When the Celtics’ five offseason signees were introduced last week in Waltham, a recurring theme was their choice of uniform numbers. Selecting uniform numbers in Boston has become an increasingly pertinent issue for an organization with 21 retired numbers.
Amir Johnson chose No. 90, Perry Jones will wear 38, and David Lee got lucky because one of his former numbers (42) was available.
The alarming number of retired jerseys has forced new players to scramble for new numeric identities. A few years ago, Jason Collins wore No. 98 at training camp and Darko Milicic donned 99.
Jae Crowder wore 99 when he was acquired from the Mavericks last December, and has stuck with that football-style number. Johnson is wearing 90 since the No. 15 he wore with the Raptors is retired in Boston (Tom Heinsohn).
The retired numbers are a growing issue, although many new Celtics won’t admit that. Many of those considered to be prime numbers — 1, 2, 3, 10, 21, 22, 23, 32, 33 — are retired, leaving some of the Celtics to look like cornerbacks — rookie R.J. Hunter is wearing 28 — or defensive linemen such as Johnson and Crowder.
Should the Celtics consider revising their retired-jersey policy to allow current players to wear some of the untouchable numbers, while maintaining tradition?
Other sports organizations have created rings of honor or other ways to laud former players without retiring numbers. Or they have allowed players to wear numbers that had been retired.
While some numbers should not be touched — Bill Russell (6), Bob Cousy (14), John Havlicek (17), Larry Bird (33) — the Celtics may want to consider allowing players to wear numbers of players considered Celtic greats but perhaps not all-time greats. The Celtics are a victim of their own success, as are the Lakers, who have also racked up retired numbers at a rapid rate.
Johnson said he considered wearing No. 5 but that is expected to be iced until Kevin Garnett retires and the number goes with him. Paul Pierce’s No. 34 is a cinch to be retired whenever he is finished playing.
It’s not that the lack of desirable numbers makes the Celtics a less-desirable free agent destination, but a feature of playing for a new team is wearing a number a player is comfortable with.
And the Celtics are running short, so the football numbers have become prevalent.
Celtics radio analyst Cedric Maxwell, whose No. 31 was retired in 2003, said he would not mind prominent current players wearing certain retired numbers.
What’s more, he said he reminds former 3-point marksman and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller that he would have been more than happy to pull 31 down from the Garden rafters if Miller had signed with the Celtics when they pursued him in 2008.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Maxwell said. “I understand the honor system but they did it one time before with Loscy [Jim Loscutoff]. For people who have their number retired, I don’t think it would infringe upon them if somebody else wore their number.”
Loscutoff, a staple on Celtics teams of the 1950s and ’60s, did not want his No. 18 retired so future players could wear it. Hall of Famer Dave Cowens wore it later on.
Maxwell freely admitted it was difficult watching Fred Roberts and Mikki Moore wear No. 31 before it was retired. And he suggested that the Celtics formulate a list — with the help of a committee of former players, executives, and public relations employees — of players whose numbers would be considered untouchable.
Obviously, No. 2 (Red Auerbach), 6 (Russell), 17 (Havlicek), and 33 (Bird) would be on that list. But what about 18 (Cowens), 21 (Bill Sharman), 22 (Ed Macauley), 23 (Frank Ramsey), 24 (Sam Jones), and 25 (K.C. Jones)? Would No. 15 (Heinsohn), 16 (Tom Sanders) or 19 (Don Nelson) be considered untouchable?
Seven of the 21 retired numbers were retired before 1970. As the Celtics collected championships and continued to honor their great players, more numbers were lifted to the rafters, including those of Jo Jo White (No. 10), Dennis Johnson (3), Kevin McHale (32), Robert Parish (00), and Reggie Lewis (35).
Garnett and Pierce will have their numbers retired in coming years. And the organization will have to decide whether Ray Allen (20) deserves that honor, as well.
It’s reached the point in Boston where players are choosing unorthodox numbers with few options. Gigi Datome wore No. 70 briefly last season, and Semih Erden and Chris Johnson each wore No. 86 in 2011-12.
When the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge to a maximum contract this summer, general manager R.C. Buford approached former San Antonio standout Bruce Bowen about allowing Aldridge to wear his retired No. 12. Bowen quickly agreed.
“If you’re talking about a great player wearing your number like a Reggie Miller, that makes the jersey even better,” Maxwell said. “Now, when Fred Roberts wore my number or Mikki Moore wore it, I didn’t really feel good about it. Now, if you’re one of the greatest players to ever wear that jersey, I think that would be a little bit different.”
Maxwell said the 1980s version of the Big Three — Bird, Parish, and McHale — should have their numbers untouched, in addition to Russell, Cousy, and Havlicek. But there would be heated debates about who should join the list.
What about Lewis’s 35, which was retired in March 1995, nearly two years after he tragically died during an offseason workout? Or Johnson’s 3 or Sharman’s 21?
While the Celtics are an organization that is brilliant at honoring its past, it may be time to make an adjustment, especially with current players choosing jersey numbers in the 90s.
TURNING THE CORNER
Bulls expect to get it right this season
Pau Gasol was part of a Bulls team that ended the season as a major disappointment. The Cavaliers were shorthanded, with a hobbling Kyrie Irving and without Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, the latter for two games because of a suspension. Still, they were able to polish off the Bulls in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Bulls removed coach Tom Thibodeau and replaced him with former Iowa State coach and NBA player Fred Hoiberg. It’s a new beginning, but the disappointment from last season lingers. The Bulls were built to make a championship run and fell painfully short.
Gasol made the All-Star team in his first season in Chicago but he missed two games in the Cleveland series with a strained hamstring and scored just 46 points in the series.
Gasol, speaking before Saturday’s landmark NBA exhibition game in Johannesburg, was asked about the Bulls’ dysfunction last season.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the specific reasons,” he said. “There was definitely an inconsistency throughout the year. We were kind of a very up-and-down team even though we finished third in the conference. We still had a lot of games that we just weren’t ready to play, just too many games we gave away against teams that we were supposed to beat.”
It became increasingly evident that Thibodeau’s demanding style grated on the players as the season progressed, and some players expressed dismay during their exit interviews. Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant, is taking this season off.
“We paid the price — I guess lack of a sense of urgency and giving importance to those moments during the regular season — because at the end I think we played at a pretty high level in the postseason,” Gasol said. “We fell short at the end.
“I think having the home-court advantage is a big deal when teams are so close to each other. But it’s hard, and definitely there’s multiple factors why we were inconsistent. But hopefully we’ll learn from that and we’ll understand how important it is to be sharp throughout the season, how important it is each and every game during the regular season, and what difference does that make at the end of the year.”
Hoiberg is expected to be more of a players’ coach and is expected to implement an up-tempo style as opposed to Thibodeau’s half-court approach.
“Offense wasn’t really too much of an issue last year,” said Gasol. “I think we have to understand that we have a lot of talent offensively, and we have to utilize our weapons and play with better flow offensively. I think with Fred we’re going to have more freedom to play in transition and exploit our abilities as individuals and as a team. But as long as we understand that defense is what wins championships and what makes the difference, we don’t neglect that side of the game, which is critical, we should be fine. We can work on our offense all we want, but defense is going to make the difference in how we’re going to beat other teams.”
The Bulls didn’t make free agency splashes, choosing only to bring back All-Star Jimmy Butler on a long-term deal and swingman Mike Dunleavy. Essentially, Hoiberg will have the same roster to work with to overcome the restocked Cavaliers, who added Richard Jefferson and Mo Williams to join a healthy Love and Irving.
“I mean, our goal is to try to be the best team, not just to beat one team,” Gasol said. “Obviously they’re the Eastern Conference champions from last year, but our goal is just to try to be as strong as we can be to win hopefully the title at the end of the year. We have to prepare and have a great regular season from beginning to end. We have to make a quick transition with our new coach and the new philosophy that he will implement. So all those things are going to play into how we’re going to be next season.”
Jerebko delighted to be with Celtics
Jonas Jerebko’s 29-game experience in Boston in 2014-15 was enough to convince him to come back for at least another season. Once he got the call from the Celtics at the midnight mark of the first day of free agency, his decision was made.
His role this season is undetermined, but there’s stability after some trying times in Detroit, where he played for six coaches in five years. Jerebko was immediately embraced and given playing time by coach Brad Stevens. He played 18.2 minutes per game and shot 40.6 percent from the 3-point line, while providing a spark from the perimeter. He also ran the floor well and improved defensively.
The Celtics are a team of comparable talent, so Jerebko could either be one of the first players off the bench or play spot minutes this season, depending on the situation.
“It was my goal to come back after last year to this organization and coach and teammates,” he said. “I’m happy the feeling was mutual and everything worked out.”
It was Jerebko’s first free agent experience after five seasons with the Pistons.
“Yeah, I was up,” Jerebko said of the clock striking midnight to begin free agency. “I got a few phone calls. It was like proof that you had a good year. I had other teams interested, but after talking to Danny [Ainge] and the way we worked stuff out, this is where I wanted to be and we worked it out. It was fun to have other teams interested but Boston was always the No. 1 landing spot that I was hoping for.”
With Jerebko and Gigi Datome, acquired from the Pistons for Tayshaun Prince, the Celtics made a spirited run to the playoffs.
Jerebko spent time in and out of coaches’ doghouses in Detroit, but he was energized in Boston by the confidence Stevens had in him.
“The playoffs, team chemistry, just great coaching, great organization, great fans, just stuff you want to be around,” said Jerebko. “That made my decision even easier with everything around. Just the city of Boston and [Stevens] had a big part in my decision. And the run that we had last year, you can’t go two months and go 24-12 and go to the playoffs and just leave. It doesn’t feel right. I felt like we’re building on something, so I’m happy to be back.
“We’re all unselfish guys. We’re all team players. We’ve got a lot of guys who are good players like that.”
The Cavaliers acquired Brendan Haywood with hopes of using his nonguaranteed $10.5 million contract as an attractive chip for a bigger deal that would net them a contributing player. Instead, after waiting for months, Cleveland dealt Haywood’s contract to the Trail Blazers, who waived Haywood before his contract was to be guaranteed Aug. 1. The Cavaliers received a trade exception from Portland, giving them another asset to potentially use in a deal. Cleveland has a year to use the exception . . . With all of their transactions over the past several months, the Celtics have a slew of draft picks. Let’s try to hash those out: In 2016, the Celtics have their own pick, Brooklyn’s first-rounder, Dallas’s first-rounder if it’s eighth overall or worse, Minnesota’s if it’s 13th overall or worse, or it then becomes a second-rounder. The Celtics also have Philadelphia’s second-rounder, the better of Dallas’s or Memphis’s second-round picks, and also Miami’s and Cleveland’s second-round picks. The Celtics are expected to waive Zoran Dragic from the Miami deal, which helped the Heat escape more luxury taxes simply for the improved second-round pick. The Celtics own all of their first-round picks through 2021, have the right to swap picks with the Nets in 2017, and own Brooklyn’s pick in 2018 through the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets
. . . The Thunder finally signed former Stanford product Josh Huestis, who was impressive for Oklahoma City in summer league play last year but decided to pass on signing his rookie contract and play in the NBADL. The move allowed the Thunder an extra roster space while Huestis played for their D-League affiliate. It was a highly unusual decision by Huestis, a small forward who could have headed overseas for a more lucrative contract but instead played for $25,000. Huestis was a college teammate of the Lakers’ Anthony Brown and the Mavericks’ Dwight Powell . . . Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty is conducting basketball camps around the area: Aug. 3-7 at the Rim Facility in Hampton Beach, N.H.; Aug. 10-14 in Framingham; and Aug. 17-21 in Newton. For more information, visit the website here.
Can’t touch this
No-trade clauses in the NBA can only be negotiated when a player has at least eight seasons in the league, four of which with the team he is signing with (the seasons do not need to be consecutive or most recent). Here’s a look at the select few with no-trade clauses, and those who would be eligible if they were to re-sign with their current team:
Players with no-trade clauses
Players eligible for no-trade clauses
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.