Last week, Rajon Rondo made this statement, "This is our best shot...If this team buys into the system the sky's the limit with the championship." Doc has proved that his system works with the right players playing the right roles on the team when they won the championship in 2008. Since that time, though for one reason or another, they haven't had the players they needed to fill roles. Some of it was injuries, some of it was a weak bench, some of it was not having the right players to fill those roles in the system.
Jason Terry has assumed the role of leader on the bench, a role that was vacant last season as the bench played with little direction. Kevin Garnett has accepted the role of big man coach and mentor for the young bigs. He is also willing to fill the role of center, if that's what Doc needs from him. Doc has mentioned having transitional starting lineups and so players have to be willing to accept and embrace their role, whether in the starting lineup or off the bench. Some will be scorers. Some will be facilitators. Some will be defenders and enforcers.
In that defender and enforcer role, Doc has cast the newest member of the Celtics, Darko Milicic. Darko has been cast aside by 5 different teams as a disappointment and underachiever. There were assorted groans from Celtics fans when Darko was first signed. But, after two preseason games, few in Celtics nation are still groaning. He followed a 2 point, 6 rebound, 2 block effort in Turkey with a 2 point, 9 rebound, 3 assist, 4 block effort in Milan. Doc called his performance phenomenal.
Instances of players being cast off by other teams only to thrive in Boston are strewn through their history. Just a few examples include Don Nelson, who was waived by the Lakers after 2 underwhelming seasons, was picked up by Boston and was a key contributor there for 11 seasons. Robert Parish was considered a troublemaker in Golden State. They felt that he would never be a good center and couldn't wait to trade him so that they could draft Joe Barry Carroll, and yet Parish became a Hall of Fame player in Boston. Dennis Johnson was considered a troublemaker who couldn't run a team and became the glue that held the team together in Boston.
And, now there is Darko. At every stop in his nine year career, he has been expected to play like the second pick in the draft. They have been looking for statistics that would warrant being taken ahead of players like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. When those stats weren't there, they would cast him aside as an underachiever. They were all trying to cast a square peg into a round hole and it didn't fit.
Enter Doc Rivers and the Celtics. Doc has defined a role for Darko, one that he has the skills and size to easily fill. Doc wants him to defend, rebound, and play team ball and that fits Darko just fine. He doesn't need to be the second pick in the draft. He just needs to be a part of the team and fill a role. The Celtics haven't had an enforcer since Perk left. Darko may just fill that role. Today, Celtics.com has an article about how Darko is buying into his role on the Celtics.
Here's what Jason Terry had to say about Darko and the role he fills.
“He’s physically and mentally as tough as they come,” guard Jason Terry said. “You’ve seen his strength throughout this training camp. He’s going inside, he’s banging with the bigs. I think he’s a much tougher player than everybody thought of him coming in.”
And here's Doc's take on Darko's role.
“Rebound. Be a great passer. Be a big body. Basically, that’s it,” Rivers said of Milicic’s expected role. “It’s a simple role, but it’s a hard role.”
“We’re not asking him to go out and be (Kareem Abdul-)Jabar,” Doc Rivers joked. “We’re just asking him to help us win basketball games, and I think that’s helped him.”
And more importantly, it's helped the Celtics. The sky's the limit.