Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stephon Marbury's great opportunity awaits in Boston


It's not official yet, but anyone who closely follows the NBA knows it will happen.

One of the most league's most despised, selfish, wasted talents on the roster of the league's defending champion — on a team made up of his opposites: "team guys" who would never put themselves before their teammates.

And yet, I have a very good feeling about this. I think it will work (yes, I'm assuming it will happen) — both for the Celtics and Stephon Marbury.

That doesn't mean they'll win the NBA title together or even get past the conference finals, but losses on the court are as bad as things will get.

Marbury, to me, is not a bad person or even a naturally bad teammate. He's not irrevocably damaged. Rather, he is in need of direction. He needs to be a follower before he can become a respected leader.

At each of his NBA stops, he's been asked to run the team, be the starting point guard. Of course, as talented as he is, it made perfect sense. There was no way Mr. Big Time was coming off the bench or following the example of another player.

He was paid too much. His ego was too big.

And he played in a "players league." So as hard as the Don Caseys of the world might have tried to fine-tune Marbury into a winning point guard, he never had to listen, he never had to ride in the backseat.

That will all change in Boston. And that is the reason why this experiment has a great chance of not only landing the Celtics Banner 18, but rejuvenating Marbury's losses-infested career.

As a Celtic, he will ride the bench. It won't matter how well he plays — he's not getting budding starRajon Rondo's spot.

As a Celtic, he will be asked to follow one of the most voluble, intimidating leaders in the league, Kevin Garnett. This will not be like their ill-fated time spent together in Minnesota.

Then, they were both young and unproven. Neither player's career had taken off to the point of making him that much better, that much more proven and trustworthy than the other guy.

So Marbury, immature and full of himself, left Minneapolis as part of a bitter divorce. No one expected he'd ever reunite with K.G.

But now Garnett has all the power over his former teammate. He's the certain Hall-of-Famer. He's the man with the NBA title. He's got the ears of all his teammates.

He'll gain another set of ears as soon as Marbury's plane touches down. Screw up in Garnett's mind, and he'll be done before he can walk the Freedom Trail.

Experiments like this aren't new to New England sports. Not too long ago, the New England Patriots brought in controversial wide receiver Randy Moss. And even before that, they signed much-maligned running back Corey Dillon.

Under the killer eye of Bill Belichick, who doesn't blink when cutting players, Dillon never caused a problem and won a Super Bowl at the end of the 2004 season. Moss, meanwhile, has been nothing short of brilliant — and on his best behavior.

Doc Rivers
might not be Belichick, but the makeup of an NBA team is more about the players than the coach. Even Belichick, with his iron fist, couldn't have handled the Knicks of a couple years ago.

The Celtics get it. Everyone, from Garnett to Ray Allen to Finals MVP Paul Pierce to youngsters Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, understands what the team is about and what its ultimate mission is.

There's no way a battered, bruised Stephon Marbury could mess that up even if he tried.

And he won't. Because even if a championship isn't important to him — and I doubt that — he knows that the only way to land a decent contract after the season is by being on his best behavior and doing what the Celtics ask of him.

So whether he plays 30 or 10 minutes a game (and I'm leaning toward the latter), don't expect to see the typical Marbury Pout while he sits on the bench once he moves one big city up the East Coast.

In fact, by learning from some of the game's best — both talent-wise and leadership-wise — he might change. He might become capable of running a winning basketball team next season, of being a winning starter for the first time.

To do something right, you have to see it and observe it first, right?

Marbury just turned 32. Maybe he'll be a late learner. ... Or maybe not.

But the marriage in Boston, even if brief, should be a peaceful one.

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