Over the weekend, I found myself completely fascinated with the last training camp battle left undecided. The battle to which I am referring is the battle for the final Celtics’ roster spot. The 15th man. The Lord of the practice gym. The “Mr. Irrelevant” of NBA basketball rosters.
I was shocked when the Celtics cut Tony Gaffney. He has a defensive mindset. He showed in Summer League that he can guard NBA small forwards. He’s freakishly athletic. It just seemed as though Gaffney would have the advantage over the other guys the Celtics were and still are considering. Instead, the battle still rages and will likely to continue through the preseason. The Celtics are currently trying to decide between the underwhelming Von Wafer, practice favorite Mario West, and Gaffney’s fellow UMASS alumnus, Stephane Lasme.
That was a few days ago. Now, I sit here and wonder why I even cared in the first place. It is likely that none of these players will see more than garbage time this season. Even with Delonte West’s ten game suspension, it is more likely that Doc will shorten his rotation rather than open it up to the likes of 15th men.
But maybe this battle is really not for the 15th man after all. Maybe this becomes the audition for the 12th guy off the bench- something that changes things pretty dramatically. After seeing him play in Summer League and the FIBA World Championships, Semih Erden still seems like a world-class stiff. Someone who will need at least a year of NBA seasoning to become serviceable. There is also no guarantee that Luke Harangody will produce like he did in college- especially if he’s being asked to guard NBA small forwards. Then there is the sidelined Avery Bradley, who may very well end up going the way of Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens.
Still, while the 12th man sees more floor time, he’s rarely an impact-player. Maybe we are jaded. The end of the bench has been sewn up for the past few seasons with Brian Scalabrine holding down the fort.
Maybe we are just dying for the regular season to start. Maybe we want someone to come out of nowhere and make the C’s coaching staff look smart for picking him up (Sundiata Gaines anyone?). Maybe it’s the former High School Junior Varsity star in all of us that says, “if he can do it, I bet I could” (you couldn’t).
Whatever it is that draws us to care about the Gaffney’s, Wafer’s, and West’s of the world, it will surely be satiated soon. The preseason starts tonight and the young/fringe guys will undoubtedly get some burn. Who are you looking forward to watching?
Will Semih Erden be able to move laterally well enough to guard second string centers? Will Luke Harangody get any run at the small forward spot? Will Von Wafer find his shooting stroke? Will Mario West show why all of his teammates (and Doc Rivers) love him in practice?
These are the questions (and more) we ask ourselves today because soon enough they become irrelevant.