Replacing Ray Allen with Jason Terry in the Celtics’ locker room may have added to the team’s growing chemistry, something the Celtics are trying to develop with the season opener against the Miami Heat on Tuesday.
Regardless of blame for their well-chronicled beef, if Allen had returned to join Rajon Rondo in the backcourt, it would have been a strain on the team. Terry, a free-spirited, high-hearted sixth man, has blended well with Rondo and Courtney Lee.
It is essential for the Celtics to find chemistry, especially with eight newcomers. The locker room is filled with new personalities. Lee and Rondo have bonded quickly and that has spilled over to the court, where they are attempting to learn each other’s tendencies.
Rondo has learned that Lee likes the ball in the corners for 3-pointers, as has been the book on the former Rocket the past few years.
“We talked a lot before games and we worked just playing in practice and when we’re on the court, we’re talking to each other all the time,” Lee said. “He’s telling me to continue to run. He sees me. He knows where I am going to be at, so that’s why in transition I’m running to the spots getting open shots. Some of them are not falling, but that will come once I get my legs back. We’re on the same page, as far as communicating.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has tended to allow the players to handle clubhouse issues among themselves, and he has expressed patience with the team’s bonding.
“I just like us as a whole,’’ he said. “I like the fact we have a lot of groups, it’s just going to take time for each group to find their identity when they’re on the floor. When you have that many moving parts, it takes time. Every year, as far as I’m concerned, once you change personnel, then everybody is new again. So we have to relearn everything again. I know we’re there, but we haven’t done it consistently yet.”
The cohesion between Lee and Rondo could be crucial to the Celtics’ offensive production. During their good times, Allen and Rondo meshed beautifully in the offensive flow, with Allen gathering crisp Rondo passes off screens for 3-pointers.
Lee’s offensive arsenal is different, and he is in the process of showing Rondo his capabilities.
“It’s just a matter of understanding where to go on the floor and trying to get open,” Lee said. “If a big is running the floor and going down the middle, it’s my job to run to the side and stretch the floor. But if not, I am going to go to the basket and try to get a dunk.”
During Saturday’s exhibition win over the New York Knicks, Rondo caught Lee streaking to the basket and just missed connecting on an alley-oop from halfcourt.
“That was something we talked about the other day,” Lee said. “He said he had seen me late and he had to get it there as soon as possible and had to throw a little harder than usual. But we’ll get that down. That’s nothing.”
The Celtics realize the process will take time.
“I saw a lot of good things in the preseason that we can build upon,” forward Paul Pierce said. “As far as being ready, we’re going to continue to get better as the year goes on. We’re not at where we want to be but that’s going to come as we play more games, as the year goes along until we reach our peak. Chemistry sometimes doesn’t happen overnight like it did in ’08.’’
The Celtics would like this to come to fruition quickly, but they also want to be playing their basketball and achieving chemistry by playoff time, which is six months away.
“It could take all year. It could be here already,” Rivers said. “Honestly, they’re playing well over three preseason games but I don’t really read a lot into that. You don’t know the intent mentally or physically other teams are playing. You’ll know far more when the real thing starts. You’ll know the intent of the other team.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe