Sullinger ready to be a leader for young Celtics

Sullinger ready to be a leader for young Celtics
July 8, 2013, 3:00 pm
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Heading into what will be his second NBA season, Jared Sullinger has long since had the basketball wisdom of a player much older.

With a series of roster-cleansing moves by the Celtics this offseason -- and more to come -- the C's have little choice but to look toward the 21-year-old as one of the team's leaders.  

Sullinger is up for the challenge.

Despite still being on the mend from back surgery in February, there's no mistaking his presence with the C's summer league team. 

Sullinger was on the bench during Boston's 95-88 summer league loss to Orlando on Sunday, doing his part to help the players who have lots of the same questions and concerns that he had a year ago this time. 

"Sully's so smart," said C's summer league coach Jay Larranaga. "Everything he said was right on point. It's a real advantage, almost as much of an advantage if he was on the court."

Indeed, Sullinger's basketball I.Q. was among the many traits the Celtics have been impressed with from the moment they drafted him.

"He's been smart since . . . if we had the 15-year-old Jared Sullinger on the bench, he would be giving us suggestions and ideas," Larranaga said. "Age, I don't think, matters."

But with Sullinger's intelligence comes an unspoken confidence that seems to walk that fine line that exists between confidence and cockiness.

"I'm not ashamed of showing my basketball I.Q.," Sullinger said. 

And his future teammates seem to be more than willing to embrace whatever advice or suggestions he has for them.

Even rookie Kelly Olynyk, who's actually older than Sullinger.

"He's great on the bench just helping me out," said Olynyk, 22.

During Sunday's loss to Orlando, Olynyk missed a defensive assignment which Sullinger didn't waste any time letting him know about. 

"(Magic guard Victor) Oladipo was coming down the lane and I missed a tag on him," Olynyk recalled, adding that Sullinger is "just trying to help me out any way he can. It's great to have him there."

As much as Sullinger's wisdom and understanding of the game is important, the C's will need him to step his game up and be more of a leader to help fill the void left by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. 

And although the expectations for the Celtics will be relatively low in NBA circles, Sullinger remains confident that the C's anticipated demise has been greatly exaggerated.

"When you have Celtic pride, you don't really have time to rebuild," Sullinger said. "You have to play hard; you have to play smart. I think with the veterans we have . . . everybody counts us out but we still got Rondo. He won a championship in '08. He knows what it takes. And with [Garnett] instilling the will, the power, the intensity in all of us, within that one year especially with me . . . that word rebuild, I really don't like it."