Marbury will add spice to season
If, as expected soon, a certain surly New York point guard rides the northerly head winds and plants himself in Boston, the NBA firmament will seem suddenly a little more exciting, and the Lakers’ most hated rival will get a sudden jolt of intrigue. In fact, judged in a certain way, with a premium on not knowing what’s coming next, the Boston Celtics may well become the league’s most exciting team.
The point guard in question, you may know, is Stephon Marbury, basketball’s biggest enigma. If rumor, strong innuendo and the way the Celtics players are talking is any guide, Marbury will soon be wearing Boston green. This week Marbury reached an agreement with the New York Knicks, the team he has feuded with for what seems like eons and last played a meaningful game for when Hillary Clinton was pummeling Barack Obama. Attaining his release, he’s now on waivers until Friday. As long thought, the Celtics plan to grab him once he clears.
Boston’s players, in town Wednesday to play the Clippers, already consider this a done deal. Before the game, several sat near their lockers, fielding questions from a scrum of reporters. “Starbury, or, uh, Marbury,” said Paul Pierce, referring to the two-time All-Star’s nickname, it’s “high risk, high reward.”
Holding court, Pierce said his team -- as we would learn from its tired, 93-91 upset loss to the Clippers -- has been severely weakened by the injury bug that has temporarily taken Kevin Garnett and several reserves, and now needs all the reinforcement it can get.
He noted he’s well aware of Marbury’s reputation -- that he “kills locker rooms,” in Pierce’s words -- but assured that the point guard is often misunderstood, that he has never been on a winning team with this much heart and leadership. In short, a team that can keep him in check.
As hopeful as Pierce was, in the end, he was also wary. “You kind of have mixed feelings about it,” he said.
If you ask me, this mixed-bag assessment of a top-tier talent is what quickens the pulse when Marbury as a Celtic is considered.
Despite the chest-pounding certainty of experts who claim to know with dead-lock certainty how this will play out, honestly, nobody knows. The man in question, remember, is the personification of a wild card. With him, you get the widest of spectrums. You are serenaded by his skills: the smooth glide, the 19.7 points and 7.8 assists a game over a long career, even with the awful Knicks seasons in the mix. When focused, he’s an “extraordinary talent” said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who added, “It will be interesting when he gets here.”
“Interesting?” This points us to that other Marbury. Dark Side Stephon, swimming in childish ways, boorish ‘tude, and occasionally with wacky diatribes on everything from grand self assessments of his game to sometimes his seamy personal life. The wackiness spills courtside. With all that talent, he’s been entrusted with the care and handling of several NBA franchises. He’s never won a playoff series.
Case study: Last December, Marbury was at Staples Center with the Knicks, the team paying his roughly $21 million a year at the time. By then he’d been banished to the team’s proverbial outhouse, you probably know, but he could have been a good soldier, fully supportive of the guys he sweated with through training camp. Instead he sat apart from them, in street clothes, off on the side, uncaring, his tattooed head shining under the bright lights as he gabbed on a cellphone. He might as well have just shouted out: “All for one, and one for . . . me!”
Troubling, true, yet maybe there’s something enticing about this. Look, we all love predictable -- Tom Brady, Garnett, Tiger (everywhere), Kobe (on the court). But wild cards provide real spice. Marbury? He’s a lesser Mike Tyson. He’s basketball’s Terrell Owens. He’s Nixon right before Watergate. Performers like this, it’s hard to avert the eyes when they stride upon any stage.
So, there goes the surly one, off to a title-holding team whose rallying cry is “ubuntu!” -- an African phrase whose deeper meaning points to cohesiveness.
Can he be different?
Marbury has much to play for, starting with winning the approval of Pierce, Garnett and Allen, moving on to a possible championship and a new contract next season to replace his expiring one. Maybe even to a much better reputation than the dark one he has.
In some ways, he’s like Manny Ramirez when Manny became a Dodger, primed to prove the naysayers wrong. We know what a powerful elixir that was.
One option: Marbury drinks the elixir and becomes a key. With him providing support and Garnett coming back from injury, legs fresh, mind fresh, the Celtics push strongly for a repeat.
Then again, maybe he takes a sip and chaos comes: “Ubuntu” turns into a laughingstock, Boston fans pine even more than ever for Jerry Sichting and 1986, Marbury proves nobody ever really changes.
What happens from here on is anyone’s guess. For the Celtics, for the NBA, there’s excitement and intrigue in that.