Five months ago, Tony Gaffney was walking around in a boot rehabbing a broken foot. He had bounced from the Los Angeles Lakers training camp playing ball in Israel before a bad break brought him back stateside. Two months ago, Oliver Lafayette was a Fort Wayne Mad Ant, taking commercial flights from D-League city to D-League city.
Now, the two rookies, picked up just days before the end of the regular season, are on the end of the bench for a Celtics team making a run for its second trip to the Finals in three years. To their credit, they both realize the position they’re in.
“Not many guys, especially myself being from Boston, can say they’ve come into a situation like this,” Gaffney said. “They bring us in a couple days before the season ends. On the playoff roster – inactive, but still on the roster nonetheless. Just getting to see the way a veteran group of guys does things – never mind the regular season, but the playoffs, trying to win a championship. As a young player in this league, that means a lot to me.”
“I didn’t expect to see any of this,” Lafayette said. “To get here and just hop on a team like this, it’s a great honor to be here.”
The only cost is being at the beck and call of future Hall of Famers. So if Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce needs them to make a run to the pharmacy or the grocery store, they sprint.
“It’s all in good fun, whether it’s go buy 50 Old Spice Shower gels or stuff like that,” Gaffney said. “If they need something done at the store, or the grocery store or the mall, they’ll send one of us to do it. And they look out for us. When you have a veteran group like that, you have to work your way up the totem pole, and everyone has to do it. It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you’re a rookie in this league, you have to do whatever’s asked of you.”
The benefit is simply being able to observe.
“Just the focus that guys have right now,” Lafayette said. “Just being here, seeing this time, being around the players at this time. It’s a great experience and you learn a lot just from being here. It changed a lot [from the regular season]. These guys really locked in. They want a championship this year. The determination on the road. They show a lot of determination to get games on the road, and they don’t let their guard down for nothing.”
Starting the season with the Lakers, Gaffney’s been on the inside of two teams that could possibly be finalists.
“To me it’s no surprise that the two hottest teams in the playoffs right now are the Lakers and the Celtics,” Gaffney said. “It’s no surprise to me why both the Lakers and the Celtics are in the situation they’re in right now. Their core group of veterans, it’s all guys that goes about their business like players should. It’s the way things should be done.”
Being around a locker room stuffed with creatures of habit, they’ve both pick up on routines and idiosyncrasies. The most important thing they’ve learned: “As a rookie,” Gaffney said, “My routine is to stay out of the way of the routines of the veterans right now.”