Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger were involved in their first training session with the Celtics Monday. It was just the start of an accelerated program in an attempt to prepare them for significant roles next season, according to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
“Everybody knows we lack size on the interior and guarding the rim is one of our weaknesses,” Ainge said during a news conference at the Jackson Mann Educational Complex in Allston. “And big guys usually do take more time to develop than guards. But we’re going to put these guys on a speed course and get them ready to play.”
There are questions about how Melo and Sullinger will transition to the professional game. Melo lacks experience, having grown up playing soccer in Brazil. Sullinger produced significant numbers in two years at Ohio State, but his stock fell after tests revealed a herniated disk.
“I think it’s a blessing in disguise, honestly,” Sullinger said of falling to 21st in the draft. “To come to a great organization like the Boston Celtics and just be a part of a team like this, with a winning tradition, means a lot to me.
“Honestly, I don’t have any back problems. I’m just playing basketball, I finally have a job and, so, it’s time to take the next step.”
After Kendrick Perkins sustained a knee injury in 2010, the Celtics attempted the fill the center gap with Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal. Now, they are going with young, unproven candidates.
“Jared is going to have to learn to play some center,” Ainge said. “I think there’s not that much difference between the center and power forward positions in the NBA. And Jared is smart, he’s versatile, and he’s strong. So I just think as he matures and gains more knowledge of the NBA game that he’ll be versatile enough to play both positions.
“He rebounds well enough to be a center, and he has the ability to play both positions, for sure. Jared has been a winning player at every level he’s played and, we believe, a winning person. And we’re glad to have him as part of our organization.”
Said Sullinger: “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big your heart is. And, to me, I feel like I play like I’m 7 foot, with my passion for the game and rebounding and being physical. So, even though I’m 6-9, I’d be willing to play center if Coach asked me to.”
Sullinger believes his game is suited to the pros.
“With collegiate defenses, they can pack it in,” Sullinger said. “So, I really had to deal with what the defense asked to me to do — double- team by forcing me to the baseline. And pretty much all I had was back-to-the-basket, because there really was no place to move.
“I can shoot the outside shot, I can face up, I can go off the dribble and drive — things I couldn’t do at the college level because of the collegiate defense. So we’ll see how that goes.”
Melo, Sullinger, and second-round pick Kris Joseph are expected to participate in summer league contests in Orlando and Las Vegas through July 22.
Melo said he already has been contacted by Kevin Garnett.
“I heard from him and I want to learn from him, too,” Melo said of Garnett. “He’s an energy guy and I have a lot of energy. Just his passion — he said he’s excited to teach me, and I’m excited to learn.”
Melo grew up in Juiz da Fora in Minas Gerais state and, despite his size, was a midfielder in soccer before moving to Florida and concentrating on basketball in high school. But Melo mostly played zone defense at Syracuse.
“I think I’m good at doing what Coach wants me to do — get rebounds, play defense,” Melo said. “Whatever he wants me to do I will do.
“I’m a very coachable guy. I think if they show me what to do I will do it. My reaction on defense is pretty good and I can protect the basket, I’m not worried about that — just show me how to do it and I will do it.”
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Jeff Green likely will return to the Celtics next season, according to his agent, David Falk. Green, an unrestricted free agent, missed last season after undergoing heart surgery.
“He wants to be back and we want him back and we’re working to make that happen,” Ainge said. “When I sat with Jeff through the medical process, to see four different specialists about his heart, it was pretty clear that Jeff would return and Jeff would be better. He would be in better condition, better shape, his heart, after this procedure. Everything has gone great. Obviously, not having played basketball for a year, there’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment. But he’ll be out on the court going full tilt very, very soon. He’ll play a lot of basketball, have a great training camp, and exhibition games to sort of get the rust off.”
Ainge considered using Green in summer league games.
“I don’t know if that’s needed,” Ainge said. “I’ve actually contemplated that, if that would be beneficial. Because we have a full training camp and eight exhibition games, I’m sure that’s sufficient.”