Celtics duo give it their best shot
They were signed in April, but now they're fighting for their NBA lives
BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics signed Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette on the final day of the regular season in April, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge noted that the moves were made with an eye toward the 2010-11 season.
The Celtics already boasted two open roster spots on the 15-man roster and were stockpiling NBA-caliber talent knowing that the team would need to fill as many as 11 spots this offseason. While both Gaffney and Lafayette earned non-guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season, the signings gave Boston first crack at keeping them in town and their low-cost price tags made it all the more likely they'd stick.
Then Ainge went out and made free agency his playground this summer.
The Celtics re-signed Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to team-friendly deals; utilized their limited rights to retain Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels; inked Jermaine O'Neal with the mid-level exception; and, with only the veteran minimum remaining, still managed to haul in Von Wafer, Delonte West and Shaquille O'Neal.
Sprinkle in a trio of rookies -- Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, and Semih Erden -- and suddenly Gaffney and Lafayette find themselves on the outside looking in as training camp approaches later this month.
Ainge made sure to reach out to both Gaffney and Lafayette to stress that they would still have a chance to compete for a roster spot and that the team planned to keep the 15 best bodies coming out of camp.
"That's all I needed to hear," Gaffney said. "As long as there's a spot for me to earn, I'm going to do everything in my power [to earn it], or die trying."
Both Gaffney and Lafayette, appearing Friday at the Blackstone School in Boston's South End as part of a Shamrock Foundation project to transform a local elementary school, are prepared to let six months of hard work decide whether they make this season's roster.
As Lafayette stressed, in his mind there is no Plan B.
"I put that all on my agent, Plan B," Lafayette said. "My focus is just on making this team."
In most other situations, Gaffney and Lafayette would have a leg up on the competition after tagging along on Boston's run to the cusp of an NBA title. The duo split time working out with strength and conditioning coaches at the team's practice facility in Waltham, Mass., and aiding the team in game preparations throughout the postseason.
But even after strong performances with the team's summer league squad in Orlando, Fla., both still find themselves fighting for their NBA lives. Boston's three rookies all have two-year guaranteed deals, including Harangody and Erden, two late-second-round draft choices who have shown abilities loftier than their draft position.
So now Gaffney and Lafayette must go to camp and prove they are better than the likes of Von Wafer or Delonte West, an established NBA talent with playoff experience to boot.
They seemed unfazed by it all.
"Honestly, I just wake up every morning saying no one in the world is going to work harder than me," Gaffney said. "I kinda live by that motto in whatever I do, just be the hardest worker."
Gaffney has been in this position before. He isn't kidding when he suggests he might have been the final cut in all of the NBA when the Los Angeles Lakers turned him loose coming out of camp (in what Gaffney acknowledged might have been more of a financial decision).
Now he needs to play at a level in Boston's camp that suggests the Celtics should eat at least a portion of one of the 15 contracts they currently boast in order to keep him around.
Here's why Gaffney might have a shot at making it: He's a defensive-minded perimeter player, something Boston remains dangerously thin on, particularly with the departure of Tony Allen this offseason. If Gaffney shows he can bring that stopper ability off the bench, he could certainly find a role in Boston.
"Every team in the league needs defense," Gaffney said. "That's something I love to do. I really don't know why -- and a lot of people tell me I'm weird because I do -- but I look at guarding the opposing team's best player and my eyes light up. I strongly believe there's no one I can't guard. Am I going to get beat every once in a while? Who doesn't? But I believe that there are four positions I can guard in this league and guard well."
It will be hard for Celtics fans not to root for Gaffney. The pride of Berkley, Mass., Gaffney starred for Somerset High School and the University of Massachusetts. Undrafted last year, he nearly earned a job with the Lakers as a camp invite before signing with Altshuler Saham Galil Galboa in Israel, where a foot injury ended his season in his first game.
In the final stages of his recovery when he was signed by Boston, Gaffney now gushes about being pain-free with help of the Celtics' medical staff. He spent part of the summer working out in Tampa, Fla., with NBA talents like Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Courtney Lee and Kris Humphries. He's spent the last week back in Boston preparing for camp with the younger players he might have to beat out in order to fulfill his dream of playing for the team he rooted for growing up.
"I have to go in and show them I can do everything," Gaffney said. "I'm going to have to do everything to make this team. I'm competing with great players for very few spots. I need to prove to this team that I can be a vital part of something special next year and I can help them in many different ways."
The odds are slightly longer for Lafayette, despite an eye-opening performance at summer league, where, at times, he was Boston's best player on the floor. A combo guard who spent the past two seasons in the NBA Development League, he showed potential to be a backup point guard behind Rajon Rondo, but the team already boasts Robinson (who is expected to have a better grasp on the offense after being acquired at the trade deadline last season), Bradley (the 19th overall pick in this year's draft), and West (despite off-the-court troubles, he's a proven contributor at both guard positions).
"I've got the mindset that you just have to keep working hard and all that stuff you worked on in the summer will pay off later," Lafayette said. "I have to keep my focus. There's not a lot of roster spots, but with a great team, you wouldn't expect a lot of spots. Everyone is trying to play for a championship and lots of veterans are coming to the Celtics now."
But experience doesn't necessarily make a player better. So with one NBA game between them, Gaffney and Lafayette are hell-bent on making this roster.
They'll worry about Plan B later, if necessary.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.