The Celtics have stuck themselves between a rock and a hard place with their rebuilding efforts this offseason. Because of their still-astronomical payroll, they have no hope of being under the salary cap and are hamstrung in their ability to sign free agents for next year. Their best targets, it turns out, are the guys already under their control. So will we see Marquis Daniels or Shelden Williams again?
Due to the massive contracts of their Big Three — nay, Big Four, the recently extended Rajon Rondo included — the Celtics are guaranteed to be over the salary cap not only now, but for the next two years. As such, they're limited in their ability to spend on the open market.
The exceptions to the salary cap can only get them so far. The mid-level exception netted them Jermaine O'Neal, who will make just under $6 million in each of the next two seasons. The low-level (or biannual) exception is so named because it can only be used every other year, and the Celtics already used theirs last summer to acquire Daniels.
The only other way to go over the cap is to re-sign your own free agents. The Celtics have already done that in keeping three of their own — Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson — and they tried and failed with a fourth, Tony Allen. Their work isn't done yet.
The prospect of Williams returning to Boston is now dead. The 26-year-old forward played in 54 games last season for the Celtics, his fourth team in four years, and he averaged 3.7 points and 1.8 boards. But reports this week indicated he was heading to Denver, where the Nuggets were in need of one more big man. Williams made about $825,000 last year with the Celtics; he can now expect a modest raise from the Nuggets to about $915,000.
That leaves Daniels. By all accounts, the first season in Boston for the 29-year-old swingman was not impressive — he suffered injuries to both his wrist and thumb last winter, forcing him to miss a huge chunk of the season between early December and early February. It's nothing new for a guy who has only once missed fewer than 20 games in a season. Injury-prone is as injury-prone does.
Even when healthy, Daniels was far from a world-beater. He averaged just 5.6 points per game, and he looked lazy and sluggish on both ends of the floor. All hopes of Daniels being a shut-down defensive stopper against Kobe Bryant in the Finals were quashed when Daniels found himself in coach Doc Rivers' doghouse and spent most of the playoffs warming the bench. (Except for Game 5 of the East finals in Orlando, when Daniels managed to take the floor for just long enough to get himself a concussion. Go figure.)
This all sounds damning. So why does bringing Daniels back for next season make so much sense to the Celtics? Simple — because they don't have much of a choice.
It takes 12 guys to fill a roster in the NBA. Let's count up the current Celtics, shall we? Rondo, Pierce, Allen, and Kevin Garnett are all starters; so is Kendrick Perkins, but he won't be active until months after the season opens. For the moment, he doesn't count. Jermaine O'Neal, Glen Davis, Robinson — five, six, seven.
Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody are the Celtics' two draft picks; Oliver Lafayette and Tony Gaffney signed on at the end of last season. There's no guarantee of those four even making the C's roster, but for the sake of argument, that could make 11.
Then what? Is Michael Finley coming back at 37? Not likely on a Celtics team that's trying to get younger. Brian Scalabrine? Not impossible, but not realistic, either.
It might sound crazy, but keeping Marquis Daniels is the Celtics' best option. Oh, how important one role player has become.
Championships are won in the NBA by complete teams — not one guy, not five, not eight. The Celtics need to fill out their roster right, and Daniels just might be the key.
NESN.com will answer one Celtics question every day in July.
Friday, July 16: Does Michael Finley have anything left?
Sunday, July 18: What happens to Brian Scalabrine?