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Moving Forward with No Guarantees

Jessica Camerato looks at the life of an NBA player on a non-guaranteed deal, speaking with Boston’s Chris Babb.

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When their seasons end, it is common for NBA players to pack up their bags and head out for the summer. Some leave within days after their last game, others stay around until their children finish the school year. As many were departing the cities they play in to spend their offseasons elsewhere, Chris Babb did the opposite.

Instead of returning to his family’s home in the Dallas area, the sparingly-utilized Boston Celtics rookie with an unguaranteed contract decided to get his own apartment by the practice facility to spend his summer as close to the team as he could. Signing a new six-month lease in May is an uncommon decision, especially for someone who rarely saw the court, but one Babb believes will pay off in the long run in spite of the uncertainties surrounding his current situation.

“I say it’s an investment, in myself, in my career, in my dedication and determination to want to stick around and be a part of this team and really push myself to be the best player I can be,” Babb told Basketball Insiders.

Babb has spent the past year fighting to establish his place in the NBA. Undrafted out of Iowa State University, he participated in the Celtics’ training camp last season and was the final cut. He played for the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, earning a call up toward the end of the season. After a pair of 10-day contracts, he signed a multi-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Celtics in mid-March.

He clocked less than 65 minutes after inking his contract, spending more of his time cheering his team on from the bench than playing on the court. Babb knew he had a lot to learn about the NBA game. He couldn’t pass up the 24-hour access to the Celtics gym and opportunity to work closely with the coaching staff.

After the Celtics season ended in April, Babb went back to Texas and took care of his first order of business: buying a car. He hadn’t needed one in the D-League and used a rental once he signed with the Celtics. Owning one would be necessary to get to and from the facility in Waltham.

Babb had been living in a hotel for the remainder of last season. Once he found a place to rent, he had to furnish the entire unit: “Man, a whole apartment’s worth,” he said with a laugh. The 24-year-old guard was bought in, literally, to improving.

“It makes sense to go ahead and do it,” he said. “I feel like it kind of puts a little pressure on myself to say I’m doing all this, I’m all in, I’m ready to go, I put it all out there, I did everything I could do.”

Five days a week Babb heads to the Celtics practice facility, where he is part of a small group of teammates spending their summer in the Boston area, including Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey and Chris Johnson. The first-year players have been pushing one another in highly intense workouts in preparation for Orlando Summer League, which begins this weekend.

Jared Sullinger has made trips there as well, and Rajon Rondo stayed in town after the season ended. Babb hadn’t been able to spend much time on the court with Rondo during the season given the team captain’s injury situation and Babb’s limited minutes. These workouts were a crash course in backcourt knowledge.

“His court vision, you see it when you watch him play from the stands, but when you’re out there with him on the court he sees everything,” Babb said. “A lot of times the passes that come to me, I don’t even think are coming to me. It was a really good learning experience being able to spend a lot of time on the court with him, being able to pick up when he has the ball what he’s really looking for. He’s able to tell me exactly what he wants me to do when he’s doing certain things, this is supposed to be my reaction and so on and so forth.”

Perhaps more importantly, Babb has had the opportunity to spend time with head coach Brad Stevens and other members of the staff. At the close of the season they outlined areas in which they wanted to see him improve and he has been focusing on them under their watchful eyes. Babb has been enhancing his defense by working on foot speed and lateral quickness. Offensively, he continues to stay ready to knock down shots, improve counter moves as well as one and two-dribble pullups.

“He (Stevens) is just as big of a gym rat as most of the guys on the team,” Babb said. “During the season and during the practices once I got on the team, it’s a little different when you’re not playing. You can see the plays he’s drawing up and you see the things he wants to implement in the game, but when you’re not really playing you don’t really get that game experience. For him to be able to work with us, I think it’s been very beneficial.”

Babb’s lease runs through November, timed accordingly for the start of the regular season. By then he will have a better idea of his role on the Celtics, a team that is already busy making moves in the draft and in free agency this summer. Whether he ends up signing on  for more months in his apartment or if his career takes him away from Boston, this decision to move for the offseason is one he knows he will not regret.

“Whatever happens, I can say that I’ve been in the best shape of my life, I’ve learned from All-Stars and NBA head coaches, I’ve been around all these incredible basketball talents,” Babb said. “I’m really soaking up everything I can.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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