Celtics

Satch's induction honors contributions on, off the court

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Satch's induction honors contributions on, off the court

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
SPRINGFIELD, MA. For Tom Sanders, life in the NBA has never been about numbers, unless you're talking about championships.

He was a key cog in Boston's NBA reign in the 1960s, but his greatest impact had little to do with points - and everything to do with people.

Sanders played an integral role in the establishment of the several NBA programs that would go on to help rookies deal with the various challenges they would face as professional players on and off the court; programs that would go on to help shape similar transition programs in other professional sports leagues.

For years, Sanders' efforts went unnoticed.

Not anymore.

Sanders was among the 10 individuals chosen as members of the 2011 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class. Sanders enters the Hall of Fame as a contributor, which was voted on by the veteran's committee.

"He has been an enormous asset to the NBA," said Celtics great Bill Russell, during a video tribute to Sanders. Satch understood to lead, is to serve."

Joining Sanders in the 2011 Hall of Fame class were former NBA players Dennis Rodman, Artis Gilmore, Arvydas Sabonis and Chris Mullin along with four-time NCAA women's coach of the year Tara VanDerveer, four-time Olympic gold medalist Teresa Edwards, all-time NCAA wins leader at Philadelphia University and former Boston Celtics draft pick (1963, No. 62 overall pick) Herb Magee, coaching legend Tex Winter and former Harlem Globetrotter Reece "Goose" Tatum who was honored posthumously.

And in typical Sanders style, his opening remarks during his acceptance speech began with congratulating the other nine members of the Hall of Fame class.

"The quintessential team member was Tom Sanders, who had a very selfless role as a player," said Sanders' former Celtics teammate Tommy Heinsohn, Hall of Fame class of 1986 who was chosen by Sanders as his presenter. "He (Sanders) was a guy, I termed him the second best defender on a very good defensive team next to Bill Russell. But he was never recognized in the league for that."

A 13-year NBA veteran, Sanders was part of eight championship teams in Boston.

Only former teammates Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10) can boast more championship bling-bling than Sanders.

And while Russell and Jones' contributions were clearly seen, the role that Sanders played in the Celtics' success often went overlooked by those not donning the Green and White.

"Oh, we knew how valuable he was," Heinsohn said. "When you have all that talent like we did, you don't win unless guys accept their roles. Satch had a role, and he played that role to the best of his ability every night. He meant as much to our success as guys like (Bill) Russell, like Sam Jones, myself. "

At 6-foot-6, Sanders was the Celtics' top perimeter defender, drawing such daunting defensive assignments such as guarding Oscar Robertson or Elgin Baylor.

Sanders said it was former New York Knick forward Mel Hutchins and former Celtic Bill Sharman who made him "really begin to think about playing serious defense."

"He (Hutchins) was so smooth defensively, always in the right place," Sanders told CSNNE.com moments after delivering his acceptance speech. "I thought to myself, 'I sure hope one day I can play like that.'"

Sanders would have days - years, actually - where his defense would be one of the keys to Boston's run atop the NBA.

So while much of the attention back then was paid to the Celtics' bevvy of dynamic players, Sanders' defense was also an important part of the C's championship ways.

But Sanders could score, despite averaging just 9.6 points per game in 916 NBA games.

When the Boston Celtics drafted Sanders with the eighth overall pick in 1960, Sanders knew it would be difficult to score like he did at NYU where he finished his career as the team's all-time second leading scorer.

"I would have liked to have been a scorer, a star and all those kind of things," Sanders said. "But the reality was I had to find a way to fit."

And the best way to fit, was to simply do something that addresses a specific need, like defending at a high level.

"The reality was I had to find a way to make that team," Sanders said. "To make that team, I had to fit that particular role."

The Celtics were already an established NBA power at the time.

Sanders didn't want to do anything to disrupt that.

"One thing I didn't want to do was become the guy that was drafted and that was there, and not have them win," Sanders told CSNNE.com recently. "That was a heck of a burden. And then we kept on winning, and the burden is now on the shoulders of some other rookie's shoulder that comes in."

With the Celtics continuing to dominate the NBA landscape, Sanders steadily grew into more and more of a leadership role.

But as he grew older, wisdom set in.

And as that wisdom led him to look forward to a post-basketball life, it actually brought him back to where his NBA hoops dreams became reality.

A transition program for incoming rookies was unprecedented, and paved the way for other programs to follow that benefit players.

The fruits of that labor can be seen throughout the NBA now, with a number of players like Chauncey Billups recognizing just how valuable Sanders' contributions have been to the game of basketball.

"It's a long time coming," Billups told CSNNE.com. "Everybody knows what he means. He came into league, was active, tried to give these younger guys a voice in what's going on. He's done so many great things beyond the game.

Billups added, "I can only imagine how alone I would have felt and guys like me when they got to the NBA would have felt, if it wasn't for the programs he started."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Only thing the Celtics need to change right now is their attitude

Only thing the Celtics need to change right now is their attitude

Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, typically loquacious in his responses, offered a notably gnomic retort when asked Sunday how Boston might find the consistency that the team so clearly lacked during an unsavory road trip.

"Two controllable things,” said Irving, “attitude and effort.”

There will be plenty of ink spilled the next few days trying to diagnose what ails these Celtics amid an uneven 7-6 start to the 2018-19 season. Some will suggest possible lineup changes, others will ponder whether a larger roster shakeup might eventually be needed further out. Ultimately, much of Boston’s struggles might be alleviated with three things.

Attitude. Effort. And a much more favorable schedule ahead.

To be certain, the only thing consistent about the Celtics early in the new seasons has been their inconsistency. Boston has bursts of offensive pulchritude that might make the Warriors blush (see: first half in Denver, second half in Phoenix) then endure maddening stretches of two-way ineptitude that defy all reason  (see: first half in Phoenix and Portland).

It’d almost be easier if Boston’s struggles could be pinned on one player and coach Brad Stevens could make a reactionary change. But as much as some want to lament Gordon Hayward’s dawdling reintegration or Jaylen Brown’s struggles to assert himself in a new role, the Celtics’ struggles run deeper than a single player.

Every rotation player on the roster has struggled in one way or another recently. Al Horford shot 18.8 percent from the 3-point arc on the 5-game road trip; Irving was spectacular offensively but had some maddening defensive lapses (including on VIctor Oladipo’s game-winner to start the trip in Indy); Jayson Tatum’s shot selection was widely panned before he finally started attacking the basket in Utah (and then he was rewarded when his 3-point shot got hot in Portland); and the entire B.W.A. seemed unable to sustain a high level of play on the rare occasions the starters were actually clicking.

The Celtics are undeniably in their own heads. They believed their own hype before the season and haven’t seemed to want to put in the sort of sustained effort necessary to actually be a great team.

Maybe that’s why Marcus Smart implored his teammates to quit making excuses after Sunday’s comeback effort in Portland fell short. The Celtics got themselves to the fringe of the NBA Finals last season by routinely outworking their opponents despite not always having the most talent on the floor.

With Irving and Hayward healthy again, the Celtics are undeniably stocked with talent but are now struggling to figure out how all the puzzle pieces work together. Until they do, they have to get back to simply outworking opponents.

"Energy, effort, those are the things that always have to be there,” said Horford.

That they haven’t been there is an indictment on the whole team, including the head coach. Brad Stevens tried to take some of the pressure off his players by absorbing blame for the team’s inconsistencies after the loss in Portland, even if it’s not his fault the Celtics have been impossibly poor shooting wide-open looks. Still, the team’s lulls have snowballed and Stevens has to be better at shaking his team from those doldrums, even if it means leaning on his whiteboard to break scoring droughts.

It’s maybe no coincidence that, on the night Boston stormed back in Phoenix, it was the second-half insertion of Smart to the first unit that helped spark that comeback. The Celtics are desperate right now for energy-givers. When Boston needed a jolt in Portland, it was Smart wrestling offensive rebounds away to generate much-needed second-chance opportunities.

It’s absolutely fair to wonder if the Celtics need some sort of rotation alteration, if only to shake things up a bit. But, even 13 games in, it would be reactionary to start really shuffling things up. Some will suggest the team needs to revert to last year’s starting lineup with Aron Baynes providing a big body up front. But despite all that ails this team, the Celtics still rank as the No. 1 defense in the league and sit eighth in defensive rebound rate. Baynes helps the effort quotient with his hard-nosed play but doesn’t necessarily cure the offensive struggles that the Celtics’ first unit has routinely experienced.

The Celtics quietly ramped Hayward’s minutes up on the final game of the road trip, playing him 31 minutes, including a rare crunch-time cameo. He’s clearly still finding his way as evidenced by his hesitation at times on both ends of the floor. Teams have targeted him defensively and he’s had rough stretches. The fear from this vantage point would be that, any move to put him on the second unit only adds another thing to his head as he tries to get over all the mental hurdles working his way back from the ankle injury. Stevens might be better off subbing Hayward early and giving him extended run with reserve groupings where he can handle the ball more, rather than shuffling him off the starting group just as his availability begins to extend.

Amid the frustrations about Boston’s play consider this: The Celtics still rank fourth overall in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, sitting behind only the Warriors, Bucks, and Raptors (and one spot ahead of the Portland team it lost to on Sunday).

The Celtics have played a daunting early season schedule, with an increased difficulty from the long road trip early in the calendar. BPI has Boston with the ninth toughest schedule in the league but only the Bucks have played a tougher slate among East teams (not that that makes it any easier to see Milwaukee three games up in the standings despite Boston’s head-to-head win).

Boston’s position might be slightly inflated by a defense that is absurdly outpacing the rest of the league. Boston ranks 17th in offensive BPI but gets a huge jolt from their defense.

But the computer model remains particularly bullish on Boston and even projected these early struggles. BPI’s expectation was a 2-3 road trip for Boston and the only game that didn’t play out to projection was in Indiana, a game that the Celtics should have won if not for Oladipo’s heroics. Incredibly, the Celtics are currently BPI favored in their next 45 (FORTY-FIVE!) games (that’ll change with a larger sample of games but it’s still jarring to see). Now, keep in mind there are games in that stretch that they are less than a point favorites, but Boston isn’t a full-fledged BPI underdog again until a visit to Milwaukee on Feb. 21.

No one expects the team to launch into some sort of absurd winning streak. And they might not beat Chicago if they display the sort of inconsistencies they’ve shown early in the season. But there’s potential to gain some steam here. There’s potential to rebuild some confidence.

If this team starts playing with attitude and effort, these games will more routinely tip in their favor.

And, if they don’t, then we can talk about bigger changes. Right now, this team simply needs an attitude adjustment and an effort injection  — and maybe a little bit of homecooking.

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