He is your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on what you want for the Boston Celtics.
If you're hoping the men in green will stumble across the finish line in these final 11 games, and thereby secure a more desirable draft pick by missing the playoffs, then point guard Chucky Atkins is the bane of your existence. If you are an eternal optimist who believes winning cures all ills, even if it means dropping in the draft order, then Chucky Atkins is your new favorite player.
The Celtics have gone 8-5 since Atkins was acquired from the Detroit Pistons and inserted into the starting lineup. Modest gains, yes, but for the first time all season, Boston features a true point guard who looks to push the ball, pass first, and properly position his teammates.
Having said all that, Boston vice president of basketball operations Danny Ainge continues to get panned throughout the league for pulling the trigger on this deal. He gave up valuable cap flexibility (Chris Mills's salary) for a player who is generally regarded as a nice backup point guard who will make $3.9 million this season, $4.2 million the next, and $4.5 million in 2005-06. Atkins is hard-working, earnest, and consistent, but Detroit coach Larry Brown was more than willing to part with the veteran because he's already got his own legitimate starting point guard in Chauncey Billups (remember him)?
None of this matters to the current Celtics group. Interim coach John Carroll is fighting for his professional life, if not here, then somewhere. Paul Pierce and Mark Blount and Walter McCarty, who started this year believing they had a chance to go to the Eastern Conference finals, must now battle for the eighth playoff spot (the Celtics are a 1/2-game behind eighth-place Cleveland). You have to understand the mentality of the player. They care about now, not three years down the road.
"Chucky's been a life saver," said Blount. "He knows which plays to run. He knows where we should be. He's showing the young guys how to do it."
"He has good organizational skills," explains Carroll. "He knows where people are supposed to go. He has good vision. He can run the pick-and-roll.
"And he earned the players' respect right away. They see him and they throw him the ball, so we don't have other people trying to bring it up the floor."
There are more subtle qualities that Atkins has brought to town. He is smart enough to realize Blount doesn't have the best hands, so a bullet pass in traffic is not a wise decision. He has seen enough film to recognize that McCarty is not going to set up in the post with his back to the basket, so refrains from leading him in that direction. He has learned when he should give Pierce the ball, and when he shouldn't.
Atkins also has provided leadership in a locker room that was maudlin, rudderless, and seeping with tension before his arrival. The remaining members of the 2003-04 Celtics have endured their share of turmoil, having lost half their team, their coach, and their credibility. Atkins claims he was unaware of most of that when he came aboard.
"To be honest, I never keep up with other teams that are behind us," Atkins said. "In Detroit, we were one of the top teams in the East, so the only teams I was looking at were New Jersey and Indiana.
"When I got traded to Boston, the first thing I did was look at the standings. Then I said, `Yo, what's going on with this place?' "
He discovered a group of players who were angry at their front office for blowing up the team, and often angry with each other for being unable to piece together the rubble.
"I think when you're in a situation where you lose a bunch of games, and your confidence gets low, everyone tends to start pointing fingers at each other," Atkins said. "But once you win that first game, things can turn around pretty quicky."
The fact that Atkins was a catalyst for that turnaround raises another thorny problem. If Marcus Banks is indeed part of the master plan here (you have to wonder if Ainge and Co. have tempered their enthusiasm about him), then you'd expect him to be logging serious minutes, and making mistakes as he goes. But, if you take the ball out of Atkins's hands and give it to the rookie, then you are no longer putting your best team on the floor.
"Marcus is so fast he gets ahead of himself and everyone else," Atkins said. "That's bad for our team. He's got to switch gears, slow down, and not worry about scoring so much. He has to learn. Coming out of college, he's used to scoring a lot of points, but this is a different level, and a different team."
Banks may or may not have a long-term future here. The same can be said of Atkins. He may be a piece of the rebuilding puzzle, but he isn't the piece. Still, Carroll thanks his boss every day for delivering him a floor leader who gives this club a chance to win.
"You like having guys who have a good understanding of the game of basketball," said Carroll. "Sometimes Chucky comes down the floor, and we'll look at each other, and we both know what to run. We're on the same page that way.
"He's a leader out there, too. He ran a 1-2 pick and roll with Paul [Pierce] against Washington and won the game for us. I didn't call that play. He thought it up on his own. He's pretty cerebral. He's made my job a lot easier."
For some of you, that translates into winning, which is good. For some of you, the winning is bad.
Either way, don't blame Chucky. He's just doing his job.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.