For proof, look no further than Delonte West, who reintroduced himself on Monday afternoon to a Celtic franchise that had cut him loose three years ago. After a tumultuous 12 months that have seen the 27-year-old guard face weapons charges, a difficult struggle with bipolar disorder and even a sex scandal that threatened to destroy his reputation with his old team back in Cleveland, West is back in Boston, and all he wants now is a chance to rebuild his career in the place where it all began.
That, and maybe a shot at winning a championship.
"It feels great to be back in the green and white, where I started my career," West said at the Celtics' media day on Monday. "It's a great compliment being picked up by a team that's coming off a Finals Game 7 and had their eyes set on a championship. To be called to render my services and help this team put up another banner, that's an amazing feeling."
A month ago, West was unemployed, and his future in the NBA was in serious doubt. The Cavaliers had shipped West to Minnesota on June 26, less than three weeks after LeBron James' "Decision" had launched the Cleveland front office into rebuilding mode. West's time on the Timberwolves' roster was short-lived, though, as they opted a week later to cut West and float him out there on the waiver wire.
The Celtics were one of few teams that expressed interest. GM Danny Ainge spent weeks deliberating over a Boston homecoming for West, whom he had shipped to Seattle three years prior in a draft-day trade to bring in Ray Allen. Ainge consulted his advisers, coaches and even his own players, before finally deciding on Sept. 1 to offer West a one-year contract worth the veteran's minimum of just over $1 million. West took it.
"The fact that he wanted to come here was great," coach Doc Rivers said. "It made us all feel good in the organization that we did something right the first time. So that was good.
"His problems have never been on the floor — they've always been off the floor. We're hoping that he's doing better. But as far as on the floor, I don't know if I've ever coached a more competitive human being. I'm good with that."
West originally arrived in Boston in 2004, selected by Ainge with the No. 24 overall pick in that summer's draft. He came into the league alongside Al Jefferson and Tony Allen that fall, and he was slow to make an impact at age 21, playing in just 39 games and averaging 13.0 minutes per game. But West worked over the course of his three years in Boston to ingratiate himself with the Celtics' organization. He developed strong friendships with his teammates and coaches during that time, and he worked his way into Rivers' starting five as a versatile combo guard, excelling on both ends of the floor. He left his mark in Boston, and the guys who are still around today haven't forgotten.
"The good thing about Delonte is we know him," said his captain, Paul Pierce. "I've got a good relationship with him. I had a relationship with him here, and I had a relationship with him when he was gone. Me and him still talked when he was on other teams. And the really good thing is he still had a relationship with Danny and Doc. Not just any relationship, either — they had a good bond."
"He's my friend, and he's been my friend for a long time. Great pickup," said Kendrick Perkins, West's teammate throughout those first three years. "Danny asked me beforehand — he knew what was going to happen with Delonte's situation, and he asked me if he should give Delonte another try. And I said that you can't question his heart. You know his heart is there. You know he's going to compete every night and he's going to give us something."
Three years after leaving Boston, West returns to a Celtics team with a completely different look. The days of the young, loose, carefree Celtics — epitomized by West, Jefferson, Tony Allen, Perkins, Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair — are long gone. The happy-go-lucky kids have been replaced by Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Shaquille O'Neal. These Celtics are older, wiser and focused on bringing a championship banner back to Boston. It's a far cry from the 2006-07 squad that lost 58 games and headlined the draft lottery.
"There's definitely a different vibe in the locker room now," West said. "There's a lot more maturity going on around here than the last time I was here. And you can just sense it in the air — guys here want to win. I walked through the locker room, and everyone here has the gold trophy in their pupils. You can see it. You can feel it. There's a lot of excitement here."
West can't expect to start in Boston as he did in the spring of '07, but he can expect to come off the bench as a valuable role player in the Rivers' rotation. He'll be giving the Celtics a versatile guard that can knock down open shots and also make his presence known on the defensive end.
"Delonte is huge for us because we've lost Tony Allen, and he was our defensive stopper," Pierce said. "Delonte is probably going to fill in that role as a guy who can stop other teams' two-guards as well as point guards. I think he brings a kind of versatility to that position that we haven't had since he left. So I'm excited to get him back."
Basketball-wise, West is a perfect fit. He's exactly what the Celtics needed to fill out their bench. He's the kind of role player that can help a championship-caliber team get over the top. The only question now isn't about what West can do on the court — it's how he'll affect the team's chemistry in the locker room.
"His off-the-court issues, I feel like as a team, we can deal with," Perkins said. "I feel like we can discipline him as a team, You know, KG, Ray, Paul, Shaq, I know those guys are zero tolerance when it comes down to it. And I know Doc is zero tolerance, and even our owners and our coaching staff and even Danny are zero tolerance. I think Delonte knows that he's got a second chance and I know he's not trying to mess this up."
As second chances go, you couldn't ask for a better one than here in Boston, surrounded by the best veteran nucleus in the NBA. West knows that he'd better make himself at home here — he'll never get a better opportunity than this.
And for what it's worth, the guy likes his chances.
"Everyone's so selfless here," West said. "They sacrifice for the greater good of the team. And that's the kind of player I am, anyway. I think I'll fit in perfectly."