On the most recent Vertical Podcast with Woj, Adrian Wojnarowski talked with NBA front office insider Bobby Marks. They discuss a number of topics, but the one that should raise eyebrows for Celtics fans was Blake Griffin. Woj, who is as tapped in as anyone in the history of NBA media, mentioned the Celtics will consider signing Griffin when he’s a free agent this summer. That part isn’t really news. What should get fans excited was this line: “Blake Griffin was there when Paul Piece came in for his last game with the Clippers. He saw how Boston reacted to Paul Pierce and what it means to have been a great player in Boston. It did not go unnoticed with him (Griffin) about how that building loved Paul. They (the Celtics) are certainly a threat in this (signing Griffin).”
CelticsBlog followed up with four free agents this summer to get their thoughts on Celtics fans impacting the way free agents think about Boston as an option. Two of the free agents are prominent players, and two are veterans who have been around the NBA for years.
One prominent free agent from the Western Conference said: “I only get to play there once a year, but you can feel it. The fans are crazy. Even when they were bad, those fans were there. When we were bad, our building was silent. And we all saw the way they sent off Paul. It was amazing. Cheering an opposing player like that doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
A veteran free agent told CelticsBlog: “The Paul salute was incredible. That happens sometimes, but you would think Boston would be spoiled. They win all the time in every sport and have retired almost every number. But they still love their guys. I had tears in my eyes watching that. And it went on all game long, not just at intros and at the end. They blew up like it was a title-winning shot when he hit that three. Like I said, tears man. Something you don’t see anywhere else.”
Another veteran free agent from the Eastern Conference said: “It wasn’t just the sendoff for the Truth. Those fans were chanting like crazy at the end of Game 5 when the team was getting killed by Cleveland. There are other great fans, but none are better than Boston. And that matters. I remember playing them in the playoffs when they had Paul, KG (Kevin Garnett) and Ray (Allen) and we had to scream during huddles to hear each other. That is during huddles when the crowd usually quiets down. As a player, you can use that lift. Those fans matter.”
When asked if it could impact a free agent decision, a prominent Eastern Conference free agent told CelticsBlog: “Absolutely. No one wants to play in a place where the fans don’t care. We all know Boston fans can be critical, but that is cool. They expect to win. As a player, you want that pressure. And KG, Paul, all those guys, they tell you that if you win in Boston you become a legend. Everyone wants to be a legend.”
Back to the prominent Western Conference free agent on if it could sway his decision: “Well, like I said, I only got there one time a year and I could see it. The history, the fans, Brad (Celtics head coach Brad Stevens), the talent, the picks coming, yeah you have to factor it in. But the fans do matter. I remember talking to Paul once and he said ‘I understood why I had to leave, but I never wanted to. But Danny (Ainge) always does what is best for the team. And the fans love that. And they’ve never shown me, KG and the other guys anything but love.’ So, yeah that stuff matters for sure. We’re human. We want to be appreciated. And that place made (Brian) Scalabrine an all-time legend. So it does matter when you make a choice on where to play. Big time.”
One of the veteran free agents also chimed in with: “IT (Isaiah Thomas). Look at how much they love that guy. Now, he earned it, but he went from good player to legend in the span of a year or so. That doesn’t really happen. It seems like every kid in the stands had an IT jersey on. And he’s the kind of guy who feeds off the fans and vice-versa. That shows me that someone can become a hero overnight in Boston just by busting their butt and playing hard every night. IT owns that city in the winter. Every guy in the league wants that and Boston is one of the only places who will let multiple players be their guys, instead of just one guy. You saw it with Paul, KG and Ray. They loved all of them. There is room for IT and another guy. And IT wants someone else too.”
In the end, the Celtics may not land a major free agent this summer, but they will be in the mix. More importantly, after years of hearing that the Boston fans can be too harsh and too critical, it is important to note the changing of minds around the NBA. Players understand the high standards and expectation of winning. The above quotes are a small snippet, but they represent the appreciation that NBA players have for the way Celtics fans support their team and players. When you are trying to close the gap on massive favorites in Golden State and Cleveland, every possible advantage matters.