Adept at bench-press, Massenburg fails to lift himself from NBA limbo



That isn't an acronym for President Bush's plan to revive the economy. It's NBA shorthand for "Did Not Play -- Coach's Decision." Five words that say it all. Five words that keep following Tony Massenburg's name.

The former Maryland star chalked up his third DNP-CD in eight games as a Boston Celtic last night, removing his sweatpants but never his green warmup jacket during a 98-87 victory over the Washington Bullets.

Massenburg, 24, also helped fill bench space with San Antonio ** and Charlotte earlier this season. It now appears he will be cut by his third NBA team in eight weeks, perhaps as soon as today.

Won't this guy ever get a break? Massenburg is the unfortunate soul who played for three coaches at Maryland. Now he's about to hit another sorry trifecta, unless Larry Bird suddenly retires.

Massenburg's second 10-day contract with the Celtics expires tomorrow. After that, the only way the 6-foot-9 power forward can remain with Boston is if the club stashes him on the injured list, or signs him for the rest of the season.

The chances of either happening are slim. Bird (back), Dee Brown (knee) and Kevin McHale (calf) are expected to rejoin the Celtics this month. Brown could return soon after the All-Star Game. The Celtics can play one man short until then.

As for the injured list, well, Massenburg hasn't exactly punished his body racking up all those DNP-CDs. And if need be, the Celtics can find another warm body to replace one that has played in a total of 11 games in his second NBA season.

Massenburg has scored 13 points and grabbed 17 rebounds -- not bad for one game, but not good for three teams. Can the Celtics possibly keep him? "I really don't know," he said. "It's a funny business. It's hard to tell."

Say this for Massenburg: His years at Maryland taught him to persevere. He played for Lefty Driesell, then Bob Wade, then Gary Williams. He was a freshman when Len Bias died one day after the Celtics chose him second in the 1986 draft.

However temporary, it's eerie that Massenburg now wears a uniform intended for Bias. It's also eerie that the Celtics' future now rests with another product of this state, first-time All-Star Reggie Lewis.

Massenburg said Bias crossed his mind only briefly after he joined the Celtics. He doesn't find much time to reflect as his career takes one frantic turn after another, but he's certain those stormy years at Maryland did him good.

"Absolutely," he said. "It was definitely a positive experience. It made me a much stronger person. It prepared me for situations like this."

Granted, no one projected Massenburg as a star, but San Antonio did pick him 43rd overall in the 1990 draft. By that measure, he stood a better chance than a player like Bullets rookie Larry Stewart, an undrafted free agent from Coppin State.

But Stewart got the opportunity that still eludes Massenburg. As a rookie in San Antonio, he played in only 35 games, averaging 4.6 minutes, 2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds. No one confused him with David Robinson.

This season he got stuck behind three veteran power forwards -- Terry Cummings, Sidney Green and Antoine Carr. "I couldn't have been in a worse situation," he said. "I wasn't going to get a chance to play."

The Spurs waived him Dec. 2.

Eight days later his agent found him a job in Charlotte -- not a glamorous job, but a job. "I was basically just a practice player," Massenburg said. "I don't think they ever took me seriously."

The Hornets waived him Jan. 7.

Again his agent got busy, and three days later Massenburg was a Celtic. His signing wasn't exactly big news in Boston. The Celtics acquired Sherman Douglas from Miami for Brian Shaw the same day.

"We thought he was a physical player who could rebound and play tough interior defense," Boston coach Chris Ford said of Massenburg. "He's done what I had hoped. He's played well.

"But 10-day contracts are very difficult. Usually you have three or four games in a week, and then all of a sudden, the 10 days expire. You like to see a guy in practice every day, see how he does."

Whatever, Massenburg is simply a stopgap until the Celtics' injured stars return. Even if he never plays another NBA game, he can tell his grandchildren about the time he was an emergency replacement for Bird and McHale.

Only, Massenburg isn't giving up. He won't consider joining a CBA club this late in the season, but some other NBA team might want him. The way he sees it, the whole thing will just take time.

"I'll be in somebody's camp next year, no question," he said. "It's rough for a lot of people when they first start. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right situation. But I'll do whatever it takes."

You root for this guy.

If only he could avoid DNP-CD.

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