WALTHAM, Mass. — Keith Bogans‘ eyebrows arched in surprise and one of the newest members of the Boston Celtics sneaked a sideways glance at MarShon Brooks, the 21-year-old guard who had accompanied Bogans and three other players from the Brooklyn Nets in last week’s blockbuster trade.
Brooks had just made one of those comments every player makes about the NBA stars he watched “growing up.” In this case, Brooks recounted watching as a kid while Kevin Garnett played for the Celtics. Bogans, who was a fifth-year veteran when the Celtics and Timberwolves consummated the trade for Garnett in 2007, just shook his head.
“That’s how young he is,” Bogans said, chuckling. “It’s amazing. Sometimes I forget he’s only 21.”
Bogans had better get used to moments like this. If he ends up staying with the Celtics, the 33-year-old garbage man and locker room leader could find himself regularly surrounded by relative babies. The instant the Celtics and Nets finalized their trade Friday to bring Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphris, Brooks, Bogans, the since-waived Kris Joseph and three first-round draft picks to Boston for Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, the 10-year NBA veteran went from chasing a potential championship ring to just chasing a playoff spot with a young, rebuilding team.
Just don’t use that word — “rebuilding” — around any of the new Celtics, however long they last. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was also quick to dispel the other word — it starts with a “T” — when he met with the new acquistions.
“That was the first thing [Ainge] said to me when I came into his office: We’re not tanking,” Humphries said. “That was a sigh of relief. I’m excited to hear that. Whether a team was tanking or not, I’m going to approach the season the same way. To know that we’re all on the same page as far as competing and trying to be a playoff team, it’s good to hear.”
Humphries allowed for the fact that tanking teams rarely admit it. Tanking usually takes the form of something along the lines of, “we’re going to play young guys, but we’re trying to win,” in his words. If that sounds more or less like what the Celtics plan to do, it’s because that is what Ainge has more or less said they would do.
“We’re excited about the players we’re getting and we’re excited about the opportunity to start fresh and start over,” Ainge said, before catching himself. “Not completely over, because we have a lot of good players returning and a lot of good players that we acquired in the trade, but ‘start over’ as far as new coaching staff and new players and new identity.”
Nice save, Danny.
Still, none of the players seemed too distraught over the prospect of a rebuild in Boston. Brooks is young, with two more years left on his rookie contract and plenty of time to grow with his new team. Humphries will make $12 million in the final year of his contract, making him both the highest-paid player on the Celtics and also a valuable trade piece as an expiring deal. Bogans, who has never before made more than $2.6 million in a single season and earned the veteran’s minimum last year, is guaranteed $5.1 million this season after inking a three-year contract as part of a sign-and-trade to make the Celtics’ and Nets’ transaction work under collective bargaining rules.
More succinctly, Brooks has no reason to be discouraged, Humphries might not be around very long, anyway, and Bogans should be grinning from ear to ear even if he doesn’t play a minute.
In fact, Bogans sounded just fine with not playing, if that is what coach Brad Stevens decides. Bogans said he wants to be a mentor in the locker room and “an extension of coach Stevens” on the court and in practice. Bogans has long been a team-first player, but $5.1 million makes it a lot easier to accept a lesser role.
“The way I play, my play will speak for itself,” Bogans said. “I’m a hustle guy. I’m one of those guys who’s going to do the little things, do the dirty work, take charges, make the hard fouls, almost getting in a fight half the time. That’s going to be me. That’s what I do. I don’t think I’ll get lost. If coach wants to go with a younger rotation, I won’t have a problem with that. I’m just going to be there to help coach these guys.”
If Bogans truly wants to fast-track his career into coaching, he picked the right team. He is only three years younger than Stevens, who was the same age Bogans is now when Stevens led Butler to its first NCAA championship game. For the Celtics, clearly age ain’t nothing but a number — in many cases, a very small number.