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Basketball Notes

Comeback taking shape?

Sweetney vows to work things out

Things went a little sour for Michael Sweetney in Chicago, where he was not a good fit in coach Scott Skiles’s system. Things went a little sour for Michael Sweetney in Chicago, where he was not a good fit in coach Scott Skiles’s system. (File/Matt Sayles/Associated Press)
By Gary Washburn
October 4, 2009

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Michael Sweetney is difficult to miss in his green practice jersey and shorts as he stands on the sideline of Rodgers Recreation Center in Newport, R.I., waiting to enter a Celtics scrimmage. But, believe it or not, Sweetney was a man in hiding the past two years, a former lottery pick in NBA oblivion trying to address personal matters during what should have been the prime of his career.

Now he stands as the 16th member of the Celtics - sort of like being the fifth Beatle - hoping for an opportunity to return to the league. Sweetney, always a player with weight issues, is well above his previous playing weight. At Media Day, he looked uncomfortable with the spotlight. Wearing uniform No. 45, he lumbered through the Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham, unhappily posing for pictures, then walked to the locker room when it was over.

There is still much work to do. Sweetney took the first step by signing a training camp contract with the Celtics, but the NBA is not so forgiving, especially when players eat their way out of the league or appear apathetic. Sweetney was guilty of both.

The ninth overall pick by the Knicks in 2003, the 6-foot-8-inch Sweetney played little as a rookie but was a solid contributor off the bench in 2004-05 under Isiah Thomas. But Thomas made the ill-fated Eddy Curry deal and Sweetney was shipped to Chicago, where he, not surprisingly, was not a Scott Skiles type of player.

After two seasons, the Bulls made no effort to bring him back, declining his fifth-year option. It was over for Sweetney, and his mind wasn’t focused on NBA success.

“First year, I just had some personal stuff going on in my family,’’ he said. “And the second year, I was pretty much down in Miami working out at FIU [Florida International University] trying to get myself together.

“I played basketball all my life and then I get to a situation where I wasn’t playing,’’ he said. “It was hard for me to get a gauge of the workout plan and doing all that other stuff not knowing. Obviously those two years of me not playing in New York, I never knew I was going to play, so I was, ‘OK, do I work out?’ I didn’t.’’

Sweetney had been a beast in his three years at Georgetown under coach Craig Esherick, averaging 22.8 points and 10.4 rebounds during his junior season. He was always a burly player, but he had enough athleticism to compensate for his size. Things changed once he reached the NBA, and the explanations for his downfall are scarce.

“I thought he had a great college career and I thought he would be a great pro,’’ said Esherick, now a professor at George Mason. “I have to be honest and tell you I am surprised he didn’t continue to be a heck of a player. He played very hard for me.’’

Esherick, like many others, lost contact with Sweetney in recent years. Sweetney barricaded himself in Miami and worked out with former Georgetown and NBA great Alonzo Mourning to regain a semblance of shape. His road to physical respectability is hardly finished.

Sweetney strained a hamstring during the Celtics’ summer league session in Orlando, and while he is effective when practicing, his lack of conditioning is apparent.

“He can play, but conditioning is always going to be a factor,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But Michael Sweetney’s an NBA player. There’s no doubt about it. He has great feel around the basket.

“By mid-practice, he takes a dip. The first half of practice, he looks really good, and then right when fatigue happens, he’s gone. And that’s expected.’’

Despite his sojourn, Sweetney doesn’t turn 27 until Oct. 25, and he has very little NBA mileage on his body. The Celtics would have to waive, trade, or release a player to make room for Sweetney on the roster. Considering the quality big men they have, and the value of rookie Lester Hudson, that would seem unlikely.

Sweetney may have to continue his comeback in the Development League. He said his personal problems are in the past, as is his questionable work ethic. He is silent during times when other players are exchanging barbs and jokes. He slips out of Salve Regina University when workouts are over. At a time when he thought he would be enjoying the fruits of a second lucrative NBA contract, Sweetney is just trying to prove he belongs.

“I think, right now, it’s more of me understanding [the NBA], and I just gotta get it back,’’ he said. “I want to prove to people, prove to myself that I can still play. I’m not washed up. I’m not old. I just want to play basketball again.

“I’m 26 years old. I say I got another 10 years if I keep my body right, keep myself ready mentally and physically. I’ll be OK.’’

Instructional league

The NBA sent out several memos last week, and three stood out.

The league is prohibiting players from using Twitter and Facebook during games, including halftime. It will allow the individual teams to police players on social networking at other times.

When he was with the Bucks last season, Charlie Villanueva posted to his Twitter page during halftime of a game. Villanueva and Toronto’s Chris Bosh even had a competition to see who would be first to 50,000 followers. Bosh won.

The league also warned teams about players standing up in the bench area during games. Many times in tight, late-game situations, players at the end of the bench stand to watch the action. They tend to block the view of fans, many of whom are season ticket-holders paying premium prices for seats. In some NBA locales, fans have yelled at players on opposing teams to sit down.

To appease these fans and reduce banter between players and premium seat-holders, the league has warned players about standing. Fines will be levied if they stand too long.

Finally, the league told players and coaches not to berate replacement officials, who began work with Thursday’s Utah-Denver preseason opener.

In 1995, players and coaches were highly critical of replacement officials, which served as a bargaining chip for striking officials. The NBA wants players to refrain from complaining about calls as they did 14 years ago.

Neither Utah coach Jerry Sloan nor Denver’s George Karl had any criticism about the replacement crew that worked Thursday’s game, which was won by Utah, 103-87.

The officials can’t be blamed for the teams missing a combined 35 free throws. How about a memo on that?

Etc.

Jersey guys
Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 Lakers jersey is the top seller in Europe for the second consecutive year, a testament that overseas fans have forgotten about his past troubles. Kevin Garnett’s Celtics jersey was second, followed by Pau Gasol, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade. Among those in the top 15 are Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Marco Belinelli, and Joakim Noah.

In the fold
The Knicks finally settled their roster by ending the summer-long sagas of David Lee and Nate Robinson. Although it was apparent both were going to return, the Knicks waited until the final week of September to sign them to one-year contracts. Lee received $8 million and will be a marketable free agent in the class of 2010. Robinson’s situation is trickier. He will earn just $4 million this season, despite averaging a career-best 17.2 points last year. The Knicks seem highly unsure as to whether Robinson, a streaky shooter and high-energy player with no true position, is part of their future.

Office makeover
New Timberwolves general manager David Kahn made an organization shakeup, demoting assistant GM Jim Stack to a scout, naming former Celtic Jerry Sichting director of player personnel, and making Rob Babcock, the former Toronto GM, director of scouting. The remnants of the Kevin McHale Era are almost gone.

Do the bump
The NBA distributed a memo suggesting that players shouldn’t shake hands with fans, as a precaution against swine flu. The players are OK to “fist bump’’ but the league does not want the same flu issue that has spread throughout college football.

Wild, wild West
In our weekly Delonte West update, the mercurial guard missed two days of training camp with the Cavaliers, a team that, like the Celtics, is trying to gain cohesion. West returned to practice Thursday but was subject to fines. He still faces gun possession charges from a September traffic stop in Maryland.

Short jumpers
Portland native Ime Udoka returned to the Trail Blazers after a two-year stint in San Antonio in which he cost himself a couple of million dollars. Udoka was a key defensive player for the Blazers in 2006-07 and wanted to return as a free agent. The Blazers were interested in re-signing him but not at his $9 million asking price over three seasons. Udoka’s representatives told the Blazers they had a three-year offer from another club and Portland backed off. That three-year deal never materialized, and Udoka settled for a two-year, $4 million deal from San Antonio, a deal the Blazers reportedly would have matched or exceeded . . . The Celtics missed out on a potential backup point guard when free agent Chucky Atkins signed with Detroit. Atkins was waived by Minnesota after being acquired from Oklahoma City. The Celtics appear comfortable with Marquis Daniels and Lester Hudson to spell Rajon Rondo.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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