WALTHAM — Coach Doc Rivers wants the Celtics to accelerate their offensive pace this season. And the team increased the velocity in practice Wednesday simply by adding two players: Leandro Barbosa and Chris Wilcox.
Barbosa participated in his first official practice since joining the Celtics as a free agent and Wilcox worked out with the team for the first time since sustaining a back injury early this month.
Both Barbosa and Wilcox are destined for what is already an athletic second unit built around Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, and eventually will include either Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, or Jason Terry.
Last season, the Celtics struggled to get their transition game into gear, especially after Wilcox was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta in mid-March and missed the rest of the season. Getting up to speed should not be a problem for the Celtics when the season begins at Miami Tuesday.
“We don’t need more [speed], but it’s nice to have more,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “More is better.”
When Rondo is out of the game, the Celtics’ tempo of play could be expected to slow. But that was before Barbosa’s signing last week.
“He had a great practice,” Rivers said of Barbosa. “He’s just a backup player, so he’ll play ‘1’ and ‘2.’ I don’t know if we have a backup ‘1.’ It’s going to be him and [Terry] on the court — they’ll figure it out.
“He’s been here three or four days, so we’ve run him through all our stuff. So he has a concept of what we’re doing — he’s played against us for so long.”
The Celtics worked on half-court sets for nearly three hours in the afternoon, and some players planned to return for full-court drills in the evening.
“I have to get to know the plays, the defense, and all the things they’ve been doing in training camp,” Barbosa said. “It was OK, the coaches give me lot attention, they help me a lot. I wasn’t playing that much back in Brazil but I think I’m OK so far. I will pick it up little by little.
“I was at the Phoenix Suns a couple years ago and I think we had a couple weapons like they have here. So it’s just fun to be here and see how many weapons we have together. It will be hard for Doc to make the combinations on the court and positions.
“It’s a great team and I think everybody is trying to give a good effort so we can go to the championship.”
Rivers said he was surprised by Wilcox’s conditioning.
“It was a lot better than I thought it would be,” said Rivers. “He did what he does — ran the floor, rebounded, turned the ball over.”
Wilcox accompanied the Celtics on their European trip but did not play in a game, and has been rehabilitating his back during the team’s six-game domestic preseason schedule.
“It’s the first day, so I didn’t expect too much — back feels great, everything felt great,” Wilcox said. “So, hopefully keep it up.
“I’m coming from scratch right now, so everything I do is trying to improve, trying to get better. I’m just out here working and feeling out where I need to be and getting back in the flow of things.
“I mean, it’s tough, because you’ve got to feel out what’s going on. Just sitting back there and working out on the sideline and seeing these guys go up and down, you want to be a part of it. They’re out there grinding and getting ready for this year, and I couldn’t be a part of it, so it’s a great challenge in front of me and I went out there and worked hard.”
The Celtics refocused after concluding the exhibition season with a 3-5 record, then taking two days off.
“They count the rest as training camp,” Rivers said of his players. “Today, you start talking about the teams you’re going to play. You know, they focus.
“Just execution — we really worked hard on it, didn’t go up and down at all. A three-hour practice, all halfcourt, is long. We really worked on getting things right.
“We took some bad spills in practice, not intentionally. A guy was undercut, another guy tripped and thought he sprained an ankle — things you can’t avoid.”
Simply the best
Rivers noted that he was on the committee that recommended the All-Star Game ballot eliminate the center position. The Celtics and other teams are blurring the distinctions on positions.
“In ’08, we put the best five on at the end of the game,” Rivers said. “We didn’t care what position it was. Miami did that last year in the Finals.
“They had to, in some ways, work their way to that. The first and second round, they were trying different bigs and finally they just said, “Our best five players are going to be on the floor.’ I think you can get away with that.”
The ballot will now have designations for only backcourt and frontcourt players.
Ringing it in
The Heat have scheduled a championship ring ceremony for the opening game, when the Celtics are in town.
“I haven’t given it lot of thought,” Rivers said. “I probably should — dreading it. I haven’t thought what we’re going to do. Wait until they give us the exact timeline of the game and figure out what we’re going to do.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.