Celtics guard Payton Pritchard was one of the last players on the court after the morning shootaround Wednesday, going through a long workout with an assistant coach. He said he is approaching this season as a redshirt year as he tries to earn a prominent role on this first-place team.
But the 25-year-old believes he should be more than an insurance policy. And with Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline approaching, he stressed that he just wants an opportunity to thrive, whether in Boston or elsewhere.
“I mean, it’s not easy,” Pritchard told the Globe. “It’s a lot of ups and downs. I think people know I want to play, especially while I’m young still. So that’s my biggest thing, being somewhere I can play, where they believe in me.
“But at the end of the day, I’m here and we have a great team, best in the NBA. I’m very fortunate to be part of that.”
When Pritchard was asked whether he has had conversations with president of basketball operations Brad Stevens about his future in Boston, he nodded.
“Sure, but, I mean, at the end of the day it’s Brad’s decision, and I don’t really have a say in it,” he said. “So, whatever he decides.”
Pritchard said he is grateful to be on a successful team and he praised the group’s chemistry and cohesion. But he stopped short of saying the Celtics’ status as a title favorite has made his situation more palatable.
“Not necessarily for me, because I’m a competitor and I want to play,” he said. “I’d play this game for no money if that’s what it means, because I love it. So the biggest thing for me is being somewhere I’ll play and really contribute to winning.”
This season, Pritchard has appeared in 38 of 54 games and is averaging a career-low 12.6 minutes per contest. He has been in the rotation recently with Marcus Smart sidelined because of a sprained ankle. Situations such as this one could make the Celtics front office reluctant to part with him, since he’s always just one injury away from being needed.
“I feel like if I can help affect winning, that’s the most important thing,” Pritchard said. “But at the end of the day, I have no say in if I’m here or there. It’s out of my control.”
Pritchard, whose $4 million option for next season was picked up by the Celtics, said it’s flattering when supporters say he deserves a bigger role somewhere. And he stressed that there are still parts of his game that have yet to be unveiled. He just wants a chance to show them.
“I’ve got another level to that,” he said. “I don’t think people have really seen the full side of me yet. So for me, I think there’s still a lot left.”
Trade deadline week can be a disruptive time for players who find themselves in rumors. When Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was an assistant coach he was assigned to work with certain players, and he learned during that time that it’s important to be available for those who might need guidance.
He said his approach has not changed in this more prominent role; he just now feels responsible for the entire team rather than a select few.
“You’ve got to understand that it’s part of the business, but at the same time, they’re people and you’ve just got to be there for them,” Mazzulla said.
The Celtics were significantly shorthanded for their showdown against the 76ers Wednesday night. Smart missed his eighth game in a row because of a sprained ankle, and forward Al Horford (knee swelling) and center Robert Williams (ankle) were sidelined. Both players were listed as questionable about an hour before the game before ultimately being ruled out.
Blake Griffin started at center for the Celtics, with Grant Williams sliding into the starting power forward slot.