While losing 57 games in a single NBA season is never fun for anyone, there are certain types of people who are better psychologically equipped to handle the ordeal than others. The Celtics' past season was a disaster, but they were lucky to have a coach in Brad Stevens who helped them make it out alive.
Stevens' steadying influence was invaluable in the TD Garden locker room. The team could have fallen apart and reached a state of anarchy by early April, but the coach's levelheadedness and maturity made sure that didn't happen. To the very end, the Celtics remained focused, hardworking and accountable for every success and every failure.
Well, here's the thing. If I'm going to praise the coach for his work ethic and unwavering positive attitude and all that, it would be hypocritical of me not to extend that same courtesy to players who likewise deserve it.
About Brandon Bass.
I'll be quick to confess that I've dished out more than my share of criticism this season at the Celtics' veteran power forward. I called him lazy, I called him overrated, and I mentioned more than a few times that his presence makes no sense on a rebuilding team loaded with bigs who are younger and show more promise for the future. And I still stand by some of that.
But after taking a few weeks to reflect upon this season and its place in the Celtics' big picture, I want to roll it back a little bit. Bass' basketball shortcomings aside, he was a very good guy to have around this year amid all the miserable on-court results. When you lose 11 of your last 13 games and 16 of your last 19, simply showing up to work every day is no small feat. A lot of players in that situation would find an excuse to coast into the early summer vacation, complaining about a minor injury or what have you. But Bass did nothing of the sort - to his credit he played all 82 games, he kept working, and he never complained for a second.
Productivity-wise, Bass was the same old Bass he's ever been, cranking out near-double-doubles at a respectable rate, finishing sixth on the team in scoring (11.1 points per game) and third in rebounding (5.7 boards). But there was something tantalizing about seeing the same old Bass this year. With Kevin Garnett out of the way and Bass firmly entrenched as the team's incumbent big man, the established veteran leader of that logjammed group, you expected him to do more. It was his time to step up.
Instead, you got more of the same - Bass was, as usual, a solid but not exceptional rotation player. There were times when you'd wish he could pick harder, roll quicker. Work harder for good looks at the basket. Bring more consistent effort on defense, even in tough matchups with bigger players (because lord knows he got stuck with a lot of those this season). Bass got the job done, but he was never transcendent in any area. You always wanted a little more.
But what difference would it have made? Again, the Celtics lost 57 games, which they hadn't done since Bass was in middle school. A tiny bit of extra oomph from the big fella wouldn't have made a tremendous difference. Years from now, no one will remember whether Bass scored 11 points per game or 13, or if his real plus-minus was -1.09 or -1.90 (for the record, it was the latter). What we'll take away from this season is Bass' humility and his attitude that remained positive through some tough times.
In December, he was bandied about in trade rumors involving Houston and Omer Asik; he blocked it out, kept his mouth shut and kept playing.
In January, he was yanked from the starting five after a brief slump, as Stevens went with a Kris Humphries/Jared Sullinger front line instead. Bass, who you could say had been entitled to a starting job ever since his role on that 2012 playoff team, had a right to make a stink about it; he didn't.
This is the kind of player Brandon Bass has always been. He'll never amaze you with highlight-reel plays or eye-popping numbers, but he'll do his job every day without even a whiff of drama. On a team like this year's Celtics (hey, have I mentioned yet they lost 57 games?), that's what you need.
It was Bass' attitude, not so much his on-court stardom, that earned him the Red Auerbach Award this season, given to the player who best exemplifies the Celtics' spirit. You'd be hard-pressed to find a statistical category where Bass led the team, but that's not the point. This roster was a dud regardless of Bass' productivity, but his other attributes helped the team make it out alive.
What does this mean for the future? Eh, who knows. He still doesn't make a lot of sense on a rebuilding team, but through this depressing pre-rebuild period with the Celtics bottoming out, he was a good guy to have around. I wouldn't want to lose 57 games with anyone else.