Doc Rivers, coach of the Boston Celtics, still has the mindset of a floor general. He is exploring the acquisition of Marbury from all angles, sizing up the scene and deciding if it is best to drive straight ahead or pass. Most NBA observers expect Rivers and the Celtics to pick the first option when Marbury clears waivers around 10 a.m. Friday, and add the mercenary guard to Boston's roster just in time for another playoff push.
The move could fail spectacularly, with Marbury damaging the defending champions, a team that has succeeded brilliantly on equal parts talent and chemistry. Dividing and destroying has been Marbury's modus operandi everywhere he's traveled, from Minnesota to New Jersey, from Phoenix to his last, phenomenally disastrous five-year stint in New York. Or -- and this is what Rivers and the Celtics are betting -- Marbury could finally accept that the orange orb does not revolve around him, and humbly ease into a reserve spot behind Rajon Rondo, for a prorated veteran minimum of $1.3 million over the rest of the season.
Per NBA rules, Rivers can't talk publicly about a player on waivers, but a coach told me Thursday he's one of several who have called Rivers, to offer words of caution. Rivers listens, but seems to have made up his mind.
"Doc knows what he's doing. He knows there's a side of Marbury that is very toxic," said the coach, who asked to remain anonymous because he doesn't want to be accused of tampering. "Doc has heard all the stories, but it looks like he's willing to take a chance. If he even looks the wrong way at Doc or causes any problems, all the Celtics have to do is cut him. This is Marbury's last chance. He should be glad the Celtics are willing to take a risk on him."
Boston's gamble means the Celtics will have sold a slice of their soul. Injuries to Kevin Garnett and Tony Allen have forced Rivers to search elsewhere for temporary explosion, and Marbury, despite his deteriorating skills and considerable rust, still has pop. Folks in Boston are likening Marbury's arrival to Manny Ramirez' departure out of Boston, or Randy Moss' appearance in Foxboro. Individuals don't matter much, as long as they produce. Sometimes it really is all about the laundry.
The Celtics have proven they're a nice homestead for odd pieces. Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and even Rivers discovered new life in Boston, so maybe it really is the perfect fit for Marbury. Maybe he'll be on his best behavior, a whirl of energy off the bench and on the wing for 15-20 minutes a game, and a positive influence in the locker room. He's never shown he's capable of playing for anyone but himself, never indicated he's about the team, but at 32 and on the back end of a monster contract, it would be a fine time to start.
"It's about our locker room," Rivers told reporters Thursday night. "It always has been and it always will be. If I don't think our locker room's right, it'll get right. I think we have a great group. We have a high-character team. I think this team can absorb it, and if we can't, then we'll find that out as well. Every player who comes here has to commit to winning."
Danny Ainge, the Celtics general manager, began exploring the procurement of Marbury in January, after the Knicks exiled Marbury for refusing to suit up in game. Ainge asked his big three if they could stomach playing with Marbury should he and the Knicks eventually reach a buyout agreement (it was finalized Tuesday). Pierce, Allen and Garnett acquiesced: Garnett's approval was especially interesting, considering Marbury couldn't abide sharing the spotlight with Garnett in Minnesota years ago. Marbury's ability to score off the drive, his long-range shooting and ball-handling skills apparently mean more to the current Celtics than his tempestuous past. He can defend bigger guards and lesson the pressure in the reserve backcourt on Eddie House, and Garnett's status and mega contract are no longer Marbury's business.
"Hopefully if he comes over here he can understand that we're all about winning," Pierce said in Los Angeles. "We've thrown all the individual stuff out the window. We've thrown our egos all on the side. It's just about winning at this point. I think he'll understand that, especially at this point in his career. I think all he wants to do is win.
"You just try to help them understand what we're all about, the sacrifices we need and everybody understanding their role. Everybody has a part to play, and that's the reason why we win."
Added Allen, "Everybody that's on this team has had to make some type of sacrifice. Having him in the fold, he'll understand that immediately. We don't require him to come here and score points. We require him to come here and make our team better by being able to control the team, by being able to use his speed and quickness."
If the Celtics sound naive, it's because only Garnett has experienced up close the full destructive tendencies of Marbury. If Marbury seems like a natural, albeit brief fit, it's because he hasn't yet found a way to disrupt the Celtics.
Pardon the skepticism from this long-time Marbury chronicler, but his list of transgressions is simply too long to ignore. I was in Madison Square Garden the night Stephon's father collapsed during a Knicks game and later died of a heart attack, one of the saddest stories I've ever covered. I wanted nothing more than for Marbury to regain the joy basketball brought him as a boy out of Lincoln High on Coney Island, wanted him to succeed as a hometown hero on the court of the World's Most Famous Arena, but all Marbury did was continue to sabotage himself, his teammates and the team that eventually chose to stop coddling him.
It's difficult to say which bizarre episode most defined Marbury's tenure as a Knick. Was it when he testified at Anucha Browne Sanders' sexual harassment trial against coach Isiah Thomas and MSG about having sex with a Garden intern, romantically wooing her with the now infamous line, "Are you getting in the truck?" Marbury's testimony doomed Thomas and the Knicks, and eventually proved to be the final rip in Marbury's once-cozy relationship with Thomas.
Weeks later, on the team's charter flight to Phoenix, Thomas informed Marbury he would not start against the Suns. Marbury went AWOL and, according to the New York Daily News, threatened to "bury" Thomas by revealing embarrassing details about him. Though his teammates voted unanimously that Marbury should be benched the next night against the Los Angeles Clippers, Marbury returned and played 34 minutes, adding more intrigue to the sordid soap opera.
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Marbury's feud with Thomas hardly stood alone. He never welcomed the teaching or advice of coaches Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown or, most recently, Mike D'Antoni. Marbury's final moment as a Knick was obscene in its own way, another act of petulance from a player whose career is defined by selfishness. Even though the Knicks were shorthanded and even though Marbury was healthy, he declined to play in a November game against Milwaukee, and did so again five days later in Detroit. The Knicks fined him $400,000, money they recouped this week when the two sides agreed to a buyout in which Marbury, who was scheduled to earn $20.9 million in the final year of his contract, agreed to forfeit approximately $2 million in order to gain his freedom.
Marbury's swath of odd behavior cuts across many corners. Even his bargain basement signature shoes, such generous antidotes to the outrageously prized sneakers hawked by his peers, became tainted after reports surfaced of Marbury screaming at executives of the now-bankrupt Steve & Barry's. Their crime? In Marbury's eyes, they placed higher marketing value in Sarah Jessica Parker's fashion line. He never could shake the me-first mantra.
All hail the Celtics if they can cure the self-anointed best point guard in the league of an egomania that has been his curse since he was the teenage king of Brooklyn's school yards. Marbury missed most of last season with ankle problems and hasn't played in more than a year. Most everywhere he goes, his team posts a losing record, until he leaves, and then they start to win, a statistic that bodes well for the Knicks. Marbury hasn't won a playoff series since 1998, after which he decided he couldn't co-exist with Garnett and demanded a trade.
If he is still playing in June as a Celtic, if Rivers doesn't live to regret taking on a proven malcontent, Marbury ought to thank Knicks president Donnie Walsh for treating Marbury better than he deserved. Marbury walked out on his employer several times and yet Walsh set Marbury free, rather than keep him through the weekend and thus render him ineligible to play for another team in the playoffs. The buyout mercifully ended one of the worst chapters in team annals
Suddenly, Marbury is talking sense, like a man who has finally understood individual sacrifices lead to the greater good. The Celtics better hope his epiphany isn't more of Marbury's typical hogwash.
"One person can't bring you to the playoffs or win a championship," Marbury told the New York Post. "Michael Jordan proved it. You need a team to do it. I respect the fans, but it takes a team to do it, not an individual. People want to put the blame on me, that's fine."
There's a strain of victimhood screaming from that last sentence, typical Marbury. The Celtics, as dignified a team as you'll find, are trying to two-peat, to win another ring. Marbury is playing for his next contract. Rivers has to know he's flirting with an unnatural combination.
Fifteen months ago, in the heady moments before it all went sour with the Knicks, before he quit on the team and threatened to spill the dirt on his coach, Marbury revealed his true essence.
"If I didn't play the way how I played, I wouldn't have gotten no max contract," he told New York magazine. "They can talk about whatever they wanna talk about me, because I got maxed. I'm a max player. Don't get mad at me, because I'm telling you what's real. One plus one is two, all day long, and it's never gonna change. And that's factorial."
He's right, it probably is never gonna change. Let the buyer beware.