Celtics sing praises of Brian Scalabrine
Former C's teammate receives warm welcome from Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
"We were talking to Chicago the whole [offseason], but I was talking to [Bulls general manager] Gar [Forman] and the holdout was that I wanted a statue next to Michael Jordan [outside the United Center]," Scalabrine explained Friday before the Celtics beat the Bulls 110-105 in overtime at TD Garden. "He was like, 'A lot of good players have come through Chicago, and I don't know if I can guarantee we can do that.' So I said, 'I'm going to hold out until you promise me that.' At the end of the day, I said, 'Fine, you don't have to put the statue up.'"
And with that, Scalabrine and his family crammed five years' worth of memories into moving boxes -- a task he did without the aid of movers, he points out -- and uprooted themselves to Chicago for a chance to keep his NBA career alive after the Boston Celtics decided they would not retain his services.
Scalabrine returned to Boston on Friday for the first meeting between his new team and the one he still holds an attachment to after the overwhelming success it enjoyed the past three seasons (including winning a world title in 2008). He stressed that he's not disappointed with the way things played out this offseason, in large part because of the way former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau -- now the Bulls' first-year head man -- recruited him for a veteran role with a young team.
"I love where I'm at right now," Scalabrine said. "Tom Thibodeau went to bat for me, and I love being in that position."
Scalabrine's wife, on the other hand, wasn't thrilled with the prospect of moving to the Midwest.
"She's got, like, friends and stuff," Scalabrine deadpanned. "We packed up all our stuff and moved out." Did Scalabrine hire a mover? "No, I did it myself. We packed everything up, and we had too much stuff. We had to learn how to live with less. We're living in a one-bedroom hotel with our two kids. We're learning to live with less, and it's been good for us."
Making the most of a limited commodity has kept Scalabrine in the league for nine years. After a 2009-10 season in which he averaged a mere 1.5 points and 0.9 rebounds per game in 52 appearances, Thibodeau was about the only one calling to inquire about his services. But the Bulls needed a player who knew the system Thibodeau was about to install and someone who could be a mentor to a talented young nucleus.
"All of the things he did [in Boston], I thought would be helpful to us," Thibodeau said. "He's come in and done a great job. The thing about Scal is that he stays ready to play. He's a great teammate; he knows the system. He can be inactive for 10 to 15 games and then can start and be ready to go. That's a tough thing to do in this league. I thought with our younger players, he'd be great in the locker room."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers -- who remains a close confidant to Thibodeau, even though the two now compete in the same conference -- couldn't offer enough support toward the move.
"You know how I feel about Scal; I love him," Rivers said. "I don't think people understand the value of being a great teammate. I told him that 100 times -- since I've been in the league, he's among the top two or three in terms of just being a teammate, being a team player, getting it and understanding his role. He's always ready. He's the only guy who can not play for 30 games, then play five in a row and not miss a beat. That's who he is."
Scalabrine has been more than a locker-room mentor in Chicago. He's appeared in all five of the Bulls' games this season and flourished. A career 38.9 percent shooter, he's connected on six of the seven shots (85.7 percent).
On Friday against the Celtics, Scalabrine logged a mere three first-half minutes and produced a block on old friend Paul Pierce before retreating to the bench to watch his young teammates rally from a 16-point hole to force overtime on the second night of a back-to-back.
During the game's first timeout, the Celtics played a video on the JumboTron celebrating the accomplishments of both Scalabrine and Thibodeau in Boston, highlighted by Scalabrine's hilarious postgame speech after the Celtics clinched a world title during Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals.
Those championship memories provided a lifelong bond in the Celtics' locker room.
"We won together," Kevin Garnett said. "Scal is the ultimate professional athlete. I have uncanny respect for the guy. He came in here and was a professional every day that he put on the green and white. I respect him more than anything. He's one of my favorite ex-teammates in my small 15 years [in the NBA]."
There's no telling how long Scalabrine's NBA career will last. His league-minimum $1.2 million deal isn't fully guaranteed, and that's likely part of the reason he hasn't invested in property in Chicago (though he admitted he rented a house during his entire stay in Boston).
But one thing is clear: His path will almost certainly bring him back to Boston again (and we're not just talking about the Bulls' visit here next month). Scalabrine said he wants to be the one who replaces Tommy Heinsohn as color commentator on Celtics' broadcasts.
Rivers said Heinsohn isn't going anywhere and thinks Scalabrine will end up as a coach, instead. And Rivers wouldn't mind it being on the Boston bench, even as Scalabrine scoffed at the notion of being a coach.
"He's lying; he'll coach, there's no doubt about that," Rivers said. "We talk about it and he denies it to me all the time, as well. But he'll be with me. I've told him that the day he's done playing, if he needs a seat, it'll be there for him. He's just one of those guys you want around your team.
"It's in his blood. He loves basketball. He loves talking about coaching too much. You've seen him, he'll be in front of the [team] plane, asking [Rivers], 'Why did you think about this coming out of a timeout?' He would always ask those questions. Guys like that tend to coach."
Scalabrine won't come cheap. He'll probably demand a statue next to Bobby Orr outside the Garden (and some fans would be just fine with that). The Celtics can afford to play hardball like the Bulls did, because Scalabrine's heart is still in Boston.
And chalk Garnett up as someone who thinks Scalabrine will thrive as a coach.
"Scal can be anything he wants to be if he puts his mind to it," Garnett said. "He's locked in, and that's the reason he's been able to be in this league."
"I know people look at him and say," said Garnett, raising an eyebrow, "'You know, but there's a reason he plays; there's a reason he's on rosters; there's a reason he's in the league.' He adds value. We understand that, like the Bulls and Thibs understand that."
You can't put a value on that. Even if it's probably worth more than a statue.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter