Commentary

Cassell would bring leadership, experience to Boston

Originally Published: February 26, 2008
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Kevin Garnett and Sam CassellDavid Sherman/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe first time they were paired up, they went to the Western Conference finals and KG won an MVP.

LOS ANGELES -- After a frenzy of activity by contending teams this month, it appears the Boston Celtics' response is to add a 38-year-old point guard who has missed 15 games this season.

Three sources said that the Clippers would buy out the remainder of Sam Cassell's contract this week and that he would sign with the Celtics assuming he passes through waivers.

So maybe that doesn't demand headlines and "SportsCenter" segments or have you re-assessing your picks for the NBA Finals. Compared with some of the other big transactions we've seen in recent weeks, it hardly warrants a mention.

The Celtics already made their big moves. They were the ones who started the arms escalation this past summer, when they traded for Ray Allen, then Kevin Garnett. But these days it feels as though if you haven't added a former All-Star in the past few weeks, you really aren't trying.

Technically, the Celtics would be getting a former All-Star, as well. It's just that Cassell's "former" is a bit further in the past than those of Pau Gasol, Shaquille O'Neal and Ben Wallace. Cassell went to the All-Star Game in 2004, his first season with the Timberwolves, when he and Latrell Sprewell arrived in Minnesota and elicited an MVP season from Garnett.

Cassell has been known to have that kind of impact. His rookie year in Houston 14 years ago, the Rockets won the NBA championship and Hakeem Olajuwon won the Most Valuable Player award. When Cassell came to the Clippers in 2005, the team came within a game of the conference finals and Elton Brand had a career year. But Cassell is a little bit like Shaq in that he's at his best when he's fresh on the scene with something to prove. After he wasn't rewarded with a contract extension in Minnesota, his numbers dropped across the board and the Timberwolves started a descent that culminated in the 2007 Garnett trade. Cassell's past two seasons in L.A. have been filled with injuries and poor shooting.

But the Celtics could use another point guard to back up young Rajon Rondo. And after the big three of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce, the rest of the roster has started a combined 12 playoff games. Cassell has logged 2,871 playoff minutes and scored 1,346 postseason points.

"Can I be effective with that team?" Cassell said before the Clippers played Boston Monday night. "I think that team is lacking … Rondo is a great young talent. In the playoffs, it takes more than talent to win playoff basketball games. Leadership means everything. Knowing who to get the ball to, knowing when to run, knowing when to set it up. I have experience."

Yes, Cassell was standing in one locker room, talking about what it would be like to play for the team getting dressed down the hall.

"It's awkward because if [the Clippers were] healthy, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now," Cassell said.

[+] EnlargeSam Cassell
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesIt's been a long season for Sam I Am, who has been asking for a buyout and might just get his wish.
But it has been another lost season in Clipper Country, a campaign doomed before it even got started the moment Brand tore his Achilles in the summer. Brand is still a month from playing, and Shaun Livingston has yet to return from a devastating knee injury last season.

Cassell has been in and out of the lineup. He missed the past three games with a wrist injury.

The Celtics are "getting damaged goods if I do go over there," Cassell said. "But I'll be all right."

Cassell could be a boost to Boston just for his presence in the locker room. He'd be the Flavor Flav to Garnett's Chuck D. Cassell already was spreading good will after Monday night's game, dropping in, cracking jokes, playfully telling reporters to stop their questions to KG.

Garnett's relentless intensity is at the heart of Boston's success. Even when the Celtics were blowing out the Clippers in the fourth quarter Monday night, Garnett was standing on the sideline, yelling defensive signals, encouraging teammates on offense, acting as if the outcome depended on each possession.

"I'm inspired by competing," Garnett said. "I never had a problem with getting pumped up for any game. My problem has always been [getting] too overwhelmed or too pumped up, if you will."

You wonder if that's one of the reasons Garnett has experienced so much frustration in the playoffs. When the rest of the league finally cranks it up, Garnett can't go any higher.

Even with Garnett in the locker room, though, the Celtics have not been able to keep up the pace that won them 36 of their first 44 games. The inevitable dips in an 82-game season kicked in. They lost their first three games after the All-Star break, and their defense allowed more 100-point games in February (six) than it had in the first three months of the season.

"It's a long season," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We talk about it all the time, about lulls. It's a process we have to go through. All the good stuff, all the bad stuff. It's going to be a continual process. Detroit's gone through that already. They are who they are. San Antonio's gone through it. The good teams have gone through it. We haven't. We're new. What we talk about a lot is everything is a process, we're learning."

After Boston's losing streak hit three against Phoenix on Friday night, Allen said, "The whole NBA nation wants to see how we deal with it. This adversity is going to hopefully make us NBA champions."

In L.A. on Monday, Pierce said, "You're going to have your ups and downs. We haven't had that many downs. Maybe this is one of them, the three-game losing streak, But by no means we ever got down on each other. We felt like a couple of games we should have won. We said we're going to clean some things up and find out the rest of this road trip."

It started in the second quarter in Portland on Sunday, when the Celtics found themselves down by 17 points and began the first stages of a comeback victory. Then they took care of the Clippers on Monday to finish off the road trip. Crisis averted, another winning streak started.

Boston still has the best record, but right now Detroit looks like the best team in the East. And the Pistons would have to be favored in a playoff series -- no matter who had home-court advantage -- because of their experience. None of Boston's starters has played in an NBA Finals game.

Garnett has successfully infused the Celtics with his passion. Maybe if the Celtics bring in Cassell, they can absorb his knack for the moment, his penchant for hitting big shots.

Boston did its major remodeling this past summer. But the Celtics could be ready to apply the final strokes of paint.

J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.