MIAMI — There were four places on Kris Humphries’s body that required ice after the Celtics worked out Monday afternoon at the Miami Heat’s practice court.
There were bags of ice on his back, groin, right knee, and left ankle, a byproduct of the dirty work he does every night in the paint as Humphries has transformed from a bench-riding veteran to a leader-by-example in the starting lineup.
Since becoming a starter, Humphries is averaging 9.7 points and 9.1 rebounds, including an 18-point, 12-rebound outing in Sunday night’s loss to the Magic in Orlando. He has become one of the team’s more valuable players, and is becoming more of a popular presence in the locker room.
Humphries came to Boston with the reputation of being a prima donna given his off-the-court lifestyle and brief marriage to reality show star Kim Kardashian. There also was that fight with Rajon Rondo last season after Humphries, then with Brooklyn, committed a hard foul on Kevin Garnett.
One of the first questions Humphries fielded after being acquired by the Celtics in the blockbuster offseason deal for Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry was whether he would be able to coexist with Rondo, who despite his prickly demeanor was the Celtics’ leader.
Seven months after the trade, Rondo, having recovered from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, lofted a Peyton Manning-type pass Sunday to a streaking Humphries near the basket at the Amway Center. The ball clipped off Humphries’s hands, and rocking a big smile, he pointed to Rondo to indicate his approval of the pass.
“I had to get that, that’s on me,” Humphries said, smiling. “I told him, ‘Keep throwing that, that’s on me.’ I was running a little bit out of room. He throws it, which is great, it makes you want to take it to the next level. Not only that, but with him defensively to start the game, he was so key, like talking, directing what we were doing defensively, and that helped us to get out to a great start in the game.
“It’s frustrating because I’m like, ‘Man, we need that more. We need more Rondo on defense.’ And unfortunately he’s still on that minutes restriction. And how long is that restriction going?”
Humphries sounds like a man invested in Boston’s future, although this is the final year of his contract and he could be trade bait in the next few weeks.
Regardless, Humphries said he wants to remain a Celtic or even re-sign this summer.
Having lacked an interior defensive presence since the departure of Kendrick Perkins and the failed experiments of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics could use Humphries’s guile and production in their rebuilding efforts.
“I want to be a part of this whole, building this team and doing all that stuff with the new coach and all that, I want to be here,” he said. “You never know if they want you or they don’t want you or what their plans are, but I like Boston, my teammates. I’m just getting a chance to play with Rondo a little bit now.”
The two have become friends, and Humphries admits his opinion on Rondo has changed dramatically.
“Yeah, I’m not going to lie, I never liked him until I got here,” Humphries said. “And then it took me a minute to like him once I got here. He’s a competitor, even if he’s not scoring points, he’s getting assists, he can really rebound for a point guard, and defensively I was surprised what he was doing in the first quarter [Sunday].
“The more he plays, the more we’re going to grow as a team. Someone new comes back, he’s gotta figure out how to do the most he can in 20 minutes, it’s kind of tricky, and I think you can expect better from him and better from us as we keep going here.”
Humphries is considered an NBA heartthrob, but he has gained his teammates’ respect with his toughness. Those icepacks are helping mask the pain from being an undersized center, withstanding a pounding while playing for a team planning for the long term, not a playoff run.
Yet Humphries has offered no complaints. He and Gerald Wallace, who also was involved in that November 2012 Rondo fight, have blended in well to the Celtics’ chemistry, serving as veteran leaders, realizing their contracts are the reason they are in this situation in a league that is mostly business, never personal.
And while Humphries, with his plethora of nagging injuries, easily could approach coach Brad Stevens and ask out of the lineup to preserve his health and trade value for a contending team, he lumbered to the team bus Monday, his walk resembling that of Redd Foxx.
“No one is ever 100 percent in the NBA,” he said. “Still got a little bit going on here and there but I’m all right. The groin bothered me a little bit two games ago but it’s not bad enough not to play. I always prepare myself to play 35 minutes. If you do, you do, if you don’t, try to make the most out of the minutes that you’re in there.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.