Commentary

Lafayette looking to secure spot

Updated: July 6, 2010, 3:20 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Celtics' locker room opened to the media before the team's regular-season finale against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 14, a horde of reporters stationed themselves around Tony Gaffney, one of two late-season roster additions Boston inked that day with eyes toward competing for a spot on the 2010-11 squad.

Gaffney, a native of nearby Berkley, Mass., and a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, had the more intriguing story -- at least locally -- than fellow newcomer Oliver Lafayette, who sat wide-eyed at a neighboring stall and simply soaked in the atmosphere.

But with Gaffney recovering from an ankle injury, it was Lafayette who dressed that night and scored seven points in 22 high-energy minutes. Trouble was, hardly anyone took notice with the Celtics already looking ahead to postseason play.

While neither Gaffney nor Lafayette played during the postseason run that nearly culminated with a world title, it was Gaffney who again understandably drew headlines both locally and nationally for his ties to both the Celtics and Lakers organizations. He was a final cut for Los Angeles in last year's training camp and his perspective having been at both ends of one of sports' top rivalries -- particularly in a season when they met in the title series -- was naturally an endearing storyline.

Once again, Lafayette merely soaked it all in. Sitting patiently on the sidelines at media availabilities, often dribbling a basketball, he quietly went about his business, working with the reserve unit during practice sessions and spending off days with strength and conditioning coaches preparing for the summer.

Finally, a little less than three months after arriving in Boston, Lafayette got a chance to step into the spotlight Monday, and he didn't miss the opportunity.

When Boston opened play in the 2010 AirTran Summer League against Oklahoma City, Lafayette was far and away the best player on the court for the first 20 minutes, which says something considering the Thunder fielded a lineup with six players with NBA experience, including bona fide talent like James Harden and Eric Maynor.

Lafayette scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, mixing a pretty perimeter jumper with an ability to create off the dribble. What's more, he held his own while guarding Maynor and stood in and took a couple of charges, showing he's capable of contributing at both ends of the floor.

Lafayette filled out his stat line with five assists, three rebounds and a steal in 27:36 of action.

"I thought Oliver played well in the first half and not so great down the stretch, but that was everyone," said Celtics summer coach Austin Ainge, whose troops gave up a 21-point first-half lead in falling 87-82. "Oliver's a good player. He can play with all these guys. We need him to be our general out there and he did a good job with that."

Considering Boston's lack of a true backup point guard last season, Lafayette's skill set makes him intriguing. He has point guard potential, even if he's been a bit of a combo guard to this point. He could really make a push for Boston's 2010-11 roster if he shows he's capable of being a serviceable ball handler behind Rajon Rondo.

In fact, he could be exactly what the team hoped Lester Hudson -- last year's second-round draft pick, who never quite grasped the point guard responsibilities and was released in January -- would be.

Of course, the guard section of the depth chart became a little more crowded when the Celtics selected and signed Texas guard Avery Bradley with the 19th overall pick in this year's draft. But with Bradley sidelined for the next six weeks after a scope to clean up an ankle injury -- suffered in a pre-draft workout for the same Oklahoma City squad Lafayette burst out against Monday -- Lafayette could make a push for a Boston roster that needs bodies.

He'd also come cheap. He's got a non-guaranteed contract that would pay him $762,195, helping Boston conserve every available dollar as it attempts to piece together next year's roster.

"I think he is a point guard right now," said Ainge, who worked with Lafayette as the coach of the Maine Red Claws, Boston's affiliate in the NBA Development League. "I've seen him; he's played point guard on a lot of possessions in the D-league and college. He can play. All you need to do is make the right reads, be vocal, be energetic and be a leader -- he's all of that."

Lafayette, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Houston, spent the past two seasons in the D-League and leaped onto Boston's radar after averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game this past season for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

Boston's primary focus this offseason is likely going to be adding depth to the frontcourt, which is one of the reasons it inked 2008 second-round draft choice Semih Erden to a contract Monday. But the 25-year-old Lafayette could stick for ballhandling depth.

For his part, Lafayette oozes a quiet confidence. Back in April, while Gaffney talked to that media throng, Lafayette discussed his game with a pair of reporters, noting he can spread the floor or take his man off the dribble.

Three months later, he proved it. If he continues to do so this week, Lafayette could ensure a seat in Boston's locker room when the 2010-11 season opens in three months.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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