LAS VEGAS — Keith Bogans, who turned 35 in May, is the oldest player in the Las Vegas Summer League. He’s here playing with the Portland Trail Blazers, hoping to resurrect his career after being rewarded with a contract well above his value to facilitate the Paul Pierce trade two years ago.
Bogans received $5.05 million to sit on the bench in 2013-14 in Boston after making $1.2 million with Brooklyn the year before. He should have been the league’s happiest man, earning more than a 400 percent raise while accepting a minor role in the Boston youth movement.
It lasted just six games. Bogans left the Celtics in January 2014, unable to tolerate the lack of playing time. The perception was Bogans should have taken his money and stayed quiet, considering the Celtics paid him so much to match the salaries in the June 2013 trade with the Nets.
The perception that a disillusioned and angry Bogans walked out on the Celtics damaged his reputation, he said. His contract was traded to Cleveland on Sept. 25. That nonguaranteed contract was moved to Philadelphia two days later, and the 76ers waived him.
Bogans spent 2014-15 out of basketball and was unsatisfied with the circumstances of his departure. Now that he’s back, he offered his explanation of his unceremonious exit from Boston.
Rumors surfaced that Bogans got into an argument with coach Brad Stevens on a Celtics team bus. He and the organization said that never occurred.
“That was totally made up. I read that story and that was a lie,” said Bogans, who has played 11 NBA seasons with eight teams. “Everything I read in the paper was a lie. I never talked to you guys. So for you all to speculate and say I blew up on the bus, I felt bad about that because that was all lies and that made me look bad with the rest of the NBA community.”
The Celtics envisioned Bogans being a Gerald Wallace-type leader for their young core of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Avery Bradley. But Bogans wanted to play and stewed when he didn’t. Bogans felt he was wasting what could be productive seasons.
He insisted, however, that he did not demand to leave the team and wait for his contract to be traded. Bogans had hoped he would be moved to a contender. Instead, he just stayed home and waited.
“The four months that I was there, I lived in Cambridge,” Bogans said of his Celtics experience. “It was fun for me. I loved working with the young group of guys that they had. I just think it was perceived the wrong way when I was asked to go home. That’s what I was mad about.”
Bogans said he was called to the office of president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and told to leave the team. Team insiders said the decision was mutual, that Bogans wasn’t a positive influence, and the team wanted a more positive environment for the younger players.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I was there and then I was gone. I don’t want to get into all that. He gave me a leave of absence and I never returned to Boston and that’s the first time something like that has ever happened in my career.”
Bogans said his reputation was damaged.
“Of course, for a guy who’s been around the league as long as I have, I’ve stuck on every team I went to, I’ve never had a confrontation, don’t get in trouble, and to go to a young team and you ask me to go home, that looks bad on my résumé,” he said. “It looked like I didn’t want to be there where the whole time all I wanted to do was help. Of course that makes me mad. The way it ended, that’s not me and I can’t let my career end that way.”
Ainge wouldn’t comment.
“I talked to everybody,” Bogans said of the Celtics’ brass. “I shook Danny’s hand. I shook Brad’s hand at the [summer league] hotel. It’s nothing personal. People always ask me if I’m mad. Why am I going to be mad at those guys? It’s a business. If we get mad about business, then everybody in this gym would be fighting by now. I’m not mad at those guys.”
Bogans did not play in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Celtics on Saturday, and he’s uncertain whether he will play in summer games or just work out with the team. But he said he’s convinced he can play in the NBA.
“I definitely got a lot of game left,” he said. “I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve been in Portland all week working out with these guys. My body held up. I’m still in shape. I can still shoot, can still play defense.”
Sitting out last season was a difficult transition for Bogans. The conclusions of professional sports careers generally aren’t neat or adulatory. They are generally harsh and abrupt.
“That was devastating to me,” Bogans said of being out of the NBA. “To me, it’s not a financial thing. It’s more of what I want to do because I love to do it. I’m just happy to be around the game. I’m not putting any pressure on myself. I’m having fun with [summer league]. To put pressure on myself, I did that sitting at home on the couch being miserable last year, so now this is all fun.”