When you’ve had a taste of the big time, a return to the small time can be a harsh reality slap. Celtics rookie J.R. Giddens felt the sting on Nov. 15 when he was assigned to the Utah Flash of the NBA Developmental League. Fellow newcomer Bill Walker suffered the blow five days later when his publicly stated hopes of avoiding the same fate were dashed.
As one of two veteran Celtics players — along with Patrick O’Bryant — who made the same journey through the NBDL outposts, Gabe Pruitt could relate. But given that he’s gone from the very far edge of the bench on last year’s champions to an increasing role in the repeat bid, he said he urged the rookies to view it as more of an opportunity than a punishment for not being able to crack the rotation with the best team in the league.
“I talked with Bill, and at first he was like, ‘No, I don’t want to go,’ and this and that,” Pruitt said. “But once he got down there he saw it was not too bad, and he had a chance to play. After J.R. had 34 in a game [Dec. 1] I called him up afterward. He was enjoying it because he was playing. He was making the most of it.
“I think they realize what they’re down there for and trying to use it to make them better.”
Statistically, it seems to be working. After looking lost at times during training camp and in the preseason, Giddens has excelled with the Flash, averaging 18.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Walker, who seemed a bit further down the path as a potential NBA role player, has also done well, with 17.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in less than 30 minutes per night.
The stats are good, but Pruitt said the benefits of an NBDL stint run deeper.
“It allowed me to do things they were looking for me to do up here,” said Pruitt, who averaged 18.6 points and 3.9 assists in 18 games over three tours with the Flash last year as a rookie. “I got to play point guard. The coaches down there put me in situations that showed me running the team. That helped me out because the coaches here were watching, [C’s president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] was watching, even some of the players here would get the stats from some of our games. They were very impressed.”
Pruitt, whose term with the Flash coincided with that of Jazz guard Morris Almond, said the
Flash integrated some schemes from the parent clubs into the game plan.
“They got some Utah sets and some Celtics sets,” he said. “Not necessarily our plays, but some situations we might be in with our offense for me. I was thankful for that because it gave me an opportunity to play like I was here in the Celtics’ offense. They made adjustments for me to make me more comfortable.
“They realize what we’re down there for. They’re trying to win, but they know you’re down there for a reason, and they are looking for you to be picked back up. They were always telling me they were trying to get me back up here a better player than I was when I came down.”
During the Dec. 25 loss to the Lakers, a brief, on-court jawing session between Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo caught the attention of many who worried the C’s might be finger-pointing at the first sign of adversity. Yet just days before, Allen said such spats are common, if rarely so widely seen.
Seconds after a locker-room discussion between Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen grew so animated that Ray Allen had to stand up and monitor the exchange, he said tiffs can be beneficial.
“We argue a lot,” said Ray Allen. “I’ve been on teams where guys don’t say two words to each other. You like each other, and everyone gets along, but if something on the floor goes wrong nobody says nothing. We’ve gotten into more arguments and more almost fistfights than any team I’ve been a part of. It shows the fierceness and competitiveness we have as a team.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
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