Celtics bench adds experience, maturity

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Doc Rivers was just finished extolling the virtues of the Boston Celtics' 2011-12 bench, which differs quite a lot from his 2010-11 bench. The Celtics coach was told that Paul Pierce said this season's reserves are more experienced and professional, as opposed to last season's bench, which Pierce said was too immature and inconsistent.

"I didn't think that had to be said," Rivers cracked, referring to Pierce's comments. "I thought everyone knew. That's why we didn't win."

Hmm. So that's what it was. Wonder who Pierce was talking about? Rivers quickly said, "It was more than one."

It sure was. There was drama aplenty among the Celtics' reserves.

As attractive as Glen Davis and Nate Robinson could look on paper, and as productive as they could be on the floor, they also could be a handful. You have to wonder if Delonte West might have been in the same high-maintenance category, given the Celtics' refusal to bring him back. (He and Von Wafer got into a fight in practice.) Late-season additions Troy Murphy, Carlos Arroyo and Sasha Pavlovic all thought they should have played more and all underachieved, although Pavlovic apparently showed enough to warrant another chance.

"I thought a year ago we had a lot of immaturity with our bench roster and it brought inconsistent play from them," Pierce said. "I think these guys are a lot more experienced, bring a lot more professionalism on a day-to-day basis."

Now when Rivers looks at his reserves, he sees seasoned players whom he knows and feels he can trust. There's 11-year veteran Keyon Dooling, nine-year veteran Chris Wilcox, eight-year veteran Marquis Daniels, six-year veteran Brandon Bass and the bench's star, Jeff Green, who is beginning his fifth year. (Green, sidelined by what the team says is a "medical issue," still has not been cleared to practice, leading Rivers to say, "It is a concern. A big concern.")

While Green may be the bench's best and most versatile player, Rivers said he is turning to Dooling to be the leader of the reserves. The two have long been mutual admirers. Dooling was a first-round pick of the 2000 Orlando Magic, who had the reigning coach of the year, a 39-year-old former player named Doc Rivers. But Dooling was traded to the Clippers on draft night, part of the Magic's grand design to free cap space to pursue Tim Duncan.

By the time Dooling returned to play for Orlando, Rivers was coaching in Boston. Dooling also has played for Miami, New Jersey and Milwaukee and is respected enough by his peers to be on the executive board of the National Basketball Players Association. He's also feisty, once getting into a fight with Ray Allen.

Rivers said Dooling reminds him of Darrell Armstrong, one of the Celtics coach's favorite players. They don't have similar games, but, Rivers said, "they are both tough, really, really competitive players. That's great for us.

"Keyon is the captain of our bench, there's no doubt about it," Rivers went on. "Whether it's titled or not, he already has assumed that role."

Dooling's role lately, however, has been as a starter. Rajon Rondo has a sore right ankle and Dooling has been playing with the first unit. Pierce also has been out, with a sore right heel. Both starters are due back in a couple of days, Rivers said, but in the here and now, "not having two starters really hurts the bench because it can't get together. Keyon has yet to play with the second unit. It's affecting him. It's affecting Brandon Bass. It's affecting everyone. That's frustrating."

Ideally, the five players off the bench would be Dooling (point guard), Avery Bradley (shooting guard), Green (small forward/power forward), Bass (center/power forward) and Wilcox (power forward). Daniels, who can play three positions, also is in the mix, giving Rivers a potentially deep and experienced group of reserves.

"He's playing great," Rivers said of Daniels, who missed much of last season following a scary collision that resulted in a bruised spinal cord. "He's moving well. He's not afraid at all of taking charges, being physical and that's great."

One change from last season will be moving Bradley out of the point guard position. Although he played sparingly last season as a rookie, the Celtics thought Bradley would fit in as Rondo's backup, especially with his on-the-ball defense.

But with Dooling, Bradley is now being moved to the so-called 2 spot, even though he's not exactly going to bring up visions of Ray Allen when he launches the ball. He shot 34 percent from the field last season and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. He also missed half of his 12 free throw attempts.

"Avery has a chance at the 2-guard spot to make some hay," Rivers said. "I think the experiment of trying to force him into the point guard spot was, in my opinion, a mistake. We've got to make him a player."

Last season, the Celtics had a terrific bench on paper. But injuries and inconsistent play never allowed Rivers to have the five players he originally thought he'd have all available at the same time. So, while liking the experience of the newbies, he added, "It's really nice, but we need them to be healthy and we need them to play well."

Pierce also said he likes the new arrivals. More than once, he mentioned that they are all veterans who bring experience and a degree of hunger to the team.

"I think they're going to be great," Pierce said. "And we're going to need them. With the back-to-backs, with games crammed in such a short period of time, we're going be asking a lot of them."

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.