A weekend to play nice
All-Stars put grudges aside, but is there some tension? Absolutely.
LOS ANGELES -- When it was playfully noted that members of the Miami Heat would have no choice but to let him in the team huddle at All-Star weekend, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo quickly modified the suggestion.
"No, we'll let them into the huddle," Rondo said. "We have more players, and we've got the coach this year."
A week after Rondo drew national attention for lingering near the Heat's on-court huddle -- which he defended by noting that there was no timeout on the court following a dust-up in which Dwyane Wade drew a flagrant 1 for delivering a forearm to Kevin Garnett's mug in Boston's win Sunday -- four members of the Celtics and Miami's big three of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh will comprise more than half of the Eastern Conference roster.
Given Boston's propensity to get under opponents' skin, maybe never more so than during the 2010-11 season, some observers have wondered whether everyone on the East roster will be able to play nice over the three-day NBA holiday.
Rondo shrugged off the suggestion but didn't exactly discount the notion.
"Everybody on the East side I pretty much get along with," Rondo said. "None of them play my position, so I don't really have any beef with the Miami guys or nobody in the Eastern Conference, really. There's two point guards, right? Me and [Chicago's] Derrick [Rose]? I don't have any beef with him."
Even Ray Allen, the epitome of cool and collected, admitted there's tension.
"I don't think you truly relax and say, 'Hey, we're best buddies now because we're playing on the All-Star team,'" Allen said. "A couple years ago, we won the All-Star Game in '08, and Rasheed [Wallace, then with Detroit] said, 'Thank you, for helping me make this extra money, but now we hate you guys again.'
"There's an honest camaraderie amongst all the players, but there is a lot of hatred that exists," Allen said. "You live in the community that you live in. Yeah, we may have played AAU together and went to college, but once the lines divide, you live in one city that hates another city. Like Boston and New York or now Boston and Orlando. You breathe what the fans feel, you know? ... Rashard Lewis told me one time, after we beat [Orlando] in the playoffs last year, he was like, 'Man, I hope I never see green ever again in my life.' And one day he could end up playing here, but for the time being, you're [immersed] with the playoff fever, that you just start to hate a certain team."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose staff will helm the Eastern Conference at the 60th annual event, knows All-Star weekend has a way of making rivals act civil. But even he laughed at the obvious tension between some players when he last coached the midseason spectacular during the 2007-08 season in New Orleans.
There's an honest camaraderie amongst all the players, but there is a lot of hatred that exists.” -- Celtics forward Ray Allen
"I've been amazed by it, even when you know guys don't like each other," Rivers said. "In this case, I don't know if that's true -- maybe certain guys on different teams. Then in the All-Star Game, I've always laughed when you see them laughing and joking. You know, you're thinking, 'They're so freaking phony right now.' That's what you want to say."
So, for three days at least, the Celtics and their East rivals will have to act like BFFs. Amare Stoudemire must pretend Pierce's victory lap on the Madison Square Garden floor didn't boil his blood in December. The Heat will have to endure friendly jabs about how they've lost three straight to Boston this season. Dwight Howard will get a reminder about who won last season's Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics' contingent also can remind representatives from the Bulls and Hawks about who won those bitter first-round battles in recent playoff series.
But everyone will say the right things, just like Garnett did while preparing to trek to L.A., dismissing Rivers' "phony" suggestion.
"I think what you see are guys relaxing, enjoying one another, playing with one another," Garnett said. "I wouldn't say it's phony -- ain't nothing phony. I think guys actually relax a little bit, play with one another, enjoy the weekend, and then after that, it's over."
Whatever it is, Rivers isn't about to remind his troops to be on their best behavior. He's quite fine if things get feisty.
"I'm going to tell them to get it on," Rivers joked when asked whether he was going to need a peace summit before Friday's first team meeting. "Hey, let's get some action going in the locker room. I think what we're going to do is have everybody have separate seats in the locker room and face their lockers, just not look at each other.
"No, it'll be fine. When they get in there, I think it's all good. Back in the day, there was a lot of animosity with each other, and then they got on the floor and loved each other. Then the next day, they didn't like each other again."
The more intriguing question is which member of the East roster gets to run with Boston's quartet of reserves. Rivers already has said he plans to put his four players on the floor at the same time, but who will join them?
Howard and James were the popular suggestions, but Rivers said he hadn't thought much about it yet.
"Oh, that's a good question," Rivers said. "I actually don't know yet. I'm not sure if I'll bring four in and leave one [starter] out on the floor or bring [five new players] in. I'm going to have the guys have a little lottery for me before the game, and whoever comes up with the most will be the fifth. It would be a big, just because we have the [first four positions]. Though, it could be LeBron. Who knows? We'll see. It'll be good, though."
When Boston first landed four reserves via coach's vote, Rivers joked he'd play whoever was closest to free agency. That led to suggestions that Boston will mix Howard in and give him a chance to see what it'd be like to catch alley-oops from Rondo for 82 games.
Boston's quartet didn't seem to mind that suggestion, with Pierce even joking, "He'd look good in green."
Added Garnett: "It doesn't matter. Probably Dwight [Howard] because I don't want to play center. Then that's what it is. We've got the stars on there, so we've got the rings, so we get to put in whoever we want. We might put LeBron in."
Beyond the game -- and everyone being on their best behavior -- Pierce stressed that the ultimate goal of All-Star weekend is to relax and savor the experience.
"I think it's a tremendous opportunity," Pierce said. "It's always a privilege when you make an All-Star Game and are recognized as one of the best players in the world. I enjoy every minute of it. It's going to be great to be able to spend it with my teammates. We all have something planned. We are going to go out together and have dinner, maybe watch a show or something. It's good. I am going to enjoy these moments, especially with my career winding down. You don't get too many moments like this."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.