Celtics’ Depth Could Be Curse Unless Players Accept Roles Unconditionally

Celtics' Depth Could Be Curse Unless Players Accept Roles UnconditionallyWALTHAM, Mass. — Jason Terry might prefer to come off the
bench. He has had considerable success doing so in the last five years, from
winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009 to helping the Dallas
Mavericks win a championship in 2011, so Celtics coach Doc Rivers could be
messing with some serious mojo if he tries to use Terry as a starter.

That is what Rivers did on Sunday in the Celtics' second
exhibition game, and so far it does not look like a one-game blip. Since the
team's return from Europe, Terry has stuck with the Celtics' first team in
practice, suggesting that the 35-year-old combo guard could be one of the many
players Rivers may throw into the starting lineup at some point.

Terry embraces that possibility because — as he noted
Thursday — Rivers can implement his personnel however he wants, no matter
whether the players approve.

"No question, because at the end of the day it doesn't
really matter," Terry said. "When your number's called, go in there
and play as hard as you can for the time you're in there. When you're not,
cheer on your teammates. I think that's a formula for success. When you're as
deep as we are as a team, you've got to be a team player. I think everybody
understands that."

In contrast to last season, when Ryan Hollins, Greg Stiemsma
and Mickael Pietrus started at various times for the injured-ravaged Celtics,
Rivers has an embarrassment of riches heading into this season. Paul Pierce
defended the lineup complications brought on by the Celtics' depth as a good
problem to have.
That may turn out to be true, but only if every member of this talent-rich
roster buys in to Rivers' plan.

The player who might be most sensitive to the lineup change
is Brandon Bass, who started 39 games during the regular season and 20 more in
the playoffs for the Celtics last season. But any veteran could balk at being
moved to a new role, as Rivers learned when he shifted Ray Allen to the bench
late last season. Attitudes may change as the season wears on and sitting on
the bench wears thin, but for now every player says he accepts whatever role he
is assigned.

Jared Sullinger is the least likely to cause a stir, obviously,
due to his rookie status. While Kevin Garnett has been open and active in tutoring
Sullinger, the young big man would quickly fall out of favor with the veterans
if he suddenly piped up. Pierce does not expect that to be a problem given what
Sullinger has shown him.

"Right now, rooks probably don't have much of an
opinion," Pierce said. "When you're trying to learn a system, when
you're trying to learn a culture, it's best to just sit back and listen and see
how things are done, and they're doing a good job of it."

Not every role player is so green, with three of the
offseason pickups possessing NBA Finals experience. Terry started for the 2006
finalists and anchored the bench for the aforementioned title team in Dallas,
Courtney Lee was a reserve on the 2009 Magic squad that outlasted the Celtics
in seven games and ousted LeBron James' Cavaliers before falling to the Lakers
in the Finals, and Jason Collins was a member of the Nets back-to-back runs to the Finals in 2002 and 2003 — first as a hardly used rookie, then as a key defensive presence off the bench. All three
have gotten close enough to the ultimate prize to know that the gilded
wastebasket that goes to the NBA champion is the only trophy that really
matters.    

"The good thing is, they want to [buy in] at this stage
in their career," Pierce said. "They've got their contracts. At this
point, these guys want to win. You can see it. We know they could probably do
more in other places than what they're capable of here, but these guys
understand the sacrifice that's needed. They want to win a championship and
it's great to have guys like them."

Terry has exemplified that attitude throughout camp. It is
hard for any player to gripe about his role when the accomplished sixth man
loudly maintains that he will accept any role.

"You've got to come in with an open mind and be very
receptive to learning new things," Terry said. "Even though I'm 14
years in, I'm still learning new ways to play the game. Obviously, learning
from Doc, learning from even [Rajon] Rondo and KG and Paul Pierce has been big for me
because they've been through a lot of tough battles over the years and they
have a lot of experiences. I have experiences I can share with them, so it
works both ways. But for me it's always about coming into a new situation with
an open mind."

A lack of depth can be a problem, as the Celtics discovered
last season. Too much depth could be just as problematic, but so far the
prevailing attitude among the players is that there is plenty of playing time
to go around.

Have a question for
Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame
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