As a purveyor of bad puns, the subject line, "Doubt the Glove fits, but… “ was reason enough to click the Gary Payton-themed email.
One of our fine editors here at NBC Sports Boston sent along the Yahoo! Sports story with Payton expressing a desire to join an NBA coaching staff and wondered out loud if he made sense for the Boston Celtics.
Given how many times I’ve typed the sentence, “Marcus Smart is trying to become the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton,” I’ll admit that my mind immediately wandered to the possibility of Smart and 52-year-old Payton engaging in a scoreless, three-hour, post-practice game of 1-on-1.
But as former NBA guards flood the coaching ranks, it did at least make me ponder the benefits of adding a former NBA star to Brad Stevens’ coaching staff.
The Celtics, it should be noted, are not devoid of NBA experience as Jerome Allen logged 117 games in the mid-90s. And Stevens’ staff is filled with highly intelligent coaches with plenty of basketball experience. Top assistant Jay Larranaga played internationally, while Joe Mazzulla turned down overseas options after a successful college career at West Virginia to get into coaching.
Let’s remember, too, that Danny Ainge might not be on the bench but he’s not bashful with instruction to his players.
The Celtics previously had Walter McCarty as their primary NBA alum on the bench before he took a college coaching job. Stevens’ staff lost an assistant when Kara Lawson took the head coaching position for Duke women’s basketball.
To be certain, it’s a good time to be a former NBA point guard looking for coaching work. Steve Nash vaulted straight to head coach with the Nets; the Clippers promoted Ty Lue, who plans to bring Chauncey Billups aboard as lead assistant; and Doc Rivers landed in Philadelphia after being dismissed in LA. The Lakers just won a title with Jason Kidd a lead assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff.
In the aftermath of Boston’s playoff exit, it’s often been suggested that the Celtics might need a veteran player on their bench. When we posed that question to Brian Scalabrine earlier this week on the Celtics Talk podcast, he was unsure how much of a need it was considering the Celtics seem to have hard-working young players who don’t necessarily need a veteran voice to push them to improve.
Could a veteran coach help? It probably depends on the situation. It’s fun to think about how Payton might bring some additional defensive tenacity to a Celtics team that already ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive rating this past season.
Payton has some Boston ties, too. He played 77 games here during the 2004-05 season after Ainge snagged him in a deal with the Lakers. The Celtics actually traded him away to Atlanta that season but Payton was waived a short time after and re-signed with Boston while citing a desire to help the younger players he had been nurturing here.
We’re not ready to make the leap that Payton is someone the Celtics absolutely need to add to their staff. From Allen, Larranaga, and Mazzulla to Jamie Young, Scott Morrison, and Brandon Bailey, Boston is well-stocked with assistants. And that doesn’t take into account other player-enhancement contributors like Tony Dobbins, Kenny Graves, Matt Reynolds, and Evan Bradds.
Payton's NBA resume, and his big-game experience, simply make him an intriguing candidate for any team willing to take him up on his offer.