Filling the void left by Chris Wilcox
|03.11.12 at 9:11 pm ET|
LOS ANGELES — What are the odds, Doc Rivers wanted to know, of losing two players because of a heart condition?
“It’s not a great place. It’s scary. It really is. The chances of having one of these in a year is pretty minute,” Rivers said before the Celtics took on the Lakers on Sunday. “The chances of having two is like, impossible. There’s a chance that may happen. We just have to wait and see.”
Already reeling from the loss of Jeff Green to heart surgery – a loss that had a deep and a lasting impact on everything from the roster to the rotation – the Celtics are preparing to be without Chris Wilcox, as well. Going back to his days with the Pistons, Wilcox has been tested regularly and something came up last week that forced more tests and evaluation.
“I’d rather find it than not,” said Rivers who was understandably vague about the exact nature of Wilcox’s condition. “At the end of the day we’re lucky and that’s what I told our team: That we’re very lucky that this happened and not unlucky. I think that’s the way you have to look at it and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
There is no timetable for Wilcox, although Rivers said they probably wouldn’t know definitively for at least week. He was able to see the team before they headed out on the trip.
“He seemed like he was in good spirits,” Brandon Bass said. “I wish the best for him. I’m praying for him. He’s a country boy, he’s tough. He’ll be all right.”
On the court, Wilcox’s absence leaves a huge hole in the middle for the Celtics. They had recently decided to go with a nine-man rotation and Wilcox was the first big man off the bench, backing up both the center and the power forward spots. His per-game averages of 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds don’t nearly explain his importance, not to mention his occasional flashes of open-court brilliance.
“I can’t say much about it but obviously team-wise it’s a hell of a blow for us,” Rivers said.
Without Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics are down to two veteran bigs: Bass and Kevin Garnett. Bass missed time with a knee injury, but has played well since he returned and Garnett’s minutes are closely-guarded. They need help just to get through the regular-season grind, but with the trade deadline looming, this doesn’t necessarily change the team’s approach.
“You don’t want to do anything silly,” Rivers said. “We’re building for this year and the future so we’re not going to do anything that’s going to hurt either one of those. Obviously we’re looking to grab a big from somewhere, hopefully not by giving away a player, by doing it another route.”
O’Neal’s expiring contract can be had, but team president Danny Ainge said last week on WEEI that trading the veteran center was, “more unlikely than likely.” Ainge isn’t inclined to trade away one of his two first round picks in this year’s draft and is looking to add assets, not deal them.
In order to sign someone, the Celtics would have to make room on the roster because they are at the 15-player limit, but they will look everywhere for a big. The obvious place is the D-League, but it’s not known for its big men.
Keith Benson, a second-round pick of the Hawks and Greg Stiemsma’s former Wisconsin teammate Brian Butch are probably the best of the bunch along with veteran Dan Gadzuric, according to Scott Schroeder who keeps tabs on all things D-related for Ridiculous Upside. Another name to keep an eye on is journeyman Earl Barron who is playing in the Philippines.
The primary in-house candidate for Wilcox’s minutes is Stiemsma, the 26-year-old rookie who has had his moments but has also struggled with consistency. He earned his way on to the roster with a strong training camp and cemented his spot with a 13-point effort in January.
But Stiemsma’s minutes have gone down since his breakout performance. He received more time in February when the Celtics were dealing with injuries and Garnett’s absence while he attended to a personal matter and didn’t distinguish himself.
Recently, however, Stiemsma has been an active presence. He had six rebounds against New Jersey and eight points against Houston on their last homestand. Against the Blazers, he had one of the strangest stat lines of the season in which he missed nine shots, but had seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. He held his own against the Lakers with four rebounds and three blocks, including one each on Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
“It’s kind of rare to go 0-for-9 and still think I played OK,” Stiemsma said. “I didn’t realize the number was that high either. It was one of those nights where shots didn’t go in, a couple of tips didn’t go in, you know, it’s just a part of the game. You’ve got to focus on the rebounds and blocks and all those other parts of the game that I’ve got to come in and do.”
Stiemsma has tried to maintain his confidence through the swings and his maturity has been noticed by his veteran teammates.
“It has been a little bit of a rollercoaster, but it’s been a grind my whole career and it’s got me here so I always try to stay positive about the bigger picture,” he said. “Not let the lows get too low and be ready for the highs because I know they’re coming.”
Rivers has been happy with Stiemsma’s play.
“He’s played well,” the coach said. “We pay the whole team, not just seven or eight guys so everyone has to be ready. Greg has done that. When his name has been called he’s done his job. We’re going to try to protect him as much as possible by playing him more with Kevin just to help him. Without Chris or J.O., he’s going to have to play at times with different lineups. It is what we have, so it’s not like we have a lot of choices.”