Once one of the game’s most athletic and skilled power forwards, he is now one of the game’s most astute commentators.
Chris Webber is a voice of reason on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” and on NBA TV. The transition to life off the court has been smooth for the former five-time All-Star, who recently offered his thoughts on the future of the Celtics and the fate of one of his former teams, the Kings.
While the Celtics have gotten off to a rocky start, looking up at the Knicks in the Atlantic Division as they desperately try to gain consistency, Webber is one NBA observer who believes Boston will reemerge as a contender.
“I think to most people [the Celtics] have been disappointing this year, but I’m one to believe that Doc Rivers is a coach who coaches his team throughout the whole year,” Webber said. “During the year it may never seem like the Celtics are playing as well as maybe they should be because he coaches different ways during the season to get the most out of them for the playoffs. KG [Kevin Garnett] is older. I know just playing and getting older it’s still tough to do it nightly or on a back-to-back. They’re missing the best shooter in the world in Ray Allen.
“With [Rajon] Rondo, if you don’t have guys who can catch and shoot, it almost nullifies Rondo’s great play because in order for him to get assists you have to drive to the hole and dish to somebody to dunk. If he had great shooters just like [Steve] Nash [used to], his 22 assists could go up to 30 when he has one of those great nights.”
The Celtics have definitely changed, hardly looking like an Eastern Conference contender with their mediocre record.
“No, this isn’t the same Celtic team. We thought last year that they were going to break up the Big Three and everybody was worried because that was the end of it,” Webber said. “But I think they are always going to be good and tough, and you can never underestimate them because of their heart, and they are always going to do more than expected when it comes to the playoffs. I do think people have to recognize that this is a different team.”
The Celtics entered this season with nine new players, and it could take awhile for them to become a cohesive unit.
“You definitely can [get it together later in the season], and a lot of times some of the teams that have the most chemistry are teams that didn’t start off that way,” Webber said. “I know that was definitely like that for me in Sacramento. The one advantage they have, they have the advantage of having Doc Rivers. And the coach is a really key part of chemistry. I trust Doc Rivers and I think the players do as well, so I don’t think that will ever be a problem with their chemistry, their determination, or their will.
“This isn’t the same Paul Pierce that guarded Kobe [Bryant], LeBron [James] in the playoffs. People have to realize this is a different team.”
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, the Kings continue to struggle to even reach mediocrity. DeMarcus Cousins already has been suspended twice this season, and the owners, the Maloof brothers, want to move the team to Anaheim, Calif., though the league refuses to approve. So the organization is in a bit of a limbo state.
“Yes, they can get back [to the level they were in the late ’90s], and hopefully they can win a championship,” Webber said. “I think [Oklahoma City] is a great example of how they can get to the championship. I think it starts with their talent.
“But the instability for players is the worst thing you can have. I had instability in Washington. I couldn’t imagine playing in Sacramento, one of the best places in the world to play, and the great fans there talking about everything else but you all the time. When we were in Sacramento, they never talked about anything else. Now when I go there, all they’re talking about is, ‘Why don’t the Maloofs do this?’ That uncertainty has that effect, just that energy. I have never seen the Kings not sell out games. They’re playing in front of 8,000 people, it’s not fun.”
BACK IN THE SADDLE
Fisher has a Maverick view
Derek Fisher returned to the NBA two weeks ago, signing a contract with the Mavericks as they try to remain relevant with superstar Dirk Nowitzki sidelined. The return of Fisher also means that the NBA Players Association president is back to active duty.
The NBPA has been quiet since the end of the lockout. Not only did it procure a difficult agreement with the owners for the next five years, the committee was quieted by finger-pointing allegations between Fisher and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter.
The union’s executive committee, which included former Celtic Keyon Dooling, asked for Fisher to resign but he refused. Fisher then asked for an investigation into accusations of nepotism by Hunter, charges that remain pending.
The NBPA has remained out of the spotlight since the agreement but has been monitoring the happenings of the National Hockey League, which is enduring a similar lockout that could mean the cancellation of the season for the second time in eight years.
Fisher said current NHLPA executive director and former MLBPA president Donald Fehr has been in touch with the NBPA over the past few years. Fisher offered some advice for the NHLPA.
“The most efficient way for everybody to get into a room and to get a deal done is to really stay together and have one voice and have one general focus in terms of how you try to get things accomplished as a group,” he said. “It’s tough, obviously in sports not only are the customers and audience growing in terms of a global perspective but your players have grown in terms of global perspective. So you’re trying to have one [players’] voice from around the world.”
As for now, Fisher remains the union president and has no plans of stepping down.
“Overall business in terms of trying to protect player interest and those type of business initiatives are getting done,” he said. “Fortunately we got a deal done that gives us some time to ask some tough questions of ourselves and of our association and try to right the ship and move in a direction so that next time there’s any type of collective bargaining, the players are in a great position to represent themselves.
“I want to continue to serve. That’s what the players elected me to do. So from that standpoint, I am going to stay strong for now and represent those guys the best way I can.”
A FAMILIAR FACE
O’Brien offers his assistance
When Terry Stotts left the Mavericks staff to take the head coaching job with the Trail Blazers, Rick Carlisle had an opening and decided to call on old friend Jim O’Brien to return to coaching. O’Brien, the former Celtics coach, had been out of the game since being fired by the Pacers 44 games into the 2010-11 season.
So far, O’Brien has helped Carlisle greatly, having no issues with returning to an assistant’s role.
“I’ve known Jim for over 25 years, when I went to the Knicks he was a first-year assistant coach with Rick Pitino and at that time I remember he had such a great intellectual curiosity for the game,” Carlisle said. “He had a great love and respect for the game and I’ve kept relations with him ever since and as he’s gone on . . . I’ve always had great respect for him, not only as a basketball man but as a person. Jim was the only guy that I really thought about and I knew I’d have to sell him pretty hard on coming off the golf course.”
O’Brien gladly accepted Carlisle’s offer to work with younger players.
“He coached a lot of years in this league. He’s got plenty of money,” Carlisle said. “He doesn’t need to do this but he’s been great. We have to play a completely different style than I’ve ever coached before because of the way our team is structured, and he’s had great input into that and he’s a fun guy to be around.
“Those of you who know him off the floor know that he’s a special guy. He loves the game. He was one of the guys who had a great influence on this [Celtics] franchise reemerging in the early 2000s when they got to the conference finals. The [Paul] Pierce and [Antoine] Walker team, which was gradually working their way up and they kind of broke through, that was huge for this organization. He’s had great impact on Boston sports and that shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Nelson main man for Magic
As the Magic navigate through a transition season, mainstay Jameer Nelson has become the team’s senior player and unquestioned leader. Nelson opted out of his contract in the offseason, but signed a three-year, $25.2 million deal. But for this stretch, his responsibilities differ. Instead of teaming with Dwight Howard in trying to lead the Magic to the Finals, Nelson is in charge of a team of NBA neophytes who are trying to rebrand the Magic. He is comfortable in that role.
“I kind of have to, I have to help guys out in certain areas, not even just basketball but basketball and life,” said Nelson. “A lot of these guys don’t understand what it is to be an NBA player and what it is to go through a season. It’s almost a day-by-day thing. Something new hits you in the NBA, especially for these young guys, you don’t know how to deal with it.”
The Grizzlies went through a major organizational shakeup last week by naming John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations. Hollinger had long been a numbers analyst for ESPN and helped develop a basketball-performance rating for each player. UMass grad Stu Lash was also named director of player personnel and basketball development. Their arrivals meant the end of the tenure of former interim coach Tony Barone and his son, Tony Jr., as former Celtics general manager Chris Wallace continues to change his staff. The Grizzlies have been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises this season . . . Dirk Nowitzki is traveling with the Mavericks and rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee. The Mavericks have been playing decently without Nowitzki, staying near the .500 mark in the shaky Western Conference . . . Anything the Bobcats do is overshadowed by anything else going on in the NBA, but general manager Rod Higgins made the difficult decision of waiving his own son, a bit player, to make room for former UConn forward Jeff Adrien. Cory Higgins played at the University of Colorado and has been at the end of the Bobcats’ bench for nearly two years, and it was apparent that he likely stuck around because of his father’s position. But having lost 10 consecutive games, the Bobcats needed a rugged rebounding forward and tabbed Adrien, who has bounced around the league the past few years . . . For the second time this season, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was suspended, this time for swiping his fist at the groin area of Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo last Monday. Cousins said it was inadvertent, but Mayo had to be restrained from confronting Cousins afterward. And it appears apparent that Cousins, though he likes coach Keith Smart, can’t seem to control his actions or emotions. The Kings are 0-3 in games Cousins has been suspended. With a slew of early home games, Sacramento couldn’t build any momentum and again is headed for the lottery . . . And in the This Can’t Be True Department, Amir Johnson, still counting his money from the stunning $35 million contract he gained from the Raptors two years ago, was ejected from a loss at Portland because official David Jones wouldn’t allow him to massage the ball as he likes to do between opposing players’ free throw attempts. The two began tussling for the ball and Johnson eventually threw his mouthpiece in the direction of Jones.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.