BOSTON — Jared Sullinger‘s breakout performances during the
Celtics’ trip to Europe raised the possibility that the 260-pound earth-mover
from Ohio State could muscle his way into Boston’s starting lineup. To do so,
of course, he would have to supplant the current power forward, Brandon Bass,
in what may be the preseason’s most intriguing position battle.
That is, it would be, if there were any battle. After
Tuesday’s preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets, in which Bass and Sullinger
shared the court for a significant stretch for the first time, the two players were
insistent that there was no competition between them.
“We’re not competing for the same spot,” Bass
said, repeatedly. “We’re not competing.”
Bass and Sullinger played together for a two-minute stretch
late in the third quarter, then a five-minute stretch in the middle of the
fourth quarter. The pairing was only one of several lineup experiments coach
Doc Rivers and his staff have implemented during the preseason, but this one had
a different wrinkle. This was not a “twin towers” lineup of Kevin
Garnett accompanied by another big body like Darko Milicic, nor was it
“small ball” with multiple guards alongside Rajon Rondo. This was
somewhere in between.
On offense, Bass and Sullinger presented some matchup
problems for the shorthanded Nets. Both players are excellent shooters for
their positions and could be the Celtics’ two best rebounders, even if the
6-foot-8 Bass and the 6-foot-9 Sullinger were at a height disadvantage against
a spidery 6-foot-11 center like Andray Blatche.
“We can spread out the defense,” Sullinger said.
“We both can shoot. We both like to rebound and we both understand our
role for this basketball team.”
Bass was defiant at the very mention of
“competing” for a starting spot or for playing time with the rookie,
whom Bass called “smart,” a “good listener” and a
“great rook.” The competition, Bass insisted, was against other
teams, not within the locker room.
Sullinger echoed the seven-year veteran whose locker flanks
“Our relationship’s great,” Sullinger said.
“We don’t care about starting. We just want to win the basketball game. Like
I’ve told everybody, our main focus is banner 18, so as we go on, we understand
we’ve got to support one another.”
Still, what else would they say? That they despise each
other? That Bass, who signed a three-year contract in the offseason, resents
the youngster challenging him for his rightful spot? Words can be faked. Talk is cheap.
But the context clues suggest that their competition truly
is an outside creation. While a reporter asked Sullinger a question about his
role on Tuesday, Bass interrupted.
“Blah, blah, blah,” Bass said, smiling. “Just
ask him about the great game he played.”
“No, then they’d have to talk to you,” Sullinger
The back-and-forth did not feel forced, and there was no apparent undercurrent of disgust. The two competitors seemed to get along as well as any teammates. If Bass and Sullinger really are enemies, they are horrible