MINNEAPOLIS — When dealt to the Celtics simply for his expiring contract, Tayshaun Prince had a choice.
After spending time with his family for a few days, he reported to the Celtics, ready to play, quiet around his new teammates, but hardly a malcontent.
Of course, the 34-year-old Prince would rather be playing for a playoff contender, trying to win a second championship ring — but this is his current situation.
He realizes the NBA is a business and aging veterans with expiring contracts are coveted in this salary cap-driven league. Prince sensed a trade was coming while playing with the Grizzlies and instead of pouting because his former team no longer cherished his skills, he decided to create a more positive environment in Boston.
Prince scored a smooth 19 points in Monday’s 99-90 Celtics win over the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena, leading a team that seized a 24-point first-half lead. The Celtics lost most of the lead before gathering themselves in the fourth quarter, and the youngsters and coach Brad Stevens credited Prince with his savvy and experience for stabilizing a team not accustomed to prosperity.
“He knows what’s going on, he’s lived it all,” Stevens said. “They got you down by 20 in a quarter and it doesn’t look like his pulse has moved. You go up my 20 and it doesn’t look like his pulse has moved. He’s playing the right way. He’s made us better with his presence already. It’s been fun for our young guys to have another to lean on and learn from.”
Prince has averaged 7.2 points and shooting 60 percent from the field in his five games with the Celtics. He said before joining the club that all possibilities regarding his future were being considered: a trade, buyout, or even perhaps remaining with the team for the season.
Regardless of the uncertainty of his future, Prince has made the best of a rather unenviable situation. Last year, Prince’s teammate at the University of Kentucky, Keith Bogans, did not want to play leader and mentor and was sent home until his contract was traded.
“You come to a position like this and you’ve got Marcus Smart and Phil [Pressey] and these guys calling me ‘old head,’ which I really don’t like, so I am going to have to talk to them about that,” he said.
“I’m just trying to help them out in certain situations. I think that it’s a good thing that I’ve been out there with Marcus Smart a little bit. Once he does something, pull him aside, let him know before the coaches talk to him.”
When asked why he is such a willing mentor in a situation where he could understandably be more consumed with playing for a contender, Prince said: “If you love the game and you respect the game, no matter what position you’re in, you’re supposed to be professional and go out and play the game. Once I got traded here, my main concern that all options were on the table and see what situation would be best.
“At the same time while that situation is figuring itself out, I have to go out and perform at a high level. I have to respect the game and let these young guys know that one day you guys are going to be in this situation.”
Team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has to decide whether to keep Prince, negotiate a buyout (which the only benefit to the Celtics is in its opening of a roster spot), or trade Prince for perhaps draft picks. He admires Prince’s impact.
“Hopefully our players can learn from just watching Tayshaun,” Ainge said. “How efficient he is. How calm he is. He has great length and great experience and has always had a great feel for the game even when he was a young player. Hopefully some of that experience and calmness can rub off on the young guys.”
The question for Ainge is whether Prince is a valuable enough asset to keep for the remainder of the season.
“Our guys played well and they’re getting a lot of experience, but it gives you a shot in the arm, Gerald Wallace comes off the bench, gives you a burst,” Ainge said. “Marcus Thornton and Tayshaun, those guys came here and provided a big boost. I think our young guys really appreciate that experience and can learn from watching them play.”