The lockout is supposed to hunt down veterans like Shawn Kemp — those older players who like to dabble in cocaine, alcohol, out-of-wedlock children and Taco Bell’s famed Fourth Meal — rather than championship-tested veterans known for their maniacal workout sessions running in the sands of Malibu Beach. Knowing the lockout would end at some point, understanding that Boston’s Big Three might have one last shot at a ring (if the stars aligned perfectly, perhaps including an injury to one of Miami’s Talented Trio), I figured the Celtics would return to camp in better shape than most teams due to a rare level of professionalism in the Boston locker room.
Instead, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were the only two starters who returned post-lockout ready to compete at their highest levels (and, luck would have it, they’re both now injured). Jermaine O’Neal claims to have spent the offseason participating in rookie-like workouts, but has often played like a pregnant lady pushing her third trimester. Paul Pierce was set back by a heel injury which occurred on the second day of training camp, but didn’t appear to return in the proper shape anyway. Kevin Garnett is either washed up or spent most of the summer watching cartoons and drinking Dos Equis. And Doc Rivers is saying he still can’t judge this team’s ceiling because none of his players are in shape. (Boston Herald)
“I do [think the Celtics have another run left], but I’d like to find out for sure and get us in shape and get us healthy and get us playing the right way — and then I could give you that answer,” Rivers said before Ray Allen went out with an injured left ankle in yesterday’s 100-94 triumph against the Wizards. “I did before camp started and I saw any of them walk in the door. When they walked in the door, I said, ‘Boy, we’d better get in shape quick.’ I do, but I’d like to have a real answer, and it’s very difficult to give you any type of answer right now.”
“I don’t use it as an excuse, because it really doesn’t matter if you do,” Rivers said. “Our record is what it is, whether it’s lockout or not. We were not ready to start the season — bottom line, we were not. I said that in camp — you could see it — and we’re trying to get there. It’s difficult and we will get there, but it’s no fun losing games while you’re trying to get right. You shouldn’t be trying to get right when the season starts, and we are.
“You can’t use the lockout as an excuse, because other teams didn’t. They came in ready. That’s out fault.”
“I anticipated that it’s going to take a while to get in condition and get right. I didn’t anticipate the record,” he said. “I thought we could still win games, and I’ve learned that you can’t. It’s tough.
“When you’re older and working on conditioning and you’re playing younger and more athletic and in shape (teams), those two things don’t go together. I never knew that, and now I do.”
“You always do,” he said when asked when it will be time to make the cold evaluations, “(but) I don’t think we even are right now at all honestly.
“Obviously Danny (Ainge, team president) is looking — we’re looking — but I think right now we’re just trying to see what our team can be when we’re at full strength as far as health, as far as conditioning. We haven’t had that opportunity yet.”
There’s no excuse for a professional athlete to arrive at training camp needing to work himself into shape. I don’t care if a lockout threatened the season or a Canadian kidnapper kept you locked up in a cell for three months straight; if you’re getting paid millions of dollars to play basketball and your one offseason duty is to maintain cardiovascular functions at a high level, then you should hire a personal trainer and work your ass off (or, if you were taken in by a Canadian kidnapper, just run in place in your dungeon). ESPECIALLY if your career is winding down and one more valiant run –whether it ends with a championship or (considerably more likely) a give-it-your-best-shot-but-at-least-go-home-proud playoff defeat — is all that remains.
That being said, I’m praying the Celtics are just working themselves back into shape. That possibility significantly outweighs the alternative, which is that they just suck.