Bringing Jason Terry off the bench was about as close to a sure thing as there was heading into the start of Celtics training camp.
After all, who else in the NBA embraced that reserve role more than Terry? He would be that ever-reliable, figurative shot in the arm off the pine with a dose of inspired offense. It's not just that he is a former Sixth Man of the Year; it goes beyond that. His super-sub identity helped the Celtics zero in on his services when he became a free agent this offseason.
And while head coach Doc Rivers loves everything that went into that identity -- the confidence, the swagger, the consistency, the late-game heroics -- he's going to tweak it. Or, at least, tweak how it's utilized.
"[Terry] could start. I don't know. What I prefer is whatever I think is going to be the best fit for our team," Rivers said Friday. "And we've got to still remember that Avery [Bradley is] not in, so we may start Jason Terry and use him like Kevin [Garnett], for the first five minutes, just to get him some minutes, and then bring him back in. We may start Courtney [Lee]. So, there's a lot of ways we can go with it."
Rivers has already begun the experimentation process. As expected, Terry came off the bench in the first half of Boston's first preseason game in Istanbul, but then started in the second half. While that was considered a necessity of sorts -- Lee picked up five first-half personal fouls -- it carried over to the Celtics' second preseason game in Milan, in which Terry was part of Boston's starting backcourt. He certainly showed no ill effects, as he came through with 11 points, knocking down three of his five 3-point field goal attempts.
As Rivers indicated, a set plan for Terry might not be in place for some time. Despite speaking with an ardent passion about the sixth-man role throughout the summer, Terry said Thursday he can bring the same production to the starting lineup, if need be.
"Oh yeah, either way. It doesn't matter," Terry said. "Whatever my role is here on this team, it's all about winning. I'm able to play both, coming off the bench or starting, and I'm very comfortable in both roles."
If it were any other player, Rivers might have a tough balancing act on his hands. In a league full of players set on routines and consistency, Terry could see things change on a daily basis, at least for the next few weeks. Sometimes it might even feel like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. But Terry is one of those rare players who simply embrace the competition and the moment, using both to help pole-vault him to a consistent level of production.
"Well, it's all about having confidence in yourself and knowing your skill set," Terry said. "Obviously I'm able to come off the bench and do what I do because I'm always ready. I'm always ready to score the ball and make an impact in the ballgame. As a starter, I was a starter for four years in Atlanta and three in Dallas, so either way it goes for me, it doesn't matter. When the lights are on, when the crowd is cheering, or when they're going against us, is when I'm at my best. So, it doesn't matter, as long as it's game time."
It speaks to the considerable depth the Celtics have on their roster that Rivers is even able to consider these kinds of adjustments. Having Terry fill a starting role would certainly have its benefits. Not only would it pair him alongside Rajon Rondo, thus giving him more access to Boston's best facilitator, but it could also help take pressure off of Boston's dynamic point guard, as Terry is more than capable of handling the ball and initiating the offense. It would further lessen a defense's willingness to double any of Boston's starters, knowing a knock-down shooter is waiting for his next open look. And, on the flip side, it would keep the bench that much more athletic, pairing Lee alongside, potentially, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass.
"It makes us that [much] more versatile," Garnett said of making Terry a starter. "You have another shooter on the floor, another scorer, another veteran, knows how to play the game. Another ballhandler for Rondo, take Rondo off the ball. Doc has a lot of options in which he's been playing with them a lot in practice."
Aware of the many possibilities Rivers is currently considering, Terry said one of the best things he can do is be open to whatever might be best for the team.
"Well, I think, one, you've got to come in with an open mind and be very receptive to learning new things," Terry said. "Even though I'm 14 years in, I'm still learning new ways to play the game. Obviously, learning from Doc. Learning from even Rondo and KG, and Paul Pierce has been big for me, because they've been through a lot of tough battles over the years and they have a lot of experience. As do I. I have experiences I can share with them, so, it works both ways. But for me, it's always coming into a new situation with an open mind."
Maybe the truth of the matter is that the identity Terry did carve out as a sixth man wasn't so much about his role and the manner in which he produced, but instead, was heavily dependent on his own talent and success. Because for a player as talented as Terry, his skills should ultimately shine through in whatever role he finds himself in.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. When your number's called, go in there and play as hard as you can for the time you're in there," said Terry. "And then, when you're not, cheer on your teammates. I think that's a formula for success, and when you're as deep as we are as a team, you've got to be a team player, and I think everybody understands that."