strict point guard, Marbury figures to bounce back and forth between the guard positions. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he has the size to defend bigger guards, and the court vision and ball-handling skills to run the point.
“I think it’s just going to be basically about what Doc wants and who gets it, who’s pushing the ball,” Marbury said. “I think if I get the ball in the open court, that’s pretty much my game. Pick-and-rolls, that’s pretty much how I fit right in. In time, I’ll be able to have those opportunities.”
Rondo, who presumably has stopped having to look over his shoulder, concurred.
“I don’t know how that’s going to work, but we’re going to work it out,” he said. “Once we have a few practices, we’ll probably get a better feel for it.”
Marbury said he is already impressed with his new running mates.
“Those guys both know what they’re doing on the court,” he said. “They know where they’re going. They know how they want to play. Rajon gets into areas and sets up plays for others. Eddie shoots the ball extremely well. Once we all get acclimated with each other, we will have the opportunity to have a nice court together.”
Tony Allen will also have his work cut out for him to get back into the mix. He’s expected to return from left thumb surgery around the start of the playoffs. Though Allen can defend bigger players, Marbury may be better suited for the sixth-man role — the primary backup at two positions — that Allen never fully seized even when healthy.
“If that happens, I can’t do nothing about that,” said Allen, who said he hopes to be back for the final three or four games of the regular season. “It will be a coach’s decision.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports