Jared Sullinger must clean up mess

With Boston Celtics players beginning to trickle back into the area for the ramp-up to training camp at the end of the month, the team awoke to an unexpected headache as Jared Sullinger was arrested on domestic violence-related charges.

Sullinger, who has spent much of the summer in the area while rehabbing from back surgery, pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery, malicious destruction of property and witness intimidation in Waltham District Court on Tuesday and was released on $5,000 bail. He is due back in court on Sept. 19.

An apologetic Sullinger released a statement through the team on Tuesday afternoon in which he said the process was "humbling and embarrassing for me. Yet I know that this situation has brought both sorrow and embarrassment to my girlfriend, my family, the Boston Celtics organization, my teammates and my fans. To all of you, I apologize from the bottom of my heart."

The headlines about Sullinger for the next month or two were supposed to focus on his surgically repaired back and whether he'd be ready for the start of the 2013-14 season. Instead, his off-court issues will steal that spotlight.

So much was made last season about Sullinger's basketball IQ, the on-court smarts that immediately ingratiated him with veterans such as Kevin Garnett. Sullinger conducted himself with such maturity, both on and off the court, that it was easy to forget he is still only 21 years old.

Now, with a police report that says Sullinger repeatedly pinned down his girlfriend during an argument Saturday after she accused him of cheating on her, then shattered her cell phone before leaving for a prescheduled flight to Ohio, some will question his off-court IQ.

The legal process will decide his fate there. What invariably will be asked next is how this process could affect his on-court status.

The Celtics also released a statement Tuesday, saying the team was "disappointed to learn of the allegations against Jared and are currently gathering more information on the situation, which we are taking very seriously."

Past history suggests the team likely will admonish Sullinger for putting himself in this position, but also will support him as the legal process plays out.

In May, guard Terrence Williams was arrested for brandishing a gun during a visitation exchange with the mother of his child in Kent, Wash. Williams was freed on $25,000 bail and returned to Boston to work out at the team's facility. The team released Williams in late June while police were still investigating the incident, but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stressed that the move was more a numbers issue than because of Williams' off-court troubles.

In October 2009, forward Glen Davis broke his hand during an early morning altercation with a childhood friend just before the start of the season. Davis underwent surgery, but also was suspended by the team for his actions.

At the time, Ainge said, "It's very disappointing and very unfortunate. [Davis is] a big part of our plans right now and, in [an early season game], we'd love to have him. I think he let his team down by making a bad decision."

The glimpse of Sullinger last season suggested he could be an important part of Boston's transition process. Entering his second season, Sullinger was projected to garner big minutes in a new-look frontcourt and there was hope that he would emerge as a young leader.

It's unfair to connect recent incidents, but after a summer in which the head-shaking alleged actions of former local sports star Aaron Hernandez dominated the headlines, this news casts the Celtics and Sullinger in a poor and unnecessary light. This isn't the way the team wanted new coach Brad Stevens' tenure to begin.

Sullinger, who slipped to Boston at the 21st pick in the 2012 draft because of concerns over his back, was adamant this summer that he'd be ready for the start of the season and that the physical issues were behind him. During a community event with Boston schoolchildren in May, Sullinger talked about how life often works in an opposite way than school, with life giving you tests first that force you to learn a lesson.

Sullinger said the back injury, which left him virtually immobile for a time, forced him to find himself.

This latest incident will test Sullinger even more. His back is the least of his worries now. It's on Sullinger to make things right with his girlfriend and his employer. It's on Sullinger to find the lesson from this latest test.