Irish Coffee: Where do walking wounded Celtics stand?
|10.02.12 at 5:54 pm ET|
“Knock on wood,” as Paul Pierce said, because the Celtics haven’t been this healthy during training camp the past three seasons. In 2010, Kevin Garnett returned from his season-ending knee surgery the spring before. A year later, Kendrick Perkins sat with an ACL tear. Last season, a foot injury kept Pierce from playing opening night.
“The key for us if we’re going to win another championship is going to be our health,” said Pierce. “You have to be good; you have to be lucky. Sometimes those are things you can’t control. Since our first year we won it, we haven’t been lucky enough to be healthy, so hopefully we’re healthy this year and we can make another run at it.’
Role players like Tony Allen, Leon Powe, the O’Neal brothers, Delonte West, Mickael Pietrus or even Ray Allen last season have also kept the C’s doctors busy the past few years. Youth doesn’t guarantee health, but it certainly helps. At least they’re not keeping a trainer’s table warm for the Jermaine O’Neals of the league anymore.
Ironically, the youngest members of the Celtics — Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger — are two of the biggest question marks among a handful of health concerns, so let’s see where the C’s walking wounded stand.
AVERY BRADLEY (SHOULDERS)
After suffering a partial tear in his right shoulder early and a complete tear in his left shoulder late last season, Bradley required season-ending surgery to repair reoccurring separation issues in both shoulders.
“It’s tough thinking about last year, how I could’ve played, but I had to do what was best for this year,” said Bradley, who in three seasons hasn’t participated in a full training camp. “We’re just looking forward to this year, and we’re so excited, because we definitely have a chance with the players that we have to win a championship.”
The 21-year-old hasn’t touched a basketball since the end of last season. “I know if I touched a basketball,” he said, “I probably would’ve shot it and hurt myself.” So, while doctors originally forecasted a January return, Bradley claimed he’s “months ahead” of schedule and both shoulders “are about the same now” in terms of recovery.
In addition to doing all the right things, Bradley has said all the right things. He doesn’t want to talk about whether he would have helped beat the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, and he doesn’t care where he fits into a guard corps that includes Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee once he returns.
“However much time I get when I come back, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “The only thing that matters is winning a championship, so I just have to worry about being prepared and strong enough when I do come back, because I’m letting my teammates down if I rush myself back. That’s my main focus right now: Take my time.”
I haven’t touched a basketball. It’s been hard for me, but I’m trying to listen to the doctors, because I know if I touched a basketball, I probably would’ve shot it and hurt myself. So, I’ve just been taking my time and listening to everything they told me to do, so I can hurry up and get back.
I definitely would’ve been another player out there, playing as hard as I can like my teammates, but I would’ve tried to help in any way I could, so we would’ve had a chance to go to the championship.
PAUL PIERCE (LEFT KNEE)
Not only did the 34-year-old Pierce begin last season with a foot ailment, he ended it with a knee injury. After suffering a left MCL sprain prior to Game 3 of the C’s first-round series against the Hawks last spring, Pierce tweaked the same knee during the game that night. The injury never fully healed the rest of the playoffs.
“When you hurt your foot, you don’t really have an opportunity to do the things that you want to coming into camp,” said Pierce. “Now that I’ve put a lot of the injuries behind me … I’ll be ready from Day 1. It’s hard to be in really good shape when you’re injured, especially basketball shape. You can ride bikes, ride treadmills, but it really doesn’t compare to actually getting out there and playing the game. That was all due to injury. I’ve had for the most part a pretty healthy summer. The knee is doing really good. I’ve been able to strengthen it, and I’m ready to go.”
Rumors circulated Pierce, like many of his NBA colleagues, entered the lockout-shortened training camp this past December out of shape, but the Celtics captain showed up noticeably slimmer this fall. “The last 10 years I’ve been in the NBA, I’ve heard that every year,” he countered. “I just shift [the weight] around.”
Regardless, Pierce declared himself “100 percent now,” and Rivers concurred after the team’s first practice.
The Aortic Amigos — or whatever you want to call the two Celtics teammates who shared the unlikely common experience of undergoing heart surgery in the same season — will forever be linked after returning together.
“I definitely feel a bond with Jeff Green for the rest of my life,” said Chris Wilcox.
“That’s my scar buddy,” added Green. “We trade stories every time we see each other.”
Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that — despite undergoing surgery in January 9 and March 29, respectively — the 26-year-old Green and 30-year-old Wilcox reported to camp at nearly full strength.
“I’m close,” said Green, who said he got leveled in the chest upon request during his first drive to the basket in a pickup game at Georgetown over the summer. “Anybody in my shoes would say they’re 100 percent, but I don’t like to be content. I like to continue to get better and continue to work on what I need to work on.”
“I might be like 90 percent, because my wind isn’t right yet,” added Wilcox, crediting Green’s consultations for at least part of his speedy recovery. “So, I’ve just got to get into some shape, but everything else has been great.”
As far as the team’s doctors are concerned, the heart surgeries shouldn’t hold either back.
“I thought [Green's] conditioning was phenomenal,” said Rivers. “Jeff is just as healthy as everybody else. He has no restrictions — him or Chris. We’ve got to remember Chris had it three or four months after Jeff, so if we were going to worry about someone, it would be him, but neither one of them have any restrictions. They’re fine.”
JARED SULLINGER (BACK)
As Rivers joked, “The middle of last college season, I don’t think we would’ve looked at film on Sullinger, because we would have thought there was no chance we could get him, and then [Celtics president] Danny [Ainge] released the health report on him and he fell to us. That was terrific.”
Despite reports of back problems that “could shorten his NBA career,” resulting in a surefire lottery pick plummeting to the Celtics at No. 21 overall, Sullinger successfully emerged from two summer camps and a September of unofficial practices feeling “great,” as he succinctly summed up his status.
“That’s in the past now, so it is what it is,” said the 20-year-old Ohio State product. “I can’t wait to get the season started. I’m not really determined to prove everybody wrong about personal numbers or personal stats. It’s more of a team thing with me. I want to win. That’s my main goal ‘- to win. Once we win, I’m fine. If that’s me scoring two points, that’s me scoring two points. If that’s me scoring 20 points, that’s me scoring 20 points.”
In fact, if Sullinger had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t have changed a thing. The way he sees it: Landing in the same city where his Buckeyes defeated a Syracuse team featuring fellow Celtics rookies Kris Joseph and Fab Melo to reach the Final Four this past March is “God’s way of telling me, ‘This was a special place to you.’”
“Everybody was knocking me for the back problems and all this crazy stuff, but I could care less,” he added. “Like I told everybody, if I dropped to the Celtics at 21, and I could go back and redo everything — and me not getting hurt — I’ll get hurt again and slide all the way back down to 21, just so I could be with the Boston Celtics. I’d redo it, because it’s a great organization, great vets, great team. You can’t ask to have had better.”
(Have a question, concern or conception for the next Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)