Less than two weeks short of his 26th birthday, Vincent Poirier looks like a menacing man, a 7-footer with a bushy beard and arms littered with tattoos. If Boston nightclubs had a draft lottery for bouncers, Poirier would be their No. 1 pick.
Despite having little exposure to the United States, Poirier, a native of Clamart, France, is supposed to blend right into NBA life and American culture. At least that’s what expected of him. But it’s not that easy.
Adjusting to life in a new country is just that, an adjustment. Poirier brought his mother to Boston to help pick an apartment. He depends on his teammates and Celtics officials for advice on restaurants and places to shop.
He is concentrating on basketball, primarily, but life for NBA players from overseas is just as much about gaining comfort in a new environment as it is “doing the dirty job” on the floor, as Poirier puts it.
“All my life was in France so I had to bring everything over,” he said. “But Boston is a nice city, a cool city, but it’s fast. It’s good for me. I have everything to be focused on basketball right now, just waiting for my car.”
Fans do recognize Poirier in public. They ask the 7-footer if he plays basketball, and he says yes, with the Celtics, and their response is, “Oh, you’re the new guy.”
He’s had opportunities to play in the NBA before but felt the time wasn’t right, until now. After two seasons with Baskonia in the Spanish League, Poirier accepted the Celtics’ two-year offer. They have relied in past years on overseas players such as Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker. Poirier was added to provide depth, defense, and toughness to the frontcourt.
“I think I’m mature,” he said. “Last year, I could have had the opportunity to come to the NBA, but my progression wasn’t enough. After last season, I felt like it was the moment. It was the perfect moment to try the league.”
In 34 games for Baskonia last season, Poirier averaged 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. He is a workmanlike center, a big man the Celtics hope can fill the role of Aron Baynes, who was traded to Phoenix on draft night.
“In one team you can’t have all the scorers and the shiny guys,” Poirier said in his respectable English. “You have a couple of guys who make all the dirty jobs. If not, you cannot win. You have to be great at what you can do, and what I can do is all the dirty jobs. I want to shine at this position. I am not a great scorer. I’m not a shiny guy. I want to make the plays to make the team better.”
Poirier did not begin watching the NBA until about five years ago. He was a soccer player as a youth who after a growth spurt was encouraged to play basketball. He played on club teams in France and then joined the Orlando Magic summer league team in 2016.
His stint with Baskonia matured Poirier and finally he sat down with his mother, Anne-Laure, and explained that he wanted to try the NBA.
“She was really happy; she was my first fan,” Poirier said. “I’m far away and she’s a little bit sad, but we’re still in contact every day, texting. She knows I love her. She will come over multiple times.”
Poirier lost his father, Eric, unexpectedly in 2014. The older of two boys, he assumed the role of caretaker for his family. “It was really tough for my family, because I could play basketball to keep my mind off of it, but for my family it was harder,” he said. “I always say to my mom, I am going to make my dad proud. So that’s what I try to do every day.”
Poirier’s brother, Sebastien, 21, is 6-7, but knee issues prevented him from pursuing a basketball career. Once Vincent left home to play professional basketball, his relationship with Sebastien suffered. But the two began bonding again two years ago.
“When we were younger my parents always wanted me to bring him with me, and I was like, ‘No, I want to chill with my friends,’ ” Poirier said. “But that’s the job of the big brother, to look out for the little brother. Our father’s death was hard on him, but in the last few years he had become more mature and we talk often.”
So far, so good for Poirier in Boston. Mom is coming to visit for Christmas. He feels comfortable. “The guys here are great, so if I need something I will ask,” he said. “It’s good for us to explore the city because we have some time. It’s an adjustment, it’s part of the job, but you have to make it quick because the season is coming.”
WNBA in battle for TV exposure
Game 3 of the WNBA Finals between Washington and Connecticut is on Sunday at 3:30 p.m., right in the midst of NFL Sunday. The game will be nationally televised on ABC, which will help ratings, but the WNBA is trying to figure out a time to separate itself with coverage during such a busy sports calendar.
The Major League Baseball playoffs also continue on Sunday, meaning the WNBA will be the third priority for some sports fans, even though the level of play is high and the interest is increasing. New commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who came from the private sector and is still assessing how the league can flourish, was asked about the quest to find suitable game times that don’t intersect with the NFL or MLB.
“Coming in new to sports from the business world, I had the same question about scheduling, whether it’s on an NFL Sunday or a college football Saturday,” she said before Game 1. “And it seems, once you get into the fall and now you have Major League Baseball playoffs, when you get into the fall it’s a tougher time. Now, if we want to expand our game and grow our game and expand our season and maybe add to the number of games, or next year we have to take a month off for the Olympics because we support our WNBA players on the USA basketball team, it’s more complex than we all think to get the scheduling right.”
The WNBA deserves better overall coverage. The Mystics, who entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, are garnering premium local attention compared with the Nationals and Capitals.
“The same day the Washington Nationals clinched the playoff spot, and thank you to the Washington Post, it had the Mystics as the lead story on the sports page, because I happened to be here for some meetings that day,” Engelbert said. “But we do need to compete with other sports. I also think to the extent people are watching sports and channel surfing, that’s why I’m so obsessed with making sure you can find our games and you know where they are and when they are. I think the more people watching and talking sports, that’s helpful to us, too.
“We are competing in a very, very crowded entertainment market more broadly. But that’s why, with [the media’s] help and with the help again of our advocates, influencers, sponsors, etc., endorsers, I think we can actually drive the broader recognition of the play on the court because nobody’s debating how great the product on the court is.”
Engelbert made a significant decision before the postseason, allowing the Las Vegas Aces and Los Angeles Sparks to fly on private planes during the playoffs. WNBA teams usually fly commercial, which has become a major issue among its star players, who believe they deserve better treatment. Las Vegas center Liz Cambage posted a video of herself and teammates waiting for a delayed flight at the airport.
“We were evaluating — it’s part of one of my pillars — player experience and player health and wellness and wanting the highest level of play in the playoffs,” Engelbert said. “When we saw there was only one day of rest between Round 2 and the semifinals with West to East, not great flight opportunities in commercial, which is required today by the old collective bargaining agreement. We evaluated what was the right thing to do when at that point you would only have four teams left because you’re traveling West to East.
“So we made that decision to provide the charter flights, which I think was the right decision.”
The league’s CBA is up for negotiation and the players’ association is expected to make significant demands, including higher salaries and charter flights. Some players have threatened to sit out the season or play overseas because of what they perceive is a below-market pay scale.
“There is an economic model that would need to be driven to support that at a broader level. Here’s another area where, can we get corporates in to sponsor that angle of player experience, whether it’s broadly travel or whether it’s just charters itself?” Engelbert said. “Again, we don’t have the economics to support that broadly. This is an item that, of course, player travel experience is part of what we’re negotiating in the collective bargaining. So, I think these will continue, at least for now, to be one-off, a case-by-case basis to ensure player health and safety and to ensure we’re doing the right thing for the level of play we want to present on the court.”
Morris explains change of heart
Marcus Morris had an interesting summer. As a free agent, the former Celtics forward sought the career-defining deal he felt he deserved. He verbally agreed to a two-year, $20 million contract with the Spurs.
But he clashed with his agent, Rich Paul, with Morris claiming he was unaware of a one-year, $15 million offer from the Knicks. Morris wanted to play closer to his Philadelphia home and wanted a higher average yearly salary with a chance to cash in again next summer.
So Morris reneged on his commitment to the Spurs and signed with the Knicks. The Spurs, to accommodate Morris’s salary, traded key reserve Davis Bertans to the Wizards. When Morris bolted for the Knicks, the Spurs couldn’t rescind the Bertans trade. They settled on signing forward Trey Lyles, but the Spurs were understandably angry about Morris’s decision. He eventually agreed to part ways with Paul over the situation, feeling deceived about the lack of knowledge of the Knicks offer.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called Morris “unprofessional” because of his change of heart. Morris said he has no issue with the Spurs but made the decision that better served his career.
It appears to be a prime example of a player and agent confused about the player’s goals. Morris wants to win but also felt underpaid after he received an average of $5 million per season in his previous contract. He was one of the league’s biggest bargains, and $15 million for one season is a better payday than $20 million over two, especially considering Morris will likely earn at least $10 million next summer in free agency.
“My free agency didn’t go as planned and a lot of those decisions came from a lot of unknown sources and unknown situations, so I kind of committed earlier than I wanted to,” he said. “Yeah, I was very surprised, but I have nothing but respect for Pop. I’m not going to say anything. Obviously they made a big move. Things weren’t clear for me, so I made a decision based on what I knew and for my family. I hope for nothing but the best. I’ve got a lot of roots down there, Kansas guys. I feel bad that it had to happen that way. I’m from North Philly, man, I’ve been booed before.
“I have nothing but love for Pop and [Spurs general manager] R.C. [Buford]. I’m sorry it had to happen that way, but it’s the NBA. I made that decision and it was all on me. I wanted to take my career in my own hands, and that decision was on me.”
Morris didn’t want to discuss much about what happened last season in Boston. His role with the Knicks will be considerably different. At age 30, he is one of the oldest members of the team and is likely to compete with second-year forward Kevin Knox for the starting small forward slot.
“Last year with Boston we went through a lot of ups and downs, I would agree with that,” Morris said. “Our expectations, we didn’t withhold those, and it just so happens that we lost early. We don’t have any expectations [with the Knicks] and that’s the best thing. My biggest thing is I’m not in Boston no more. I’m not even worried about what happened last year. I’m ready to start something great with the Knicks. The biggest thing is I know they embrace guys like myself. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. We’re not going to be any pushovers. It’s not going to be easy to beat us.”
The NBA’s quest to embrace and collaborate with online betting took another major step when the Wizards announced they plan to open a betting location inside Capital One Arena, perhaps as early as 2020. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis announced a pairing with William Hill, a betting company, to open a sports book inside the arena. Fans will be able to walk up and place bets on NBA games, including the games inside that arena. While the NFL has been reluctant to announce its pairing with companies such as DraftKings, the NBA has been open about its embrace of sports betting. Fans should expect that more sports betting books will open in arenas over the next several years . . . Don’t expect the Celtics and Jaylen Brown to agree to a contract extension before the Oct. 21 deadline for fourth-year players to reach new deals. Brown has not yet hired an agent and the Celtics have historically never offered extensions to players after their third season. The last time the Celtics signed a rookie extension contract was in November 2009 when they agreed to a five-year, $55 million deal with Rajon Rondo. Since then, players such as Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Avery Bradley have been eligible, but the Celtics declined to offer extensions. Sullinger never got a deal and eventually was waived. Smart and Bradley had to wait for restricted free agency, while Rozier was signed by the Celtics on July 6 and dealt to the Hornets on the same day in the Kemba Walker deal. It’s difficult to determine Brown’s market value. Three of his draft cohorts have signed new deals. Ben Simmons (Philadelphia) and Jamal Murray (Denver) each signed for five years and $168 million. Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert signed a three-year deal worth $52.5 million. He has shown great promise but has also been injured often, meaning Brown’s market value could be higher. It may be in Brown’s best interest not to sign, betting on himself to deliver a breakthrough season and then becoming a restricted free agent where he could be the subject of a potential bidding war. Brown said he isn’t concerned with his contract status and won’t carry that burden into the season. But 2020 could be an expensive summer for the Celtics, who will also have Jayson Tatum up for a new deal. Tatum is expected to ask for the same money as Simmons and Murray, especially if he takes major steps toward becoming an All-Star.