ORLANDO — His main hustle is his hustle. Colton Iverson said that’s what got him noticed, and it’s what he believes will help keep him in the league.
“I know that’s how I’m going to find a spot on a team in the NBA,” the Celtics’ rookie center said this week during the Orlando Summer League.
“I just have to do the dirty work, get rebounds, get stops, just not let anybody score on you, play good team defense, and make the hustle plays.”
With the roster log-jammed with players, it’s unclear whether Iverson will be making those plays for Boston next season.
The Celtics are looking to clear roster space and shed salaries to help them from going over the tax line, a line that they’d be rather foolish to cross considering they’ll be in rebuilding mode going forward.
All of this leaves Iverson, whom they acquired through a draft-night trade with Indiana after the Pacers selected him in the second round with the 53d pick, in a limbo of sorts.
The Celtics already have nine players with guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus they’re set to add four others in a blockbuster swap with Brooklyn that won’t become official until Friday.
And those figures aren’t counting forwards Shavlik Randolph, D.J. White, and Kris Joseph, who all have nonguaranteed contracts.
“I’m here with the Celtics,” Iverson said when asked about his future plans. “They drafted me for a reason. I’m going to do everything I can to make the roster this year. I know they’re excited about me. They went out and bought that pick.”
And if it doesn’t work out?
“Then we’ll take it as it comes,” Iverson said.
One likely possibility is that Iverson could play overseas for a season.
“Our primary focus remains playing for the Boston Celtics this upcoming year,” said Iverson’s agent, Adam Pensack. “In the next couple weeks we will have a better idea of where things are headed. In the meantime, Colton will continue [to do] whatever he can to help the team win in Orlando.”
The Celtics close out summer league play Friday against the Orlando Magic. Through four games, Iverson has averaged 3.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in about 17 minutes.
“He’s just a big, tough, hard-playing dude,” said Celtics assistant and summer league head coach Jay Larranaga. “I think his teammates love him because he’s going to get you open, he’s going to get you extra possessions, he’s going to be there when you need help.
“He’s still learning a lot about the NBA game, the NBA rules — I think he’ll become a better and better defender as he learns what he can and cannot do from a physicality standpoint. I think he’s doing really well.”
Iverson acknowledged that he’s not much of an offensive threat, unlike fellow rookie center Kelly Olynyk, who is tied for the highest scoring average with Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson (19.5 points a game).
But Iverson said he wouldn’t change his style even if he were more of a scorer. He said he would still throw his 7-foot, 255-pound frame around because he loves it.
“That’s the way I play, even if I was averaging 20 points per game, I’d still play physical and kind of nasty or whatever you want to say,” he said. “I know guys don’t like going against me, so I take pride in that.”
Iverson has established himself as perhaps the most physical, aggressive player in Orlando, using his muscular frame to bull over opponents.
“Physical,” Larranaga said in summing up Iverson’s style of play. “He’s just a very physical player. He plays as hard as he can. He’s not afraid of contact.”
In fact, Iverson seems to relish in that contact. “Yeah, definitely,” he said, smiling.
And he’d like employ that physical style as an enforcer for the Celtics, making guards and others think about whether it’s worth it to drive down the lane.
That would be his hustle of choice.