Celtics lay out rules for Marbury

LOS ANGELES – To a man, the Boston Celtics say they'll welcome Stephon Marbury, and that's understandable. Lose to the Los Angeles Clippers and, really, who are you to discriminate?

So Doc Rivers will coach Marbury, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will police him, and somewhere along these next six weeks the Celtics hope he buys into their belief that no one player is greater than the team.

"If you can't do that," Rivers said, "you're not here long."

Rivers didn't mention Marbury by name; he won't until the ink dries on Marbury's contract sometime Friday. But he also made it clear the Celtics already have expectations for their new guard. He will be asked to play a role, to sacrifice his game, to value winning over any personal agenda. And the only way this unlikely partnership works, is if the Celtics also make Marbury understand the consequences.

Fit in or you're out.

Marbury has to know this is his last chance, his only chance, to salvage his NBA career.

His New York Knicks teammates didn't want him. His coaches didn't want him. And, it appears, no team other than the Celtics truly wanted him. Asked to assess the free-agent market for Marbury, one Eastern Conference GM said, "I don't know if there is one."

When it comes to NBA reclamation projects, there is none bigger than Marbury, and yet these Celtics still see some value in him. Their opinion also is backed by a year's worth of precedent: After all, weren't some of these same Celtics saved only a season ago?

Before arriving in Boston, Garnett was the career All-Star who lifted his franchise out of the first round only once in 12 seasons. Allen, too, lacked a championship, and the Seattle SuperSonics thought it better to rebuild without him than to reload around him. All the losing in Boston had tarnished Pierce's own reputation, enough so that he was prepared to seek a trade if the Celtics didn't improve their roster. Even Rivers was one more lost season shy of losing his job.

Once united, Pierce, Garnett and Allen blended their games, forming the NBA's most imposing threesome. Their personal numbers suffered, but that mattered little when measured against the success of the team.

"Everybody that's here, we make plays to service the greater good," Allen said Tuesday morning.

In truth, the Celtics are the only team with the strength and temperament to rehab Starbury. Garnett played with him in Minnesota, and the Celtics believe KG's domineering personality can keep him on the straight and narrow, or at least as close to it as possible. And how can Marbury complain about having to play a role when the franchise's three stars have already sacrificed so much themselves?

"We've thrown all the individual stuff out the window, we've thrown our egos aside," Pierce said. "This is about winning. I think he'll understand that at this point in his career."

Added Allen: "The thing about all of us, doing less is more. Having him in the fold, he'll understand that immediately."

The Knicks will laugh at that, as will the Nets and Suns. Logic doesn't apply to Marbury. Since leaving Minnesota, he hasn't sacrificed anything but his own teams.

Even Rivers concedes this much: "You don't know a guy until you coach him, but you do know of him."

Still, the Celtics also know they need help. Their bench has never recovered from the off-season losses of James Posey and P.J. Brown, and now Tony Allen is likely out until at least the playoffs. Brian Scalabrine flew back to Boston before the end of the team's West Coast trip because of a strained neck and Garnett is out another week or two with a strained right knee. Pierce also dislocated his right thumb during the loss to the Clippers. Mikki Moore, recently cut loose by Sacramento, joined the Celtics on Wednesday, but he doesn't fill their need for a true backup point guard. Eddie House is better served playing off-guard where he doesn't have to bring the ball up the floor.

Marbury, who has never had trouble dribbling, could help solve that problem. He also could have been useful on the final possession of the Celtics' loss on Wednesday. With no timeouts and the length of the floor to go, it helps to have a guard who can dribble and shoot. And while Marbury hasn't played in a meaningful NBA game since Jan. 11, 2008, the Celtics will give him time to get in shape if conditioning is the worst of his issues.

"We understand the talent of Marbury," Pierce said. "It's undeniable."

Talent has never been Marbury's problem. It's his ability to play with others that's been questioned. He's started all but 11 of the 823 games he's played in his career, and now he'll be asked to come off the bench and likely make do with 15-18 minutes a night. Rajon Rondo has established himself enough this season to not have to look over his shoulder. The Celtics also are wise enough to understand the importance of their young point guard. They won't tolerate Marbury carping about minutes. Cutting him won't cost them much more than about $300,000.

When asked about the prospect of introducing such an incendiary personality into his locker room, Rivers spoke of the Celtics' character and experience. "I think this team can absorb it," he said. "If we can't, we'll find that out as well. We still have enough time to make changes."

Marbury has yet to sign with the Celtics and he's already been put on notice. Fit in or get out. For now, the NBA's reigning champions are ready to welcome the league's biggest reclamation project. It'll be up to him how long he stays.