WALTHAM, Mass. — Jeff Green talked about having unfinished business. Chris Wilcox said he wanted to provide an even greater spark off the bench than he provided last season. Brandon Bass spoke of trying to live up to Kevin Garnett's maniacal work ethic. Jason Terry offered to do the laundry, if necessary.
The four newly signed free agents who appeared at the Celtics' practice facility on Saturday all said that Boston was where they wanted to be all along. That was understandable, given that the ink was not dry on contracts for Wilcox and Bass, and that Green and Terry have yet to put pen to paper on an official agreement. But each player had a deeper motivation, beyond playing time or money, that drew him to Boston, and it should not be surprising that the Celtics pursued players of that type of character coming off a season in which team chemistry proved to be so crucial.
"I had other offers out, but I knew where I wanted to be and that's back in the green jersey, playing for the Celtics and a great organization and a great group of guys who are all about winning," Bass said. "Yeah, I'm excited to be back."
When salary concerns limit a team from being able to sign a bevy of elite free agents (at least, most of the time), one route to contention is to stockpile players who feel they owe more to the organization than the organization owes them. Green had several serious suitors, as did Bass, but no team was ready to open up its wallet the way teams were for Deron Williams or Roy Hibbert. The players who attended Saturday's news conference were solid rotation contributors, not perennial All-Stars.
Yet those players are perfect fits for the Celtics because they want to be perfect fits. Terry had visions of himself wearing a green jersey during this year's playoffs. Bass felt welcomed and accepted like he never did with his first three NBA teams. Green seemed like a square peg in a round hole when he arrived in Boston two years ago, but apparently Doc Rivers' system was never a significant part of his negotiations. He and Wilcox, who developed a kinship over their respective aortic ailments, never seriously considered another destination.
"With what we went through, this organization was there for us," Green said. "With our surgeries, they made sure we were OK. Anything we needed, they were there for us while they were trying to win a championship. So we felt like it was only right for us to come back and support them."
Wilcox said his wife was at her wits' end by the end of the season after enduring Wilcox's frenetic armchair quarterbacking while watching Celtics games on TV. Even from his living room, he still cared.
"Sometimes when I was at home, I was just looking at the game and you see so many places where you could have helped the team, and it's frustrating that you can't get out there," Wilcox said. "I could have done this, I could have done that, but at the end of the day it's a blessing that I'm here and I'm in the situation that I'm in now. Hopefully, I can pick up where I left off and kind of clean up some things I didn't do last season."
Bass' experience was almost exactly the opposite of Green's and Wilcox's, in a way. Whereas illnesses struck down their seasons, injuries and other health-related factors opened up an opportunity for Bass. Greater playing time and a starting role were not as significant to his improvement as was Rivers' support, however.
"Being coached by a coach who wanted to see you be successful, and who wanted each individual player be successful, that's what makes a championship team," Bass said. "My experience here from day one was great. When I walked into the gym, Doc told me to play my game and I just felt a sense of comfort. Each and every day I came in here and got better, and that's what I want to do moving forward."
Expecting a little bit of humility to win the Celtics a title may be going too far, but last year's squad was evidence that a team with a shared sense of purpose can overcome age, injuries and other factors, to an extent. A healthy Avery Bradley, a rejuvenated Paul Pierce and a focused Rajon Rondo will have far more to do with the Celtics' success than Green's sense of gratitude toward the organization.
It is a good start, though, when a player feels like he needs to thank his team, and not that his team should be thanking him.
Thumbnail via Facebook/Jeff Green