A friend, who would best be described as a casual sports fan, was incredulous.
Explaining to those unfamiliar with the NBA rebuilding process why the Boston Celtics would trade a pair of franchise icons like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for a collection of lesser names and a few future first-round draft picks isn't easy. But before I could even attempt to shed light on Boston's mindset, the friend ranted again.
Why would they even want him? He must come cheap or something.
Actually, I noted, he's currently projected to be the highest-paid player on the team next season at $12 million. The friend, now equal parts perplexed and infuriated, just sat there with mouth agape.
And that's how it goes for Humphries, particularly with those that know him better from E! than ESPN. Even the more invested hoops fans have wondered if he should even bother finding a place in Boston, convinced the Celtics would certainly move him before he even put on the No. 43 jersey that he held up at Monday's introductory news conference at the team's training center in Waltham.
It's fair to say that Humphries is in a bit of an awkward situation upon arrival in Boston -- and we haven't even talked about that little on-court dustup with new teammate Rajon Rondo (for his part, Humphries downplayed the incident and said he'll attempt to "earn [Rondo's] respect").
The difficult part for Celtics fans boils down to this: Is Humphries part of Boston's future? With a growing logjam of young talent at the power forward position, do the Celtics see a role for a 28-year-old coming off the most disappointing season of his nine-year NBA career? Will his presence potentially stunt their development?
What's prudent to remember is that this deal with the Nets was all about future assets. Three unprotected first-round picks have obvious value, even if they will take time to collect on. A $10.3 million trade exception has potentially huge value, even if Boston probably can't take advantage of it until next offseason.
Humphries? It's actually in Boston's best interest for him to revitalize his career here. With a $12 million expiring contract, he'll have a healthy trade market regardless of his play. If he can get back to the guy who averaged a double-double for two consecutive seasons with the Nets, then contenders might be willing to sacrifice a bit of their own future for a late-season rental, which could net even more assets for Boston.
Worst-case scenario: If Humphries simply toils away on the bench in Boston, then shedding $12 million from the books next summer isn't the worst thing for the Celtics either.
What's easy to forget, given that he's made more headlines in gossip rags than NBA mags, is that Humphries has talent. The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged 13.8 points and 11 rebounds during the 2011-12 season, and two years in a row landed in the top 10 in the league in both total rebounds and total rebound percentage.
It was on the strength of a double-double season in 2010-11 that Humphries cashed in with a two-year, $24 million deal from the Nets. After stops in Utah and Toronto early in his career, Humphries was pegged as a key ingredient as the Nets loaded up for a run last season.
Instead, amid his struggles, Humphries fell out of favor in Brooklyn and was relegated to the bench in favor of veteran rebound machine Reggie Evans. Unable to move Humphries at the February deadline, the Nets glued him to the pine in March. Even in the playoffs, he averaged a mere 11.9 minutes and a trade seemed inevitable this summer.
The Celtics can trade Humphries immediately in the aftermath of the Nets swap if he's moved on his own, but they might benefit by allowing him the opportunity to re-establish his value on the floor.
Humphries is limited offensively, but he's always posted solid transition numbers and could thrive in an up-tempo situation alongside Rondo. He can hold his own defensively, even if he struggles at times in the post, but he makes his money as a rebounder. During the 2010-11 season, he ranked third in the NBA in total rebound percentage (22.1) and was seventh a year later (18.3).
Maybe it's just spin, but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge says he believes Humphries can flourish again in the right situation.
"I know that Humphries hasn't dropped as a player," said Ainge. "When you're 28 years old and you're as fit as he is ... you don't become a worse player. We don't really look at [last year's drop-off in] numbers that way."
Humphries displayed an easygoing personality at Monday's introductions, playfully joking at times, including when last season's wrestling match with Rondo was referenced. Ainge busted his chops about being pushed around too easily by a diminutive point guard and Humphries playfully fired back by recounting the story of how Ainge rocketed a ball off the face of Houston's Mario Elie during the 1994 playoffs. Quipped Humphries, "[Ainge and Elie] are friends now, so it's all good [with him and Rondo]."
Forced to go last each time the group of three new players was asked a question, Humphries playfully dismissed a query on rebuilding by noting: "Yeah, basically all those cliché comments. I'll save you some time."
Humphries understands the business side of basketball and said he approaches his job the way he did in high school and college, pledging to work as hard he can, try to win games and be a great teammate. Even entering his 10th season, he said he still feels young. And he's brutally honest about his situation, noting that he will understand if the Celtics ultimately move him in a deal that helps the franchise, but prefers to aid the transition process knowing that it might benefit him most in the long term.
"We just want to come out and compete and put ourselves in a position to have a chance to make the playoffs," said Humphries. "I know that, me personally, that's how I think. That's what basketball is all about. You can't come in and think it's rebuilding or whatever. I'm in a contract year, and a lot of people on the team probably are, and there's nothing better for your own career than to have success as a team. That's what we're all focused on."
The question is whether Celtics fans can get past his (rather harmless) off-court baggage and invest in him as a player.