Commentary

Humphries helping Celtics rookies

NBA veteran's professionalism, work ethic rubbing off on young teammates

Updated: February 1, 2014, 8:51 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Maybe nobody on the Boston Celtics was more excited to see Kris Humphries find a more consistent role on the team last month than rookie Phil Pressey.

Back when Humphries had a less-defined role and playing time came in sporadic chunks, he'd often utilize post-practice situations to get the cardio work that evaded him during games. And Humphries, now in his 10th NBA season, would invariably recruit Pressey, an undrafted rookie, for rigorous sets of a dreaded sprinting drill.

Pressey is brutally honest when he notes now that he's no fan of those sprinting exercises. But he'll never say no to Humphries.

"I know it's only going to better me," Pressey said. "Just to see him trying to maintain his conditioning, continue to get shots up. That just lets you know you have to keep working."

[+] EnlargeHumphries/Pressey
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiPhil Pressey says he'd never turn down Kris Humphries' invitation to run sprints.

Both Humphries and Pressey have seen their minutes escalate in an overhauled Celtics roster (one that could see more changes before the deadline later this month). Humphries elevated to a starting role for 10 games in January and remains one of the top bigs off the bench, while Pressey has settled in as a top reserve ball handler who has made three spot starts as Rajon Rondo eases his way back into game action.

Even though an increased on-court workload has decreased the need for conditioning-heavy, off-day drills, Humphries and Pressey are still routinely some of the final players off the court after practice.

Take Saturday as a prime example. The Celtics, with a matinee looming Sunday against the Orlando Magic and having gone hard Friday, engaged in what amounted to a light walk-through and skill work during a breezy Saturday session.

As most of the team's veterans dashed off the court after the session, Humphries, Pressey and fellow rookie Kelly Olynyk corralled a couple of assistants and went through a lengthy shooting drill. Not satisfied by that exercise, the trio stayed on the court for a friendly game of PIG that wrapped up approximately an hour after the team's practice had completed.

Watching the trio shoot as he met with the media, coach Brad Stevens gushed about Humphries' work ethic and how it has rubbed off on the younger players.

"It's really nice. We've said this about him all year -- he's a great teammate," Stevens said. "We can add a ton of adjectives to that. He's really just a great teammate. I think the young guys are really drawn to him because he goes in there and he works with them and he stays after with them and he spends time with them. I don't think there's any doubt that if you interviewed any of those guys, they'd say the exact same thing."

[+] Enlarge Phil Pressey
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsHumphries and Pressey have developed bigger roles in the rotation alongside Kelly Olynyk.

And they did.

"He's a 10-year vet, but he still stays after practice, that lets you know that you can't stop working, you have to continue to go at it," Pressey said.

Later Pressey added, "He's always trying to help the rookies out, trying to show them what it takes to get where he got. I can't ask for any other type of vet because he's working just like we are working and trying to get better. Running extra, lifting extra, getting extra shots -- there's no reasons why a rookie shouldn't be doing the same."

After experiencing some swelling in his knee (a lingering injury that has flared at times this season), Humphries got a maintenance day Friday and did not participate in practice.

When reporters asked him about getting the day off Saturday, Humphries got playfully defensive. His "off" day featured treatment, lifting and time on the exercise bike. It wasn't as though he didn't get out of his pajamas.

Humphries relayed a story from his rookie season in Utah about how a nameless veteran didn't participate in any practices during the season. While admitting the player had a solid season, Humphries added, "I can't condone that."

And so he'll gleefully launch into a post-practice, 3-point contest with the rookies, even if most of his work comes far inside that range. Or he'll try to beat them at playground games with trick shots just to keep a sweat up.

It can't be overstated how much his teammates appear to respect and enjoy Humphries. Rarely does a practice end without him playfully grappling with a rookie such as Olynyk or Vitor Faverani. Any preconceived notions that anyone around the Celtics had of Humphries from watching his briefly tabloid life from afar have been altered by watching one of the league's hardest workers up close.

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What's more, Humphries understands the rebuilding process he's navigating here in Boston with a young roster, and has often hinted at being around to see the fruits of these labors.

"Hopefully I'll get to be part of the future of this organization," Humphries said. "You don't choose where you are at, everyone wants to be on a team competing for a championship and doing all those things. Everyone here wants that. But the reality is, we're together and we've got to figure this thing out. Hopefully there's a brighter future for us."

Humphries could easily tune out, or stomp his feet for a trade to a contender. Instead, he's pledged to help this team any way he can and even imagines a future here. Why would he want to stay?

Humphries shifted his body at the Celtics' practice court and pointed to the 17 championship banners that ring the facility.

"You see that? It's a winning franchise. Great management, coaching staff, and guys that work," Humphries said. "The coaching staff is in here every off-day working hard, guys come in and they want to get better. Strength coaches and athletic trainers, everyone is sticking together and you wouldn't think we've been losing a bunch of games by the way that everyone is doing their jobs. When you have an organization like that, you know that only bright things are to come."

Humphries is confident that the Celtics will get this thing on track again eventually.

"Danny's done it before and Brad's had a lot of success," Humphries said. "He's shown us that he knows the game and he can adapt to the NBA. I think it's just bringing everything together and it starts [Sunday versus Orlando] with winning games and trying to build from there."

Actually, it starts in practice, where Humphries isn't afraid to put in the work. He noted how playing time came in small doses early in his career, but Humphries credits his work ethic for keeping him in the league for the past decade.

Now he's instilling that work ethic in Boston's rookies.

"Being a veteran, being in the NBA, you have to pass the knowledge on and a work ethic," Humphries said. "For me, what's kept me in the league this long, I really didn't play when I got into the NBA for a number of years. It's just working hard, being a hard practice player, working out before and after practice, coming to games early and doing all those things. We got a great group of guys that work hard, sometimes I'm like, 'Man, you might be working a little hard, but make sure you get in a little rest.' But those guys are committed. I think [the rookies] are giving themselves a chance to make the most of out their careers and help the team, as well."

Humphries turns 29 on Feb. 6. He's still young by league standards. If he makes it through the season here, you get the sense the Celtics would also be interested in keeping him around at a salary lower than the team-high $12 million he's making this season.

There's a value in knowing what you're going to get out of a player and, with Humphries, it's obvious. He's going to put in the work off the court and give 100 percent effort when he's in the game.

What's more, he's going to be a quality influence on the young players your team is trying to develop. Even if he's not around for it, Humphries is helping Boston's future after every practice.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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