Kris Humphries deserves more minutes for the Celtics. He is a proven veteran who averaged a double-double in consecutive years with the New Jersey Nets.
He was sent to the Celtics because his salary aligned with the deal that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn and his tenure here is expected to be short. He almost certainly will be shopped in February but until then, he’ll be needed for situations such as Monday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Against their mammoth frontline, Humphries banged and battled, playing key minutes because of foul trouble. He contributed 8 points and seven rebounds in his 21 minutes as the Celtics won again, unexpectedly, taking down a Timberwolves team that had whipped them by 18 a month ago.
Humphries understands his place. He does not complain but obviously wants a more expanded role given this is the final year of his contract and he is in the prime of his career. He is concluding a two-year, $24 million deal and is trying to convince a team that he’s capable of being a starting power forward.
That place won’t be Boston. He is viewed as a rental and over the next two months president of basketball operations Danny Ainge should field his share of calls from contenders looking for rugged rebounders. In the interim, Humphries has remained a professional.
From the day he was acquired by the Celtics and looked glum at the introductory press conference, Humphries’s tenure in Boston has been viewed with skepticism. Would he sit because he’s too productive on a club that’s expected to tank? Would he take minutes away from Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk?
The answer to both questions is no. Celtics coach Brad Stevens has blended Humphries into the rotation, especially this month when he’s played at least 20 minutes in four games. He understands that he’s going to play limited minutes, but like Monday, when he was coming off a two-game absence because a bruised left knee, he always seems prepared.
“I was just ready to play and took advantage of an opportunity,” he said. “We really had a stretch where we were running and passing the ball and finishing and it was just real fun basketball and it was contagious for our team.”
Humphries, 28, fully realized he was entering a development situation in Boston, when at this stage of his career he wants to compete for championships. He and teammate Gerald Wallace have tried to serve as leaders in a young locker room, understanding their presence here is likely temporary and strictly about business. Humphries is accustomed to being a basketball carpetbagger, having played with five teams in his nine seasons.
He spent 3½ years with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets and appeared to have found a home when he signed his two-year contract. But that ended abruptly when the Nets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last May and general manager Billy King decided to add Pierce, Garnett, and Jason Terry.
“That’s the hardest thing in the NBA, being ready to play, staying ready mentally, physically,” he said. “You see some guys who don’t play a lot and then they come in and take a big three. There are guys who have played their careers like that and it’s tough to do. You gotta do all the little things to try to be ready.”
Stevens had had numerous conversations with Humphries about his playing time and role, urging him to remain ready for cases such as Monday night.
“My admiration for guys usually goes to the guys that don’t get opportunities because they have to deal with stuff that’s harder than being the guy that plays the minutes,” Stevens said. “And so, I thoroughly respect those guys that are sitting. And when their time comes, nobody’s rooting harder for them than me for them to take advantage of it. And so it’s nice to see that, and I give Keith [Bogans] and MarShon [Brooks] credit; they have the exact same attitude as Kris, and when their extended opportunities come I think they’ll take advantage of it just like he has because they’re good teammates.”
Humphries is a victim of the Celtics’ rebuilding plan and the Nets decision to retool with more proven veterans. He easily could have come to Boston and pouted and demanded a trade, making the situation uncomfortable for all parties. But this summer, he’ll get an opportunity to determine his own fate and he’s counting the days.
Until then, he’s dealing with this situation professionally.
“You’ve just got to prepare yourself to play,” he said. “You don’t know if the next game leads to more minutes, less minutes, you don’t know. You’ve got to do you part. Mentally it’s easier. Physically, I came into the league when I was 19 and at 19 years old, you can sit there for two hours and go in and run full speed and be loose. You’re always loose. Personally it doesn’t really matter, I think everybody on this team wants to play 38 minutes, get the ball every time, shoot 20 shots. That’s the way the NBA is, but we’ve got to fit into what we’re doing and play a role.”