His road to Boston is no longer an issue for Leandro Barbosa. He’s here now, having accepted a league-minimum deal and entering a situation with the Celtics in which he may be reduced to a cheerleader by midseason.
Barbosa wanted a chance to win after years playing for the fun-to-watch, high-tempo but no-defense Suns, followed by two downtrodden years in Toronto and a second-round playoff run in Indiana. He held out for a more amenable contract, given his productive stint with the Pacers, but nothing materialized.
Despite leading the Brazilian Olympic team in scoring, Barbosa was another talented veteran looking for a job, much like former Celtic Mickael Pietrus and former No. 1 overall pick Kenyon Martin. Players such as Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas are reportedly headed for China, but Barbosa accepted what could be a small opportunity to be part of something special.
“I’ve been to Phoenix, I know how [winning] is and with this team I know it’s going to be [demanded],” he said. “And I’m very, very excited. I mean there’s no words I can explain to you how I feel right now. I just want to work, give them what they expect, and win games and a championship. In my mind I have the championship and I’m sure those guys have the same thing. So we’re going to work together and I’m down for that too.”
Unlike the Celtics’ past acquisitions of veterans on one-year deals, the 29-year-old Barbosa is not nearing the end of his career and arrives in good health.
Last December, the Celtics added Pietrus, who was coming off right knee surgery and played the season at less than 100 percent. He underwent another procedure on his right knee when the season ended after shooting just 32.9 percent from the field in the playoffs, including 12 for 54 from the 3-point line.
Barbosa has remained relatively healthy throughout his career, and blended in with the Pacers last season as a trade-deadline acquisition, averaging 8.9 points in 22 games. The Celtics did not pursue Barbosa to be their backup point guard. Despite years of serving as Steve Nash’s primary backup in Phoenix, Barbosa is more comfortable as a combo guard, running the fast break or running alongside Rajon Rondo and launching a 3-pointer from the wing.
Barbosa’s quickness and ability to score in bunches is what attracted the Celtics.
“I love what he’s done; I love his speed, his ability to handle the ball,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Again, we don’t have a backup point but we have another ball handler. Our theory is if we throw three ball handlers out on the floor someone can bring the ball up and that’s the way we’ll play with our second unit. We have enough ball handlers to be able to get away with it.”
Barbosa is 6 feet 3 inches and 189 pounds, nicknamed the “Roadrunner” in Phoenix because of his quickness; he won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 2006-07 after averaging a career-best 18.1 points in 32.7 minutes. His playing time has decreased steadily over the years and he has been reduced to a limited role in his past two stops.
Barbosa’s role in Boston is to be determined. He is expected to practice with his teammates for the first time Wednesday and then attempt to blend in with Rondo, Jason Terry, and Courtney Lee. The Celtics will inherit a player who played in meaningful playoff games last season with the Pacers and then shifted into international competition with Brazil in the London Olympics. Brazil lost to archrival Argentina in the quarterfinals.
“It a good experience,” he said. “You know my country hasn’t been in the Olympics for 16 years and coming back to the Olympics, we thought we had an opportunity to get a medal. Unfortunately it wasn’t this time.
“But I think we did a great job for so many years not going to the Olympics, we got fifth place. We have the Olympics next time in Brazil and I think the opportunity [to medal] is very, very high next time.”
When asked if he would consider playing for his country in 2016 at age 33, he said: “Yeah, yeah, I’m there definitely. It’s a great environment, energy. It’s different than anything that I’ve been through so I am more than happy to be enjoying the national team again.”
Barbosa waited eagerly for a lucrative free agent deal but he said issues with agent Dan Fegan led to him being left out on the market into mid-October.
“It was a situation with my agent,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about that but fortunately I’m happy to be here now. I had an opportunity to go to a different team but I think this team would be great for me. I’m happy to be here. Things are different right now in the business.”