WALTHAM, Mass. — Coming into training camp, the hierarchy
of the Celtics' roster appeared to fall into place naturally for coach Doc
Rivers. Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo would start,
with Courtney Lee filling in at shooting guard until Avery Bradley's surgically
repaired shoulders healed. Jason Terry and Jeff Green would be the first
players off the bench, with Chris Wilcox, Jared Sullinger and Darko Milicic close
Just one week into camp, though, nothing seems certain for
Boston from a lineup standpoint.
Suddenly, Terry, Sullinger and Milicic are potential
starters, Wilcox has been limited by back spasms and Garnett could be headed
back to power forward temporarily. Either Rivers is operating at a different
level of consciousness than almost every other coach in the league, he has gone
completely bonkers or he just has too much talent on hand to know what to do
The latter portions of Celtics practices have illustrated
the wide-open roster setup. Nine players have spent time running with the first
team, including rookie center Fab Melo, who would seem to be a longshot to be
one of the final 15 players to break camp. Working in that many different players
has been a challenge, Pierce acknowledged, but he likes it that way.
"That's why we work on it," Pierce said Thursday
at the team's practice facility. "Of course it's tough. It's tough being
great. That's why you come in here and you work on it every day. You learn from
your mistakes and we continue to build and get better."
The "green" unit on Thursday consisted of Pierce,
Garnett, Rondo and Terry, with Melo and Sullinger subbing in. Green has run
with the "white" squad almost exclusively this preseason, although he
is the most likely candidate to join Garnett, Pierce and Rondo on the floor at
the ends of games. Bass and Lee, meanwhile, have not been ruled out of the
conversation of potential starters, and Bradley is lurking on the sideline,
itching to play.
It is tempting to tinker, and Rivers has not been able to
resist experimentation. On Wednesday, he disclosed that he has considered
replacing Bass in the starting lineup with Sullinger or slipping Garnett over
to the four while starting Milicic at center. Terry, the consummate sixth man, might even be on the floor for tip-off
regularly for the first time since 2007. Rivers is aware that he could do too
much, yet he stressed on Thursday that there would not be nearly as much
juggling as one might expect.
"You can overdo it, obviously," Rivers said.
"What you want to do is just have the right five at the right time. It's
really the right two. That's really what it comes down to, because the other
three [Garnett, Pierce and Rondo] will be on the floor at the end of games and
in the last six minutes of games, so it's really not as difficult as you
Rivers clarified that the "transitional" starting
lineups he mentioned the day before would not vary based on matchups. The
Celtics coach has long maintained that he does not adjust his personnel based
on the opponent, but on what combination of his own players works best at a
particular time. So do not expect Milicic to start against the Lakers simply
because the Celtics need a big body to counter Dwight Howard — but do not be
surprised if it happens, either.
Pierce did not seem overly concerned with the lineup
shakeup, but he has no reason to be concerned since he will be on the court
regardless. Unlike last year, however, Pierce sounds legitimately excited about
playing with every member of this year's roster. By late last season, he
essentially complimented his teammates on the bench for playing hard and not
digging too big a hole when the starters needed a rest.
But when Pierce looks around the practice facility these
days, he sees the best supporting cast he has had since James Posey, Glen
Davis, Leon Powe and Eddie House were his running mates in 2007-08. If Rivers
has too many lineup options, Pierce thinks that is a good problem to have.
"You just look at the personnel," Pierce said.
"When you throw Jeff Green in the mix after being out a year, you know
what he's capable of when he's at his best. You've seen Courtney Lee, how he's
performed in the past and playing different positions. Jason Terry, you know
what he brings to the table, that championship experience and he can play
multiple positions. You look at it on paper and it looks great, but it's about
coming out here, coming together as a team and really trying to reach our