NEW YORK — After he received a pass on a fast break, Brandon Bass had a split second to decide whether to drive to the basket like a bull toward Dwyane Wade, not his strength, or wait for help and give the offense a fresh possession.
Bass decided to hold up, and the Celtics later scored on that fourth-quarter possession against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Bass finished with 18 points in 29 minutes in the Celtics’ 101-96 victory at TD Garden.
It was another workmanlike performance for Bass, who has admirably filled his changing role at power forward for the past three seasons without a word of complaint. Bass was the subject of trade rumors before the deadline, including a deal that would have brought Rockets center Omer Asik to Boston in December.
But Bass stayed put, never showing disappointment with being placed on the block or his uncertain place in the franchise’s future plans. Bass, who will turn 29 next month, is a free agent after next season and may be a victim of the Celtics’ transition to a new era.
Still, he continues to play hard. He has drawn the admiration of coach Brad Stevens, who lauded Bass for rarely venturing outside of his skill set and strengths, making him a dependable player. Bass had been in a slump before his 8-for-12 shooting performance against the Heat, going 17 for 53 from the field over the previous six games.
After Monday’s loss in Dallas, Bass sent a text message to Stevens, expressing his disappointment in his output.
“I think the biggest thing when you have a guy that’s a pro is he has certain things that make him a very good player,” Stevens said. “Defensive versatility. Midrange jump shooting, effort and athleticism on both ends of the boards, and sometimes when you get outside that box you can do other things but don’t maximize those things, and I think he really did those three things exceptionally well [against Miami]. He made tough jumpers. He defended great. And his effort was high level. He was one of the reasons why at the end of the game we were pretty active defensively.”
In 69 games, including 60 starts, Bass is averaging 10.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and shooting 47 percent from the field. Given that the Celtics are heavy on power forwards with youngsters Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, as well as veteran Kris Humphries, they likely will have to unload one or two in the offseason. With a reasonable salary and one year left on his deal, Bass is a candidate.
It seems to be one of those situations where Bass has done nothing to precipitate his possible exit, but he is caught in the middle of a transformation as the team seeks to load up with young talent and potential high-level free agents.
Bass’s effort could easily have dipped since the Celtics have been focused on improving and not necessarily winning, but he has remained prepared and professional.
“It’s tough but it’s life in the NBA, you’ve got to be able to handle adversity,” Bass said. “It’s good to bounce back on a night like [Wednesday]. The season has been cool. I think Coach has kept us with a nice mind-set to endure what we’ve been going through and every day we’ve been preparing to get better. That makes life easier. When you wake up every morning and know you’ve got something to look forward to and it gets better, it makes things smoother. But nobody is comfortable with losing.”
Bass said the losing has been difficult. The previous two seasons Bass was with the Celtics they had championship aspirations. This team had faint playoff hopes in December, before losing 19 of 22 games. In the past two months, the Celtics have focused on developing younger players and better learning Stevens’s system.
“It’s a journey, we just try to take it one play at a time,” Bass said. “I do have kids, I do have a family, and it is a 24/7 thing. It is. Because this team, the culture here is all about winning and winning championships, so it’s tough on us, but all we can do is get better every day.”
Bass deserves better than his current situation. He came to Boston as a possible final piece of a championship team, and short of winning a title he has met expectations. There may not be room enough for Bass in the Celtics’ long-term future, but hopefully his worth ethic and professionalism have rubbed off on his younger teammates and he can head to a situation where he can enjoy the ultimate success.
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The Celtics signed Chris Babb for the remainder of the season, with provisions for next season, similar to the deal signed by fellow D-League call-up Chris Johnson, according to an NBA source. Babb, a 6-foot-5-inch swingman whose second 10-day contract expired Thursday, has averaged 2.2 points in six games.