Irish Coffee: What if this Celtics chemistry experiment doesn’t work?
|11.07.12 at 11:24 am ET|
As a member of Mark Cuban‘s ever-changing Mavericks, Jason Terry saw his share of rookies, castaways and veterans enter the turnstiles attempting to adjust to the Dallas system. Even last season, a year out from winning the NBA championship, the Mavs lost five of their top 12 rotation players. Now, Terry’s the one adjusting.
“We had a lot of turnover in Dallas where we’d bring in new guys every year, it seemed like, so this is nothing new, but for me it’s definitely an adjustment,” said Terry, who averaged 15.1 points, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals last season. “And I know for the guys that have been here, it’s an adjustment for them, because they’re used to playing one way and now you’re implementing guys who are used to playing another, so it’s difficult.”
Even if last year’s Mavericks lost Tyson Chandler, Juan Barea, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Peja Stojakovic, they returned nine players from the title team while adding Vince Carter and Lamar Odom. Yet, Dallas dropped from a No. 3 to a 7 seed during the lockout season and got swept by the Thunder in the first round.
“For us, it never jelled,” said Terry, who made his desire to keep the championship core together clear at the time. “It never happened. That’s why we were out in the first round. It can happen, or it won’t.”
This season, the Celtics returned only four players from the roster that lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Heat. Even when you include Avery Bradley, Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green, coach Doc Rivers still has eight fresh faces in his locker room. What’s to say this team never jells?
“I believe with this team it will,” said Terry. “No timetables set, just as long as we’re ready when it counts.”
Rookie Jared Sullinger suggested Tuesday it could take until “about midseason,” but as the veteran Terry said, “It can happen, or it won’t.” In the past 30 years, when unrestricted free agency changed the NBA landscape, only the 2006 Heat and 2008 Celtics won titles after returning six or fewer players.
That team overhauled its supporting cast — adding one-time Celtics Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and James Posey, among others — around a superstar guard (Dwyane Wade) and an aging Hall of Famer in the middle (Shaquille O’Neal) that carried the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against a championship-caliber Pistons team a season prior.
Oddly, Rivers & Co. must defeat Riley’s current Heat using the same recipe the Miami architect instituted to beat another Mavericks team led by Terry in 2006. This year’s Celtics also feature a superstar guard (Rajon Rondo) and an aging HOFer in the middle (Garnett) — not to mention Paul Pierce — surrounded by an entirely revamped roster that happens to be coached by a guy who played two seasons under Riley for the Knicks in the 1990s.
“We’re leaning on them, but they’re leaning on us, too,” said Terry. “The quicker we can obviously get together, the better rhythm we’re going to be in as a team. As much as we’re leaning on them, they’re leaning on us to pick up this system and kind of learn. We’ve been coming 15 minutes early — the guys that are new — running through plays and getting down the terminology. And we’ve also been staying late, so hopefully that will pay off.”
Just as Riley and Shaq instilled a championship culture that trickled down the roster, so too do Rivers and Garnett. They just happen to be members of the only other team in recent history to win a title under such reconstruction.
“While I’m here, we’re not going to change that culture,” said KG. “When I’m gone, that’s another story, but for right now, this is the way we are. In the last two days we’ve been playing with an edge, and it’s just about consistency. … I’ve always worried about the consistency of this team and where we are with some of our habits. When we stay with those consistencies, we’re hard as [stuff] to beat. When we get away from them, we’re trash.”
It can happen, or it won’t. Hard as [expletive] to beat, or trash. Only time will tell, but at least it’s been done before.
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