When the Celtics went out and acquired Marquis Daniels this past summer, they brought him in with the goal of bringing depth, flexibility and energy to their bench. With Daniels sitting on the shelf, they've enjoyed none of those three luxuries.
Daniels has missed the last seven weeks of the C's season after undergoing surgery on his left thumb, and his return is up in the air. Originally, he was targeting the end of February for a comeback to the Celtics' rotation; then, word spread of a return at or around the All-Star break. Now, he could be on the road back even sooner.
Word got out last Friday night that Daniels' thumb was progressing nicely — the Celtics' swingman has had the hard cast removed from the injured hand, he's moved to a more flexible soft cast, and he should be back in practice within a week.
"Once I get out there, I'm going to be going full speed," Daniels said. "Whether we are winning or losing, I'm always wanting to play and be out there with the team and helping them. With the ups and downs, it makes me a lot more anxious to get back out there. It's the small things I feel like I can be doing here or there."
Doc Rivers even told the Boston Herald on Tuesday that Daniels could make his return on Feb. 10 in New Orleans, the last game before the break.
"We’re hoping the first game after the All-Star break, but there’s a slight chance he’ll be able to play down in New Orleans," Rivers said. "That would be good for him because he would get one game going into the break, and then we could come out of the break with him on the West Coast.”
For a Celtics team that's been without Daniels since early December, it's a good thing, too.
The C's have been through a lot these past few months. They lost Glen Davis to a broken thumb, and Paul Pierce to a bad knee. Brian Scalabrine's had a sprained ankle, Rajon Rondo's had a sore hamstring, Rasheed Wallace has had a sore foot. Kevin Garnett has battled every injury under the sun.
With all that they've battled, it's a wonder the Celtics have survived this long, still sitting second in the Eastern Conference. You've got to admire their perseverance.
But they're not out of the woods just yet.
The Celtics have got to have Daniels back if they want to perform at full strength. His absence has hurt everyone in the rotation, top to bottom.
With no Daniels as his backup, Pierce has been forced to take on more minutes, which will only leave his energy level drained further down the road. Allen has had it even worse — he's started every game and led the team in minutes this season, which can't be good news for his 34-year-old knees.
Daniels was originally thought of as a potential backup for Rondo — no longer. With no true backup, the C's point guard has a guaranteed 35-plus minutes a night. They've tried using Eddie House at the point in spurts, but that hasn't worked too well — House is more comfortable when open on the wings, and his shooting has suffered in Daniels' absence.
Without Daniels, we're seeing a ripple effect through the Celtics' lineup. They're slower, they're less athletic. They're not the same team they set out to be this fall.
When Daniels returns to the Celtics, the whole team will improve. Everyone will feel his impact, and it will show in the Eastern Conference standings.
And the sooner he returns, the more time the Celtics, fully healthy, have together to gel as a team. By the time April rolls around, these Celtics will be battle-tested and ready.