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Irish Coffee: The transformation of Von Wafer

01.11.11 at 11:17 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Optimus Prime. Wheeljack. Von Wafer. The name even sounds like a “Transformers” character.

For Doc Rivers and the Celtics, that’s exactly what he is. Wafer left Houston as an established offensive player and came to Boston as a defensive project.

“He played very well for us,” Rockets head coach Rick Adelman said prior to Monday night’s 108-102 defeat of the Celtics. “He was a real spark off the bench. He won a lot of games for us. He’s a guy who once he gets comfortable he’s a real threat. I think eventually he’s going to help them.”

In 2008-09, as a member of the Rockets, Wafer played 20 minutes a night, averaging 9.7 points in 63 games — including 11 starts. He even hit a clutch 3-pointer that sunk the Celtics almost two years ago to the day. This season, with this Celtics team, he might not get more than five minutes on a given night.

“Whether you play five minutes or 15, you’ve got to play hard,” added Adelman. “You’ve got to make a contribution to the team. Some guys don’t feel like that. They feel like they have to get minutes to help the team. You can’t do that.”

When Wafer first arrived in Boston, he fell into the camp of guys who felt like they needed minutes to contribute — and by contribute, he meant score. After all, that’s what Adelman wanted from him in Houston.

“He’s unbelievable,” Wafer said of his former coach. “He just let me do whatever, let me be who I was. It didn’t matter how many shots I missed. He just let me play.” Even at the expense of his defense.

“He was hit or miss [defensively] — more of a gambler,” said Adelman. “He’s not a great defender. He’s more of an offensive player. … He’s got the quickness, he’s got the ability, but the concentration wasn’t always there.”

Rivers saw that quickness, that ability, that potential to be successful on defense in Wafer. In order to see the floor on this Celtics team, Wafer has to play defense. It’s that simple, and Wafer is beginning to understand that.

“I think I just needed to be taught things,” said Wafer. “In high school, I could really just do whatever I wanted to do and really didn’t have to worry about guarding anybody. I just had to be taught the right way, and I’ve learned.”

It’s been a learning process, and Rivers praised the fact that Wafer is a willing student.

“He’s improved,” said the Celtics coach. “He wasn’t [great defensively] when he first got here, but he’s working on it. It’s a focus. Von has viewed himself probably through his career so far as an offensive player, so I give him a lot of credit. He’s really trying to do what he needs to do to play. He’s getting there.”

In Monday night’s loss to the Rockets, Wafer showed just how far he’s come. In a span of a few minutes in the second quarter, he drove the baseline to get to the free-throw line, chased Houston guard Courteney Lee around screens and threw down a monster dunk off a Glen Davis steal. He was one of a few Celtics who showed true effort, and the Celtics fans recognized that — giving him a nice hand as he walked off the floor.

One play summed up Wafer’s performance on Monday. After a Marquis Daniels steal led to a 2-on-1 with Wafer, Daniels took it himself and got to the foul line. Rather than grumble about being open, Wafer walked up to Daniels and pumped his fist as if to say, “Nice work.” That may not have happened a few months ago.

Many players in Wafer’s position have to face the question that he’s asked himself: Is it better to play more minutes on an average team or fewer minutes on a championship contender?

“That’s a tough question,” said Wafer. “It’s kind of touchy. It was just better for me there as far as scoring. Here it’s better in other ways. … I’ve got to find my niche, like I did in Houston. Once I find my niche, I feel like I can be the same player.”

That could only benefit the Celtics down the road, because — as Adelman said — Wafer was a spark off the bench who helped them win games. That’s exactly what the C’s need, with a little defense thrown in, of course.

“I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” said Adelman. “That team’s had a lot of success, and he’s got to figure out that he’s on a really good team with a chance to win a championship.”

And maybe Wafer can even help improve that chance.

JERMAINE O’NEAL’S QUEST FOR A RING

Jermaine O’Neal may be averaging just 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game, but he’s another guy who doesn’t mind a diminished role as long as he can help the Celtics win a championship before his career is over. He recently sat down with HoopsWorld, and here are a few highlights from that conversation:

  • “When you’re young, you want to be a starter. You want to be the guy that makes the team good. You want endorsements and All-Star games and whatever else, but after a while, when the wear and tear sets in, you want to make sure that there’s some type of validation for going through what you’ve gone through all the years that you played. To me, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you do individually or what your numbers are. You’re ultimately going to be judged on whether or not you won it all.”
  • “I had a conversation with [Rajon] Rondo and Paul [Pierce] over the summer, even before I signed, and everybody on this team is on the same timetable. They want to win in the next two years because a lot of these guys’ deals expire in two years. It’s even more so now because we’re looking at a stoppage in play next season.”
  • “People look at us playing in the pros and think about all the money we make, but there’s so much other stuff that goes into it. You miss recitals for your kids. There are broken friendships, and even stress on your marriage. You want to at least say that it was at least worth going through all of that.”
  • “I can wake up every single morning feeling just as good about myself winning a championship averaging five points a game as I can any other situation. Having been on both sides of the spectrum, one thing I haven’t felt is being a champion. There’s nothing anybody could say or do that would take that feeling away from me. A ring’s a ring.”

O’Neal has seemingly said all the right things all season, but there’s one thing that bothers me about this discussion: He seems too comfortable averaging five points a game; after all, with Kevin Garnett sidelined and Shaquille O’Neal‘s diminished play since Christmas, he doesn’t have to have a lesser role on this team right now. He’s speaking as if he’s still capable of putting up a 20-10. If so, where is it? The Celtics could use that right about now.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT

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Prior to Monday night's game, Kendrick Perkins got some work in at the Garden.

Monday night produced plenty of news, and we had you covered from the TD Garden all night. Here are the links from before and after the Celtics’ loss to the Rockets:

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail to brohrbach@weei.com or a Twitter message to @brohrbach.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Jermaine O'Neal, NBA Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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