Wilcox rediscovering winning feeling with Celtics

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Wilcox rediscovering winning feeling with Celtics

Chris Wilcox won the state 2A championship with his Whiteville High School (NC) team as a junior in 1999. He won the NCAA national championship with the Maryland Terrapins as a sophomore in 2002.

So what's he won in the NBA?

. . . (Crickets) . . .

Going into his 11th NBA season on his sixth team, Wilcox has yet to feel something literally half the players in the NBA feel each year: the playoffs.

It's not all his fault. After all, he was drafted by the Clippers a team that at the time was going nowhere, fast. That transition from a winning culture to a losing one was a shock.

"It was tough because growing up you're always on kind of a winning-type team, then all of a sudden you get to the league and your first year you don't win 20 games, then the next year you win like 22 games," Wilcox recalled. "And it's just like, 'Dang, I can't get a break,' you know what I mean? We got a good squad but we can't win nothing. And it was tough."

Those first two seasons would be a pretty good representation of how the next seven would be. Three-and-a-half seasons into his Clippers career, the team started to win some, but around that same time Wilcox had fallen out of favor with them. He was then traded to Seattle for Vladimir Radmanovic, but that trade was the first of many moves Seattle would make and not to better the team.

"Then it seems like OK, bam, I get my break and I go to Seattle, and as soon as I get to Seattle they break that whole team up, you know what I mean?" he said. "Then it's like boom. Then they move the team to Oklahoma, as soon as I get adjusted to Oklahoma, I get traded to New York (he was originally part of a package to playoff-bound New Orleans in a deal for Tyson Chandler, but Chandler failed the physical), and then Oklahoma goes to the playoffs. So then it's like alright here we go again."

Bam. Boom. A lot of sound signifying nothing. Statistically, Wilcox had his best years in Seattle the team just didn't win. He ended the 2008-09 season in a limited role on a bad Knicks team.

"When I got to New York, it didn't last long and then the end of the season, boom, that was over with. Then I get to Detroit (2009-11), they've been a winning program so I'm like, 'OK, bam, I finally get to go to the playoffs.' I get there . . . no playoffs. So it's just been tough for me, but finally I get to a situation where we have a chance to win it."

Wilcox once a proven winner wouldn't let the losses beat him down to the point where he accepted them and went through the motions, but his stats and his team's performance didn't always tell that story. While frantically piecing together a team in a lockout-shortened offseason last year, Danny Ainge gave Wilcox's agent a call. Doc Rivers knew he could get more out of him.

There would be no mistakes this time around: The Celtics were absolutely, 100-percent-without-a-doubt making the playoffs, and Wilcox looked to have a big role in it. Immediately that season he connected with C's point guard Rajon Rondo, and it was finally finally! going to happen: the playoffs.

"Last season, I get right there, and it's like, 'Hold up, you're not ready for it.' "

Another obstacle not a trade got in the way. Wilcox was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta. He needed surgery and would miss the rest of the season. The Celtics had no choice but to release him shortly after the news; they needed a body. Just like that, the playoffs escaped Wilcox again, this time in the unlikeliest of ways. But while he wasn't technically on the team, he found out that he was by no means on his own either.

"It takes you to go through something to realize what you really have in the end . . ." he said.

The Celtics and Wilcox agreed on a one-year deal for the veterans minimum in July. The decision to return was an easy one for him, but perhaps it was for a different reason than the first go-around.

"This is family to me," Wilcox said. "When I was at my lowest point in life, these were the guys that were with me, these were the guys that were calling, checking up on me making sure I was straight, making sure I had the right doctors, things like that. So I knew that there was no question that if they even called me there was no question that I was coming back, you know what I mean? Despite the money and everything, this is a more family-oriented team and this is what I wanted to be around."

It's taken 10 seasons and a heart condition, but Wilcox has finally found a team that he loves, one that loves him back.

And he'd love to make the playoffs with them, too.

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.