Eyebrows shot skyward earlier this month when Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens announced that Tayshaun Prince would join the team in Los Angeles for the start of a season-long six-game road trip. Acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in the Jeff Green swap, it was assumed that Prince was more likely to be bought out or traded to a contender than ever wear a Celtics uniform.
But Stevens embraced the addition of the 34-year-old swingman, noting that "he's had a lot of winning experience and any guy like that is welcome to share his thoughts all day long."
Prince did more than share his thoughts on Monday. Appearing in his fifth game on Boston's mileage-heavy road trip, he led the Celtics in points (19), assists (5), plus/minus (+16) and minutes (30) during a 99-90 triumph over the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
"[Prince] made us better today," Stevens told reporters in Utah. "He made us better with his play."
Prince spearheaded Boston's monster second quarter in which the Celtics outscored the Jazz by 24. Prince scored 10 points in the frame on 4-of-6 shooting and added a trio of assists. The Celtics were plus-18 in his nine minutes of court time in the quarter.
Prince looks like an aging veteran when he's standing on the perimeter, hands on hips, as a play starts to develop. Then he launches into motion and looks a decade younger than he is. On his first bucket Monday, he drew Trey Burke -- 12 years his younger -- on a switch and went old-school fadeaway over the young guard from the blocks.
Shortly after, Prince did the same move over rookie Elijah Millsap from the opposite blocks. Prince added a couple of second-quarter 3-pointers and Boston was up 18 by the time his second-quarter shift was over.
Prince is averaging 7.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists over 21.8 minutes per game in five appearances. He's shooting 60 percent from both 3-point land and the floor overall, and is plus-13 in 109 minutes of total floor time.
Maybe more impressive: Boston owns an offensive rating of 107 when Prince is on the floor (that's 5 ½ points higher than the team's season average). What's more, the team's defensive rating with Prince on the floor is 98.5 (or 5.1 points lower than the season average). Bottom line: Good things are happening whenever Prince hits the court.
That's why Stevens left Prince in for nearly 20 minutes during his Boston debut in a loss to the Clippers last Sunday. The Celtics got a spark from a bench unit that included Prince, so Stevens ran with it despite the fact that Prince had had little more than a brief practice and film session since joining the team the night before.
But Prince has so much basketball experience, Stevens doesn't have to worry about him being lost on the court. Prince doesn't need a playbook to provide steady defense and doesn't force anything offensively.
Ironically, Prince has done nothing but likely make himself more attractive to other teams with his recent play. You get the sense Stevens wouldn't mind keeping him around for the duration of the season -- and Boston sits just two games out of a playoff berth in the East at the moment -- but the Celtics will have to listen if teams call on Prince's expiring deal while looking to add a veteran presence for their own postseason push.
One thing is clear, as long as Prince is on the roster, Stevens is going to utilize him. Some Celtics fans would rather see those backup swingman minutes go to first-round pick James Young, but Stevens has pledged to lean on the players that give the team the best opportunity to win.
So there were Prince and 32-year-old Gerald Wallace on the floor together during Boston's second-quarter run on Monday. The two look a bit out of place on a roster with an average age without them that is closer to 24. But both veterans made good things happen with their crafty play.
After his first practice with the team, Prince was asked about his murky future with Boston. He said that until there was a more definitive answer on how the team would proceed, he was all in on helping the Celtics in any way he could. He noted, "My approach is to come in here, provide a spark, provide leadership."
The Celtics have won three of the five games since his arrival. Maybe Prince's winning experience really is rubbing off on his younger teammates.