Don Chaney, Avery Bradley and the Celtic Rites of Passage

Guest post by Abacus Reveals

Nowadays, even hoop fanatics in their forties are more likely to recall the coaching days of Don Chaney, as pedestrian as they may have been, than his 12-year playing career.

Trivia buffs realize that he broke in as a little-used first-round draft pick with Coach Bill Russell’s final team … also that his waning NBA days were spent on Larry Bird’s very first roster. In the intervening years, he’d briefly sported Laker gear, lived the demise of the old ABA in all its glorious excess, and for several seasons had been the inspiration for the DUCK FREAKS banner that was draped from the second balcony at each and every Celtic home game.

The rookie Duck got only spot duty – about 200 minutes spread over 20 game appearances – and couldn’t shoot a lick (an even 40 percent at the foul line, even worse from the field). But he was one of only three guys who’d raised Banner No. 11 that would still be around to win Banner No. 12 (by which time Chaney’s FT percentage had more than doubled as he’d earned what seemed to be a permanent spot on the NBA’s All-Defense second unit).

[Co-incidentally, five of those 1974 titlists – two of them “Dons,” another pair “Pauls” – went on to become head coaches in the Association.]

Young Don’s 1968 initiation provided a jolt of championship confidence for his psyche along with a practical apprenticeship for his game from the likes of retiring Hall of Famer Sam Jones and crafty, over-achieving vets like Larry Siegfried and Emmette Bryant.

Unfortunately, ownership woes bred of financial instability were beginning, despite General Manager Auerbach’s best efforts, to cost players, chemistry and almost the icon himself.

The harbinger of this round of hard times may have been Chaney’s jump to the ABA’s wild-and-wooly Spirits of St. Louis – renowned most for the antics of Marvin Barnes, the broadcasting of a barely-shaving Bob Costas, and the cunning of a pair of brothers who took the NBA to the cleaners … betcha didn’t know both Duck and future C’s player and head coach M. L. Carr were part of that circus!

Chaney’s Celtic saga came to mind recently upon hearing a report of contract concerns with current Celtic young veteran Avery Bradley.

Although the economic circumstances of both the team and league as a whole have changed drastically in four decades – of the players and their “brands” as well, it should be noted – there remains a “pecking order” of status in pro sports based primarily on contract size. Didn’t Auerbach and Russell have an arrangement whereby Big Bill would always be paid one dollar more than whatever Chamberlain’s contract called for?

The career paths of Chaney and Bradley, though hardly identical, bear a fair bit of resemblance – a defensive-minded player chosen in the first-round pick by a defending champion, comparably limited first-year usage and production, a steady role for a revamped group attempting to grow into contention.

Despite shooting as dismally (slightly better on FT’s, slightly worse on FG’s) as did the freshman Don, AB has developed into a more confident and aggressive offensive performer, adding a pretty reliable mid-range jumper to his nifty off-the-ball game.

Nevertheless Bradley, again like Chaney, seems best suited to a complementary role at the offensive end of the floor … a player whose scoring opportunities seem to emerge organically from heady play and hustle. An occasional big scoring night from a Don Chaney – or from a Cedric Maxwell a generation later, or from a young John Havlicek a generation earlier – spoke mostly to how well the boys were playing as a unit. To my eyes, Avery has been cast from that same mold.

Of course, unless one evolves into the likes of Hondo, that particular role on the team slots a guy only so high on that “pecking order” of dollars.

The playing career of the Duck (that of Mad Max, as well) strayed from the shadows of Causeway Street.

Will this age-old dilemma in a new-wave environment produce the same outcome for another quiet young man out of Texas?