WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) – Communication and leadership. It’s two traits that Boston Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers feels will improve with Paul Pierce this season.

As the youthful Celtics opened their training camp Monday afternoon, it was somewhat like early last season – when the focus seemed to be how Pierce would handle his role as a leader and communicate with Rivers.

Pierce, entering his eighth season with the Celtics, was described as unhappy as the leader early last season. Rivers thinks it was an unfair portrayal of the team’s star player, and believes Pierce has a better understanding now of what role is needed of him.

“I don’t think anyone really wants to be that guy,” said Rivers, now in his second season as the Celtics’ head coach. “Michael Jordan didn’t want to be that guy. But I think Paul has a better understanding that he is that guy. He accepts that. Somebody has to step up. That’s part of it.

“The one thing I feel is compassion for Paul,” Rivers said. “He’s on a team where he’s the guy. Kobe (Bryant) had Shaq (O’Neal). I was on a team in Orlando where it was Tracy (McGrady). It’s hard. It’s OK when you win, but when you lose, you have to answer why.”

As last season came to a close, and the Celtics were bounced from the playoffs by Indiana in the opening round, Pierce was one of three veterans. The Celtics had reacquired Antoine Walker to go along with Gary Payton and Pierce. Payton and Walker were not brought back and now Pierce is, again, expected to provide leadership on a very young team.

Last year, it didn’t go well early. Pierce had words with Rivers during a Dec. 1 game when he was removed before re-entering and hitting a key 3-pointer in a 101-100 win over Milwaukee.

The pair feel they’ve learned a lot from their first year together.

“If there’s an explosion, that’s fine with me,” Rivers said. “As long as its five minutes and we move on. I don’t mind that at all. I anticipate my relationship with Paul is growing. We had our ups and downs last year. It was never at a point where we had a problem. Historically, the head coach’s job is push his best player and push him hard.”

“I think we’re starting to understand what each other wants from each other,” he said. “We’re going to have to work with it, and its going to grow. It’s like a lot of your marriages, you have your good years and bad years.”

Pierce, coming off a team-leading 21.6 points per game average last season, thought a lot during the offseason about a new attitude that he wants to bring into this season.

Rivers also said he’d like to change the way the team handles its point guard position this year. Last year, Payton, Delonte West and Marcus Banks shared the minutes. Rivers wants a starter and backup from a group of five they have in camp.

“I didn’t like the system we had last year,” he said. “I don’t want to platoon point guards. We have five, that should make for a heck of a camp.”


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