Ex-Celtic Posey still has heart of a champion
Scanning his career statistics, James Posey’s year in Boston was as nondescript as most of his other NBA seasons. Posey will never lead the league in scoring or make an All-Star team, but players with his skills are essential to championship teams.
So, it was no shock that Posey was a key bench component on the Heat’s and Celtics’ title runs. At 6 feet 8 inches with strong defensive skills and long-range shooting prowess, Posey came off the bench for both teams and helped spark their championships.
Just as Posey begins to find comfort in his new surroundings, he’s usually gone. He was a free agent after helping the Celtics win the 2008 title, and the Hornets offered him a four-year contract at the midlevel exception, a reward he couldn’t reject. While he wanted to stay in Boston, the salary-cap-strapped Celtics couldn’t match the Hornets’ deal.
Posey is with his eighth NBA team now, after his unsuccessful stint with the Hornets ended with a trade to the Pacers. In Indiana, he is playing the role of wily veteran trying to help revive a franchise.
The Pacers, who play the Celtics at TD Garden today, are one of the league’s most surprising teams, producing a strong start that has inspired playoff hopes. When he was dealt to the Pacers in August, Posey wanted no part of a contract buyout of his final two years. He wanted to experience his new role in Indiana, and so far it’s been a welcomed change.
“Trades happen and it’s up to the player to make the best of the situation and to come in with the right attitude,’’ he said. “Not knowing too much about the Pacers, I just wanted to get on the same page as the players and the coaching staff. Right now I’m just trying to set the tempo, going out there and playing hard and doing what coach [Jim O’Brien] tells me to do and set an example for the young guys.’’
The Pacers have improved exponentially on defense and with rebounding. Entering last night’s games, Indiana was sixth in the league in rebounds per game and second in opposing field goal percentage. Danny Granger continues to emerge as an All-Star, but this year he has help from Most Improved Player candidate Roy Hibbert, second-year guard Darren Collison, and versatile Brandon Rush. Team president Larry Bird has waited the past few years for his draft picks to develop, and they finally have.
Meanwhile, Posey has averaged 20 minutes per game and has turned into a 3-point specialist — 124 of his 143 shot attempts have been 3-pointers.
Three years ago with the Celtics, 67 percent of Posey’s shot attempts were 3-pointers, and his presence helped stretch the floor for Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins. Signed a month after the team acquired Ray Allen and Garnett, Posey was the final piece to the team’s plan to win an NBA title, and his contributions have made him a popular figure in Boston.
Many NBA insiders say Posey’s absence in 2008-09 hurt the Celtics’ chances of repeating. They were not able to replace Posey’s defense.
Posey left Boston pleased with the experience.
“I was impressed with the leadership starting with coach [Doc] Rivers and the Big Three,’’ he said. “Just the guys at this age, at a time in their careers where they were all about winning and how they were able to jell and it made it easy for the other guys on the team. It was crazy because a lot of new guys were there that year, there was this swagger where we felt we should win every game. And there was that toughness that when we traveled, when we stepped on the court, it was about business.’’
Posey had just departed Miami, where the core of its 2006 title team was beginning to decay.
“There was no conflict at all, especially coming from Miami where we had [Dwyane] Wade and Shaq [O’Neal] and Antoine [Walker], there were no issues in the locker room [in Boston],’’ he said. “It was all about winning. Every night it could be somebody different. And during that process, Doc brought to the table ‘ubuntu’ and that was big, too. It was short-lived for me, but I came there and we got the job done.’’
Posey wanted to return to Boston, but team president Danny Ainge was reluctant to offer him a four-year deal at the midlevel exception. Posey, who opted out of the final year of his deal at $3.2 million, agreed to the richest contract of his career in New Orleans.
“I let it be known I wanted to come back,’’ he said. “You win one [title] and you get that taste in your mouth and you want to do it again the following year. On the business side of things, I think that’s where the differences were, which is understandable. No bitter feelings. I had no choice but to go to New Orleans.’’
That championship feeling still lingers and has crept into the Indiana locker room. At a team function last month, Posey wore his championship rings to motivate his teammates. He is the lone player on the Indiana roster to enjoy playoff success, let alone win a title, and that experience has served valuable in schooling Posey’s teammates.
“They asked about [the ring] and I said it’s tough to get,’’ he said. “It’s something you really can’t explain but one of the reasons you play this game, to win at a high level, and it’s nothing they can take away from you. When they talk about champions, you are going to be mentioned every time.’’
Long-suffering Knicks fan Spike Lee has never denied his love for the hometown team, but the past few years have been difficult, watching opposing superstars swish jumpers or rock the rim and then look at him standing in bewilderment in the front row. On Wednesday, he was interacting with players, as usual, screaming at Paul Pierce after his jumper with 0.4 seconds left.
He slapped hands with Raymond Felton following his banked in 3-pointer to end the first half and stood amid the chaos, hoping Amar’e Stoudemire’s 3-point shot after the buzzer would be ruled good.
The Knicks lost, but times are good for Lee. He finally can cheer a team capable of more than a modest winning streak. Stoudemire has turned into the NBA’s best free agent pickup of last summer’s bumper crop, including LeBron James. And there could be enough young talent and cap space for the Knicks to sign another superstar long term.
“The team has been terrible, to be honest,’’ Lee said. “So this is a good feeling. This is still the Mecca of basketball, whether it’s good or bad. But it’s great when they have a competitive team.
“It was like this all during the Patrick Ewing years. Those head-to-head battles with Michael [Jordan] and Chicago. But it was rocking here Sunday against Denver. It’s going to be like this the rest of the season, not just because Boston is here or Miami is here Friday night [a 113-91 loss] or Oklahoma City is coming here Tuesday night. It’s going to be like this the rest of the season and into the playoffs. We’re definitely making the playoffs.’’
And the consensus among NBA officials is that the league is healthier when the Knicks matter. While the renewed rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers has kept interest high, the league’s biggest market being back in the mix brings a smile to commissioner David Stern.
“It’s good for everybody,’’ Lee said. “Everybody makes money. The TV network, the league, the Knicks, the scalpers on the corner. It’s good for basketball when the Knicks are competitive.’’
Of course, like most Knicks fans, Lee had hoped James would take on the challenge of New York and resurrect the Knicks. A few days after Stoudemire signed with New York, James opted for Miami.
“I was disappointed for a day,’’ Lee said. “After that, he didn’t want to come. If somebody doesn’t want to come, they don’t want to come. As my grandmother, who lived to be 100 years old, used to say, ‘Be careful what you ask for.’ ’’
The Knicks are still missing that second All-Star-caliber player and Lee has aided rumors that Carmelo Anthony is coming to New York. The movie maker has been quoted as saying the Nuggets forward told him privately he wants to play for the Knicks. Fans can’t be accused of tampering, but Lee wanted no part of that discussion.
“[Team president] Donnie Walsh will take care of it,’’ he said. “He’s on the planet somewhere.’’
And while his exchanges with Reggie Miller during those mid-1990s battles are famous, Lee said he doesn’t chide another 3-point marksman, Ray Allen. Allen told reporters that despite the two working together in “He Got Game’’ 12 years ago, Lee still rides him during games.
With a smile, Lee denied making derogatory comments about Allen during games.
“Never. I got nothing but love for Ray Allen,’’ he said. “Ray gave a great, great performance [in ‘He Got Game’]. He auditioned for it a couple of days after the season and he didn’t finish until the day before he had to report [to camp with Milwaukee]. He sacrificed his whole offseason. I will be indebted to him for that.’’
Former Northeastern guard Matt Janning is playing with the Maine Red Claws after spending training camp with the Phoenix Suns. He was released Nov. 16 and signed with the Red Claws earlier this month, hoping exposure in the D-League will garner him another NBA chance. Janning was a Las Vegas Summer League wonder with Phoenix, which signed him to a non-guaranteed deal.
“I think it definitely helps, you can see what goes on at [the NBA] level,’’ Janning said of his experience. “It’s a difficult transition coming to a new situation. I think I am still in a converting role right now. I know I can play in the NBA. I’m comfortable and I think I’ll get another shot sooner or later. For me, it’s just keep working. They call it the Developmental League for a reason.’’
The Celtics signed former Oklahoma forward Keith “Tiny’’ Gallon to Maine, and he is averaging 16.5 points and 8.6 rebounds in eight games. He has developed a crafty jump hook but still needs to get into top condition to impress NBA scouts. Gallon was a second-round pick by Milwaukee last June but was released in training camp.
Layups Michael Jordan conducted a strongly-worded meeting with his team after Charlotte’s 93-62 loss to the Celtics Dec. 11 and there may be some wholesale changes in store for one of the league’s most disappointing teams. The Bobcats showed little backbone against the Celtics, and to make makes matters worse, Raymond Felton is a standout in New York after the Bobcats let him go for nothing. D.J. Augustin is a nice player, but not a bona fide starting NBA point guard. The Bobcats desperately need a star but don’t have enough trade chips to acquire one unless a club wants to take on the expiring $6.8 million contract of Nazr Mohammed. Although Stephen Jackson is productive, virtually no NBA team would consider taking on the two years and $20 million remaining on his deal unless Charlotte took a bad contract in return . . . Don’t look for Eddy Curry any time soon in a Knicks uniform. He wasn’t even on the bench for the Celtics game Wednesday and he told the Globe last month he was close to playing condition. The Knicks will wait until February to try to move Curry’s expiring $11 million contract or perhaps use his deal in a Carmelo Anthony trade. The Knicks could also dangle former lottery pick Anthony Randolph in a deal because he has never warmed to coach Mike D’Antoni. Randolph showed signs of being a star in Golden State but was verbally beaten down by coach Don Nelson. Randolph, who is only 21, hasn’t played for New York since Nov. 30 . . . Why has Landry Fields been such a surprise for the Knicks? Because he played mostly the post at Stanford and scouts were unsure whether he could play small forward. Fields is a first-team all-rookie cinch in a class that’s been disappointing at best . . . Reports that Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been heckling point guard Baron Davis are hardly surprising around the NBA. Most team officials consider Sterling a buffoon who views his team as a hobby. Remember, Sterling sued former Celtics coach Bill Fitch after firing him because he didn’t want to pay off the remainder of his contract. He accused the coach of not trying to find a job after firing him at 63 years old. The sides settled the lawsuit.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.