In attempting to save a possession for his Bobcats, Kemba Walker leaped over the baseline and threw the ball back into play, unintentionally hitting Shavlik Randolph in the groin. After doing its damage, the ball rolled out of bounds. Charlotte ball.
Randolph waddled like a duck for a few moments, then returned to playing defense. It’s the type of reaction expected from a player on a 10-day contract, a journeyman trying to stick for the remainder of the season.
In rare meaningful minutes, Randolph played as if he was trying to make an impression on Celtics coach Doc Rivers. He scored 6 points on 3-for-9 shooting (a number of those misses were on one possession) and a team-leading eight rebounds and two steals in the Celtics’ 105-88 win Saturday night at TD Garden.
The Celtics already have signed Randolph to a second 10-day contract, and now have until Thursday to decide whether to release or sign the forward for the remainder of the season.
It’s a difficult position for any player. The NBA journeyman has the responsibility of convincing teams he is capable of being a productive member on these 10-day contracts, knowing full well he may not garner a minute of actual playing time.
Randolph played 18 minutes last Tuesday in Charlotte, but the Celtics were in the process of being obliterated. This time, Rivers offered him quality minutes because Kevin Garnett missed the game because of a strained left adductor muscle.
With Jeff Green replacing Garnett in the starting lineup the Celtics were small, and needed size off the bench. Enter Randolph with 9:38 remaining in the second quarter. And the 6-foot-10-inch, bearded backup rammed his body into opponents, chased rebounds, pump-faked to score layups, and, of course, took one below the belt.
Will it be enough to secure a commitment from the Celtics? Randolph has no idea. Neither does forward D.J. White, who also is playing on a second 10-day contract. Randolph got the longer look Saturday night.
“He was great. I thought he just came in and made things happen,” Rivers said. “He rebounded the heck out of the ball, both ends, offense and defense. Threw his body around. So, it was good. He made a couple of great passes and some instinctive cuts to the basket, so I was really happy with him. I just thought Shav played better [than White]. I thought D.J. came in and played OK, and then Shav came in and played great, so I played Shav.”
Rivers acknowledges he offers few hints to those on these contracts about their progress. There is no special attention or personal conferences.
“I don’t say much. I think the more I say the more it probably brings attention,” Rivers said. “I try to stay away from them and tell them what I need team-wise. I just try to observe. I like them both. I think they’re both great guys in your locker room, good teammates.”
Randolph has been handed his temporary NBA card before. He’s accustomed to instability. The Celtics are the second team to sign him to a 10-day contract, so the process of impressing a coach and adjusting to new surroundings is nothing new.
“That’s tough, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the situation here,” Randolph said, when asked about Rivers’s relative silence. “I think our impression was made prior to them bringing us over here. They have done their due diligence, and signing us they knew what they were getting. The tough part is just been trying to pick up everything because the tough part is this isn’t a team that’s just out there playing pickup basketball. This is a detail-oriented offense, very detailed-oriented defense, and you’ve got to pick it up. It’s a thinking system. The toughest part is picking it up in such minimal practice time and films. It’s part of being a professional. I’ve had to think a lot since I’ve been here.”
The life of an NBA nomad is difficult. There is little margin for error and these 10-day contract are filled with anxiety. During his nearly three years away from the NBA, Randolph had playing stints in China and Puerto Rico. And now he’s trying to stick with a playoff-contending club, knowing his job could be terminated Thursday.
“I think I have been pretty comfortable with not being comfortable,” he said. “I think they made it pretty clear they didn’t bring us in to take minutes from anybody, they brought us in if they needed us. So, I think we have done well when they have needed us, so I don’t necessarily think we’re not being judged, but I think the majority of the judgment was made before us being brought over here.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe