In the one week the Celtics held training camp, we’ve seen:
● Guard Nate Robinson taint center Shaquille O’Neal’s drinking water by adding salt
● Robinson running wind sprints in Shaq’s shoes
● O’Neal engage injured center Kendrick Perkins in a hip-hop dance-off
Is this the behavior of a team focused on winning the NBA championship in June?
Boston has been a very intense team over the past three years. From the day Celtics GM Danny Ainge pulled off the trade that brought forward Kevin Garnett to Beantown, the Celtics followed KG’s intense lead. The players understood the goal was a championship and throughout the 2007-08 season, Boston had a laser beam-like focus to accomplish that goal.
Garnett found a kindred spirit in Perkins, the never-smiling starting center and team enforcer. They had encounters when Boston and the Minnesota Timberwolves went head-to-head in years past. They were both on bad teams but it didn’t stop KG and Perk from taking winning seriously, even in meaningless games.
It’s why they had mutual respect for each other when they became teammates. With a shared burning desire for defense, Garnett and Perkins backboned Boston’s defense en route to the NBA title.
So what in the world is going on with the Celtics now? How do they go from all business to acting as juvenile as the New York Jets around a voluptuous reporter?
Don’t think Boston has lost its edge. They are still led by Garnett, forward Paul Pierce and guard Ray Allen. Doc Rivers is back to honor the final year of his contract and hasn’t let up from his business-like approach. After coming within six minutes of a second championship, the Celtics know the only way to wash down the bile of that bitter loss is to come back and win it this season. They won’t do that if they’re not focused.
The goal remains the same. That doesn’t mean they can’t have fun while working towards that goal.
The first training camp for the Big Three-led Celtics took place in Rome. They were pretty much isolated, forced to be around each other in a foreign country. It became a great bonding experience for the players as they found out about each other developed chemistry. That valuable time together ended with Boston’s first championship in 22 years.
No wonder Pierce wanted camp held far away from home again. He wanted to replicate the isolation that encouraged the players to grow together. Camp was held in Rhode Island. It wasn’t a foreign country, but good enough for the purpose.
If one week is any indication, it looks like the Celtics are bonding just fine. It was expected Shaq’s larger-than-life personality would inject gusto into a team that acted straight and professional through preparations.
But Robinson is stealing the show. The compact ball of energy will have a full season with the Celtics after arriving from New York in a trade. It’s beneficial for Nate to have a full offseason of preparation to fit into his role off the bench. But his exuberance will be therapeutic, keeping the team loose.
The Celtics have a lot at stake. As a veteran team, they understand their championship window of opportunity closes in two seasons (possibly one if the league and NBPA can’t reach a new collective bargaining agreement for the 2011-12 season). Boston experienced a lot of change after the season and need to get the new players comfortable in the team’s system as well as the new coaches understanding Rivers’ philosophy. Camp will still be tense.
But enjoying each other’s company brings the players closer together. If they get along well off the court, it will translate to playing well together on the court. Talking about Nate’s or Shaq’s antics breaks the ice and opens the opportunity for teammates to keep conversations going, not just on the court, but also when they step away from the floor as they build camaraderie.
The practical jokes will continue and more laughter will be shared by the Celtics as they get ready for the Miami Heat on opening night. Who would had ever thought they’d see Mr. Mean Face Perkins dancing with Shaq? Kendrick and Shaquille hope they have a reason to dance again in June.
Randolph Charlotin writes a New England Patriots blog at www.randolphc.com.