By Jeremy Gottlieb
In an interview with the New York Times yesterday in which he disclosed the news that he was to sign with Celtics, Stephon Marbury was asked to discuss his thoughts regarding his role as Rajon Rondo’s backup. His response?
“I’ll just let my game speak for itself.”
Not, “I’ll do whatever is asked of me to try to help win a championship.” Nothing of the kind, in fact. Just the words (or variations on the words), I and me.
And thus, the Stephon Marbury in Boston era begins.
This move stinks so bad I can smell it here in Somerville, a few miles from the TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics are going to bring in the league’s single biggest knucklehead in their quest to repeat. Batten down the hatches.
It feels awfully strange to think that such a bad guy will be a part of this team, as genuine a group of good guys that you’ll find in all of pro sports. The Celtics rationale for making the move is completely understandable. The depth that played such a huge role in last season’s title is not as strong thanks to the absences of James Posey and P.J. Brown. There is no one on the roster that can adequately back up Rajon Rondo (Vaya con dios, Gabe Pruitt). Marbury has put up all-star caliber numbers throughout his career and to get such a talent at such a low cost is a no-brainer.
It would seem that the next logical question is: How much are those factors worth? The Celtics aren’t guaranteed banner 18 by making this move – they may have a better chance at it, but obviously, that’s all. There probably will be no better options, especially in light of the rule that no one signed after Sunday is eligible to play in the playoffs, another pro to making the deal.
And then there are the cons, starting with the fact that for all intents and purposes, Marbury is a total and complete malcontent certain to be overcome by ego and selfishness if things aren’t satisfactory to him. I’ve talked to a couple people this week who have likened the circumstances to those of the Patriots acquiring Corey Dillon prior to the 2004 season. It’s not close. Dillon played for the worst team in the NFL for seven years, dutifully put up big numbers and seethed over the losing. After a few outbursts near the end of his tenure in Cincinnati, he was branded a bad team guy, as if the Bengals absolutely sucking for all that time had more to do with him than anyone else. He came to Foxboro, didn’t say a bad word all year, put up one of his best seasons and won a Super Bowl.
Marbury has played for four teams and managed to be banished from each one. He is a perpetual complainer. He is eminently unlikeable. The only time he has ever been in a winning situation, he flipped out over not being the highest paid/most visible/go-to guy and forced his way out of town. Teams routinely get better after he leaves (check out the Nets, Suns and Knicks’ records in his final year with each of them as well as the first year after he’s gone). He cannot/will not be coached (see Larry Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Don Casey, Scott Skiles and Flip Saunders for more information). He epitomizes the stereotype of the modern, me-first athlete and if that wasn’t already evident in his play throughout the years, it was unmistakable in his behavior toward the Knicks this season, from his refusal to play when needed to his hard-headed unwillingness to surrender $1 million in his buyout negotiations of a contract worth more than $20 million. He is so toxic, he couldn’t even get along with his brother from the coaching/executive division of human team incinerators, Isiah Thomas, who enabled and coddled him more than anyone this side of his old stomping grounds in Coney Island.
Everyone, both with the Celtics and who supports the move is saying all the right things. Everything stays in house. The locker room is policed by Capt. KG and his lieutenants Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. If anyone steps out of line, they will have to face those three future Hall-of Famers. The winning culture and mutual respect will force Marbury to stay in line. The financial commitment is relatively small, making it an easy option to send him packing if he doesn’t comply. This is his chance to prove to any doubters (meaning, pretty much all observers) that he can function in a winning atmosphere, that he’s capable of subverting his massively over-inflated opinion of himself for the greater good. Etc.
It doesn’t matter. To repeat, Marbury has gotten himself run off of four teams. His exploits are not comprised of isolated incidents. They are all part of a large pattern that suggests an irredeemable quality. He has never played for a team on which he didn’t commit some act of loserdom, so why are the Celtics the exception? He’s such a negative that I can’t even describe him without resorting to double negatives.
Anyway, what’s done is done. He has been signed. He’s on the team. The experiment has begun. Perhaps, he will be a good soldier, come off the bench, play 15-20 minutes a game, score about 10 points and dish out three or four assists, smile and keep his mouth shut. Maybe, when Garnett is healthy, the two of them will rekindle some of the magic of their youths in Minnesota. Who knows? He may be just what the Celtics need to stave off Cleveland and the Lakers and win another championship. I hope he is. And I will gladly declare mea culpa if needs be.
I just can’t see it, though. I see him lasting a month here, maybe less. And then we can all move on and pretend the time the Celtics brought in the league’s biggest knucklehead never even happened.