January 10. That’s the day Von Wafer officially survives.
For now, he’s stuck in non-guaranteed contract limbo, stuck somewhere between job security and “I could be unemployed in six days.” In six days, in case you didn’t know, Wafer’s contract becomes fully guaranteed. Danny Ainge, according to the Boston Globe, “wouldn’t confirm last night that the team would retain the swingman.”
Wafer’s recent play suggests the Celtics will keep him. After failing to stand out most of the year (except for his well-chronicled spats with Delonte West), Wafer now seems firmly etched in Doc Rivers’ rotation. Injuries are partially to credit for Wafer’s playing time increase, but remember: he only began receiving real minutes recently, even though the C’s have been devastated by injuries for quite some time. His increased minutes are more an indication of Doc Rivers’ trust than they are of the Celtics’ growing injury ward.
Recently, Rivers has spent a lot of time praising Wafer’s defense. Which is weird, because Wafer used to be to defense what J.J. Redick is to dunks. Yet Wafer has bought into the C’s system, and now provides energy in addition to his offensive talents. He even offers great quotes nowadays.
“Everybody else [plays defense],” Wafer told ESPN Boston. “I don’t want to be the only guy who doesn’t.”
Wafer’s adjustment from swiss cheese to defensive spark brings to mind the New England Patriots. Whoever the Pats sign, it seems, the signee ends up fulfilling his role, shutting his mouth in the media, and becoming a key cog to the engine. Same with Wafer. In a locker room filled with veterans who know what it takes, Wafer would have been ousted months ago had he maintained his “score first, score only” mentality. (ESPN Boston)
“Well, we give him a lot of [grief] about it because — and we still give him [grief] — I think on media day he said, ‘You know, I’m an offensive player,’” Rivers said with a smile, knowing full well that being an offensive player doesn’t mean a thing on his squads.
“That was his quote. But he’s proven to us that he’s more than that. I think a lot of players have that in them, they just don’t know it sometimes. We’re getting it out of him, and he’s actually enjoying it. It’s funny to watch him — he gets excited about defensive stops now. And that’s great, because I get excited about that as well.”
Wafer’s defense is the bigger story, because that’s what is building Doc’s faith. But let’s not overlook his offensive improvements. Earlier this season, Wafer played like a hurricane. He was a wild, out-of-control force that could be destructive to anything in his path — whether it was his own team or the other.
I didn’t just worry when Wafer had the ball; I felt like he was the second coming of Tony Allen. I feared a turnover at all times, and Wafer always seemed on the verge of throwing one. Even his nice plays often seemed on the brink of failure. He’d jump in the air, seemingly with nowhere to throw the ball, and then narrowly thread a pass to a barely-open teammate. Wafer walked a tightrope every time he possessed the ball. Sometimes, he’d maintain his balance and stay on the rope, and a crisis would be averted. Other times, he’d tumble off the rope to impending doom.
Not anymore. I can now breathe when the ball’s in Von Wafer’s hands. He knows his role in the offense more clearly, and has learned to pick his spots. Now, when Wafer attacks the basket, you sense he actually has a plan. At the season’s beginning, I never got that sense. That Wafer is turning heads while shooting so poorly (his 18.2% three-point accuracy is well below his career average) only speaks to his maturation as a player.
He’s spent the past three-plus months learning the Celtic way, and the lessons finally seem to be paying off. Now, Wafer has six more days to prove his worth. With Delonte West still down for the time-being and Marquis Daniels’ health never promised, it would seem Wafer will survive his contract deadline. Even if he doesn’t, I imagine Wafer wouldn’t stay unemployed long. He’s learned the Celtic way, and people are noticing.