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Celtics vets dealing with 2nd lockout of careers

By Howard Ulman
AP Sports Writer / December 13, 2011
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WALTHAM, Mass.—If experience counts, the Boston Celtics should have an edge coming out of the lockout. Four of their players have been through two of them.

Kevin Garnett already had played three seasons when his first NBA lockout began on July 1, 1998. Ray Allen and Jermaine O'Neal were two-year veterans. And Paul Pierce was looking forward to his first season after being taken with the 10th pick in the draft.

That lockout lasted 204 days, ended on Jan. 20, 1999 and shortened the regular season to 50 games. This year's lockout was shorter, allowing the league to put together a 66-game schedule. But with fewer off days than usual, it will take a toll on players' bodies.

So Allen, 36, made sure he reported for the opening of camp last Friday in excellent shape.

"There were some guys back in '99 that when you saw them it was like, holy cow, like this guy was on vacation for the last three months and didn't do a thing, didn't pick up a basketball or a weight," he said Tuesday.

He wasn't worried that the Celtics would have that problem this year.

"We've got too many strong-minded individuals in this locker room," he said. "For most of us working out is a way of life."

But there's a difference between jogging on a treadmill and running up and down the court.

When coach Doc Rivers held a scrimmage on Monday, he knew his players were in no condition to keep hustling for an extended period.

"Honestly, I think we're in terrible shape," he said. "Everybody looked good. Their body fat tests looked great and all that stuff, but basketball-wise, when we're doing all the drills, they looked great. But when we put them five-on-five and threw the ball in the air, they needed 20-second breaks after about a minute.

"So. we've got a lot of work to do."

That wasn't a total surprise. Rivers had seen that during the earlier lockout when, he said, he was running informal practices for many San Antonio Spurs players before taking over as coach of the Orlando Magic the following season.

"We went five days a week," he said, but "they still were exhausted when camp started. That's why I didn't panic (Monday) as much as I would have, watching guys bend down after a minute into a scrimmage."

Garnett, 35, was just 22 when the previous lockout began. He already had been to two All-Star games in three seasons.

Then he was slammed by the reality that basketball is more than just a game.

"Experience is everything," he said. "The second time I was a lot more prepared, not just mentally, but I was prepared from a business standpoint to understand the business of basketball and how it went, understanding the negotiating, understanding timing, understanding tactics, understanding the tricks ... that come with all of it. And the patience.

"This year will test everybody's endurance."

The Celtics open their season on Christmas Day at the New York Knicks. That doesn't leave much time for the team to jell, especially with an almost entirely new group coming off the bench.

So Pierce, 34, feels a bit rushed.

"This is something that could have been avoided, especially (when) you see all the different trades falling through and the disorganization of rosters at this point," he said. "There probably should have been a period where you had a free agent signing period then training camp."

But that might have shortened the season even further. And it might not have started until after Christmas.

"I feel very rushed," Allen said. "I can't say that I've been particularly happy with the way things have transpired over the last two or three weeks but I think everybody's in the situation where we just have to do the best with what we have."

The Celtics and the other teams are hurrying to assemble rosters, run practices and develop chemistry among their players.

All that normally takes a lot of time, time teams don't have.

"We're in a rush league right now," Garnett said. "Chemistry is something that you don't just throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something and throw something on top of that and fry it up, put it in a tortilla, put it in a microwave, heat it up and give it to you and expect it to taste great.

"For those who can cook," Garnett said, a smile breaking his serious look as he paused and looked around at reporters, "you'll know what I'm talking about."

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