BOSTON – Jabari Bird would be on the TD Garden parquet working with the Celtics strength and conditioning staff, hours away from a playoff game tipping off.
Drills focused on dribbling and footwork became a staple of Bird’s routine.
And the game would start.
- MORE CELTICS - Five players to watch on the C's summer league team
He would watch and learn from the bench, a scene that in many ways symbolized the state of his still-young NBA career: so close and yet so far away from playing.
As a two-way player with the Celtics last season, Bird was ineligible to play in the postseason.
But being around the team, and seeing what went into preparing for what was a wildly successful playoff run, has only provided additional motivation heading into summer league play which begins tonight against Philadelphia.
“It was a great experience, being up close and personal at the Eastern Conference finals watching some of the best basketball players in the world go at it,” Bird said. “I was taking mental notes in my head the whole series so I’m going to take what I learned from the playoffs and try to apply it in the summer league.”
For Bird, even without that experience, he would be coming into summer league this year with a slightly different mindset.
“Last year coming in being a rookie, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Bird said. “I was kind of just going off instinct. Now coming back to my second year doing it, I have a better feel for the offense, what we want to do defensively. I just feel a lot more comfortable in my game this year than I was last summer.”
Having that experience isn’t the only thing different going into this summer league for the 6-foot-6 guard/forward.
Bird has also drawn interest from other NBA teams that might make it difficult for the Celtics to keep Bird, who is a restricted free agent.
It isn’t because re-signing Bird is pricey.
The issue becomes how much will it cost Boston to re-sign Marcus Smart and whether that deal pushes them into the luxury-tax class.
Still, if re-signing Smart doesn’t push Boston into the luxury-tax zone, but adding Bird on top of a Smart re-signing would, it’s not a given that Boston would eat the luxury-tax cost associated with keeping Bird around.
Bird feels fortunate to be in a position where he has drawn interest from teams besides the Celtics, despite having an injury-riddled rookie season.
“It’s a blessing,” Bird said, adding, “Having the injuries last year, not really knowing my situation going into the next season. But for me, it’s part of my process, you know for me I always wanted to be an NBA player, full-time, on the roster, one through 15.”
And that is the focus for him this summer, to perform well enough to garner one of the team’s 15 roster spots.
Bird showed promise at the end of the season when the Celtics rested many of their regulars while providing an opportunity for young players such as Bird to get on the floor.
It has positioned him to be on an NBA roster, whether it’s in Boston or elsewhere.
“Whatever happens this summer,” Bird said, “I’m looking forward to it.”