Commentary

Celtics rookies pass first test

Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph experience flavor of Boston

Updated: July 3, 2012, 2:01 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

ALLSTON, Mass. -- When the Boston Celtics introduced their 2012 draft picks on Monday, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge cracked jokes about Fab Melo's academic troubles, team owner Wyc Grousbeck told second-round draft pick Kris Joseph that Paul Pierce will try to destroy him in practice, and it seemed the only thing anyone wanted to ask Jared Sullinger about was his bad back and plunge down the draft board.

Welcome to Boston, rookies. This can be a tough crowd.

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaJared Sullinger rolled with some barbs from Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.

Nothing comes easy around here for first-year players, most notably driving and generating consistent playing time in Doc Rivers' rotations. Finding your way around Boston -- and onto the court at TD Garden -- will be far more daunting than the friendly barbs during Monday's introductions at a community event at the Jackson Mann/Horace Mann Educational Complex.

To their credit, the newbies all seemed ready for what they got. For instance, Joseph was asked about having a fellow Syracuse product on the roster to ease his transition to the NBA.

"I sent [Melo] a text immediately after I found out where I was going and the first thing I thought was that we'll be making those late-night runs to wherever for the veterans together," Joseph said.

Yes, as the likes of Avery Bradley can attest, rookies have got to earn their stripes around here in the Big Three era. In Year 1, a rookie might get a better workout making the pregame run to a nearby supermarket for the peanut butter and jelly (make sure you get both strawberry and grape, guys) than he'll get on the court (rookies are lucky to dress and are left hoping for some trash-time minutes).

But as far as first impressions go, these kids did themselves well. They handled everything the media could throw at them and immersed themselves in the student activities as the team dedicated a Celtics-themed library and multipurpose learning room.

And there were plenty of laughs from the witty one-liners being thrown around.

After Melo introduced his business manager, Rodrigo Viegas, Ainge couldn't resist quipping, "Is Rodrigo your academic advisor, as well?" Melo seemed prepared for the questions (and barbs) about his academic woes at Syracuse and -- like his best asset on the court -- played quality defense to those queries, suggesting it is a non-issue now that he's at the NBA level.

Joseph spoke with poise about taking Melo under his wing at Syracuse, the transition from a collegiate zone defense, wanting to compete for a spot with the Celtics and the idea of learning from Pierce. Joseph didn't blink when Grousbeck lunged at his microphone to warn him about the competitiveness of Pierce and how he'll attempt to attack the rookie in practice sessions.

But Sullinger drew most of the attention and with good reason. While Melo is considered a bit of a project as the Celtics try to hone his raw skills and Joseph faces an uphill battle to earn a roster spot as a second-round pick, Sullinger is a lottery-caliber draftee whose red-flagged back allowed the Celtics to scoop him up at No. 21.

Sullinger immediately downplayed any concerns about his back, saying, "I mean, honestly, I don't have any back problems."

Asked later about watching his draft stock tumble, so much so that he wasn't invited to Newark, N.J., where the top players gather each year to hear their names called, Sullinger suggested the whole process was a blessing in disguise.

"If you consider me landing with the Boston Celtics a drop, then I'd do it all over again, without a hesitation," he said. "Honestly, it's been like that all my life. Going into high school, they said I wouldn't be able to play that fast; going into college, that I wouldn't be able to keep up. So it's just the way I live my life, obviously. I'm just ready to get started."

Ainge playfully chided Sullinger when he failed to introduce super-agent David Falk when asked to identify his family and friends in attendance at Monday's event. The oversight didn't stop Falk from gushing about Sullinger and suggesting that he should use the draft slide as motivation.

"I told him I hope he doesn't have a chip on his shoulder, I hope he has a boulder," said Falk, who suggested there's an "inherent bias" against players with Sullinger's undersized body type at a big-man spot.

"I think Jared is a triple-A bond," Falk added. "He's going to provide value every night. He's going to get better. He may not have the upside of players, but he doesn't have the downside either. That's why 50 percent of the players drafted in the top 10 fail. And why only nine teams in 32 years have won championships. It's because [general managers] make the same mistakes, year after year, in evaluating players.

"Jared is not a sleeper. I'm thrilled he's here. Between playing for Doc Rivers and having a chance to play with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, he'll get a post-graduate education as a rookie."

Lesson 1 was Monday, and Sullinger and his rookie brethren passed with flying colors.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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