When the Celtics signed combo-guard Delonte West this offseason, it came with a hitch. West was to be suspended for the first 10 games of the NBA season, a result of his offseason weapons charge, and not nearly the first time he'd been in trouble with the law.
However, West's hiatus is up, and should make his season debut Thursday night at home against the Washington Wizards and burgeoning young star John Wall.
The initial move came as surprise to many Celtics fans. After all, the Delonte experiment had already ended once before.
West, initially a first round pick in 2004 (24th overall) by the Celtics, had played in 179 games through three seasons ('04-'07) before being dealt to the Seattle Supersonics for Ray Allen and Glen "Big Baby" Davis.
The trade was key in bringing together "the big three" of Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, resulting in Boston's leading 17th NBA Championship banner and first in 22 seasons.
While West was never much of a problem in Boston, he started getting into off the court trouble during his time as a Cleveland Cavalier ('07-'10). Eventually, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder led some to dismiss his troubled antics as the results of an untreated mental illness, and not reflective of his true character.
Do you think Delonte West will make a large impact on the Celtics this year?
Most recently, a locker room fight with end-of-the-bench-man Von Wafer led to speculation of whether or not West would be cut from the team before he even played a game.
Whatever the case is, one thing has remained fairly consistent: West's on the court ability.
Delonte has never been a league star, but has shown definite signs of being an above-average supporting cast member, especially during his time with the Cavaliers.
West brings a number of good things to the floor. He has the rare ability to shoot, drive and handle the ball. He's big enough and quick enough to handle multiple positions both offensively and defensively, and is a strong individual defender in his own right.
But most importantly, West gives the Celtics something they've never had in the big three era. A backup point guard.
The C's have rotated countless players over the last few years to fill this role. Eddie House played there some of the time, although he's always been a spot up jump shooter. Players like Sam Cassell, Gabe Pruitt, Stephon Marbury and Lester Hudson have been brought in to help fill the void. None of them could.
Last year, Tony Allen occasionally had the duties. TA is a very solid player and was always well liked Boston, but he's never been nor never will be a point guard.
Most recently, the job has been delegated to Nate Robinson. Since seizing the reigns in the playoffs last year, Nate has become a major part of the Celtics rotation. He's accepted his role as a distributor and improved his defense vastly.
However, while Nate has humbly gone about his business and quietly contributed, it's been clear that he'd be better served playing off the ball at the shooting guard spot. Nate is pure, athletic, offensive ability, but his role as the backup point guard has taken time away from what he does best: score.
Through 10 games, Robinson is averaging just 6.4 PPG, 1.6 APG, and is shooting just 40.7 percent.
Delonte West has the power to change all that.
Ideally, if West took over the backup point guard duties, Nate would be allowed to look for his shot more, something that would be welcomed in Boston. Ironically enough, if there's been one knock on Nate during his time in Boston is that he hasn't been aggressive enough on the offensive end. Who would've thought?
West would join an already solid and experienced bench. Along with West, guys like Glen Davis, Jermaine O'Neal, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels all have significant starting experience.
But Delonte's contributions would not be limited to the bench. Far from it.
It's been hard to tell from his play, but Rajon Rondo is injured. Seriously. He has plantar fasciitis, a foot injury that causes shooting pain each time the recipient take a step. While it's reported to be a "mild case," this diagnosis isn't good for anyone in the business of running and jumping for a living.
Rondo is averaging 41.1 MPG (third most in NBA), and while you could probably attribute that to a very tough early season schedule, I'm sure that's a number the Celtics would love to reduce.
The "big three" also happen to be averaging some pretty demanding minutes. Ray Allen is playing 39.7 MPG; Pierce 37.5 MPG; Garnett 34.8.
West can help solve all this.
Apart from his ability to backup up Rondo effectively, West has the ability to lead a deep bench unit capable of giving the starters entire fourth quarters off. Basically, if West plays well, the bench will follow, which should be extremely beneficial in getting the starters rest. As the Celtics learned last year, there's nothing like having a healthy group of veterans for the playoffs.
Then there's also the various matchup situations that West provides. You can play him at the one with Robinson, providing a pesky-quick defensive back court that would be difficult for most NBA benches to deal with. This scenario was something Doc Rivers had alluded to in the preseason. West can also backup Ray Allen and play with Rondo in certain situations, as well as play the three when they want to go small.
While West is a talented player, he's going to have to earn his minutes. But if all goes well, he has the ability to emerge as one of the most important Celtics of 2010-2011.
So far, West has said all the right things:
“I’m just ready to go, help this team out, the best way I can, If that’s [tomorrow night] or not, doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to have the suspension behind me. If my number is called, I’ve prepared myself well to go out there and try to help out the best I can. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got a very good team, we’re playing well..."
“Doc’s a great coach, he knows what this team needs,“If it doesn’t require for me to jump in, if he sticks with the guys we have, that’s fine, too..."
"It’s been a long two weeks for me. I still have to earn my playing time. Guys have earned the right to be out there. I’m just coming in here and showing the guys I’m committed to this and, hopefully, they trust me enough to have me out there...’’
“It’s very important we develop chemistry and understand what we’re trying to accomplish, the lead guard, the coach trusts him to be an effective brain for him out there on the floor. You’ve got to be in sync with him and with what you’re trying to accomplish. We have to be on the same page and make sure we’re getting good shots out there.’’
So far Delonte has said all the right things. Let's hope he does right too.