For one, it was a week of redemption. For the other, yet another bridge burned.
Stephon Marbury and Terrell Owens are skilled players who are cursed with more ego than talent, and who have brought more attention to themselves for their actions off the court and field then on. For the time being, Marbury has found a home with a structured team that doesn’t really need his help. Owens, however, will be in search for the last team willing to put up with his nonsense.
The Marbury experiment in Boston has gotten off to the start everyone had hoped: quiet and uneventful. In three games (as of this writing) the Celtics’ new point guard has eight points and nine assists in 40 minutes. More importantly he’s yet to alienate his teammates, coaches and owners, with no hint of misbehavior. For most players and teams, that would be the expected minimum of decent behavior, but it’s been some time since the man with the $21 sneaker went very long without becoming a distraction. It remains to be seen how long he can hold out before venturing down that well-beaten path.
Owens’ time in Dallas was the soap opera everyone should have seen coming. The three-year docudrama starring the former 49er and Eagle was highlighted by tremendous skill, dropped balls, bizarre behavior, muscular superiority, locker-room bickering and one alleged suicide attempt. Even though Owens cried famously in support of the man tasked with getting him the football, and then later blamed said quarterback and tight end Jason Witten for conspiring to keep the ball away from him, it became clear that Owens and Tony Romo couldn’t co-exist, and no one, not even Jerry Jones — who, like all owners, favors performance over professionalism — is going to choose an aging receiver over a Pro Bowl quarterback. When Dallas imported Roy Williams from Detroit, it was only a matter of time before Owens left the Cowboys in search of sucker No. 4. He’ll find that team soon enough.
Though Owens is likely to have a bigger impact on his team, of the two, Marbury is the safer hire. Yes, he’s self-involved and is yet to find fault in any of his actions, but unlike Owens, who has literally torpedoed three teams, Marbury doesn’t seem to warrant immediate psychological assistance. So far the Coney Island native has deferred to Boston’s Big Three and has taken his minutes as they have come, but Marbury needs close watching because history, as they say, repeats itself.
In 2003, Rasheed Wallace was a technical foul-prone Pacific Northwest problem child who entered a very tight Detroit Pistons locker room and helped lead them to a championship. The suddenly well-behaved post man silenced all doubters, and the Pistons seemed to do the impossible. A team of strong leaders was able to rein in a temperamental star and convince him of his evil ways. But the good times didn’t last, and slowly but surely Sheed went back to his Jailblazers’ ways and began sabotaging his team with bad behavior and disinterest. The Celtics could be next.
Every team thinks it has the structure to rehabilitate troubled athletes, but the successful ones rarely enjoy much long-term success. One of the reasons the Celtics work so well together is they are not afraid to share the spotlight or to get in one another’s grill. Marbury couldn’t handle playing second plantain in Minnesota when Kevin Garnett was still too young to take on a strong leadership role.
What’s going to happen now that Garnett has shown the ability to make teammates cry? His new coach summed up the challenges ahead perfectly, saying that Marbury’s problems were in New York and everywhere else —the last two words being most important.
Whoever takes a gamble on the former Cowboy is going to face a challenge. Owens is a No. 1 option who, if he desired, could still earn a Pro Bowl spot. Physical receivers are a premium in the NFL, and any team on the edge of the playoffs or more will be tempted to breakdance with Beelzebub. And it may even work out for a year, but hoping for anything more is just foolish. If the Cowboys, who took the fun out of dysfunctional, can only handle three seasons, how’s a team lacking blood lust for victory in ownership going to do any better?
Marbury and Owens are gambles. Vegas was built on such excitement. It’s the lure of sudden richness with only the house coming out ahead. Boston got a seat at the table. Will Minnesota or Oakland?