If you were initially one of the skeptics upon hearing the name Delonte West linked to the Celtics’ roster plans for the 2010-11 season, you absolutely were not alone.
But apparently, you had it all wrong.
West has been through a lot this past year, both on and off the court, but the 27-year-old guard is now prepared to cap off a tumultuous season by rejoining the team that drafted him back in 2004. West is returning to where it all began — he’s going to be a Celtic again.
The Boston Herald reported Wednesday that West will be in camp with the Celtics this fall, on a non-guaranteed free-agent contract. The former Cleveland Cavalier was traded to Minnesota on July 26 and then waived by the Timberwolves on Aug. 3; he had been a free agent for the past month before finally settling on Boston.
West played a significant role on the Celtics for the first three years of his career, having a big impact on a weaker Boston team between 2004 and ’07. He started at point guard for most of his second and third seasons, even averaging a career high of 12.2 points per game in 2006-07. But when Danny Ainge made his offseason makeover in the summer of ’07, rebuilding the team around newcomers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Ainge decided to cut West loose, instead building with Rajon Rondo as his point guard of the future.
Siding with Rondo paid off, obviously, but Ainge has long lamented that it was tough losing West, a promising 23-year-old guard at the time Ainge traded him to Seattle on draft night as part of a package for Allen. West brought toughness and competitive spirit to a team that sorely lacked those traits as it was losing 58 games and finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference.
West has always been a competitor. He may have his character issues, as has been well documented over the course of the past year, but on the court he works hard. He doesn’t quit, and he’s committed to helping his team win.
This is West’s first chance to be part of a true team. For the first six years of his career, he was always a background piece hiding behind a big superstar — Paul Pierce in his prime with the earlier Celtics, briefly a rookie Kevin Durant in Seattle, and then of course LeBron James in Cleveland. His relationship with his superiors hasn’t always been peachy — look no further than the rumors surrounding West and LeBron’s, ahem, family — but on today’s Celtics, he’ll be a part of a true team.
This isn’t a locker room dominated by one superstar. It’s an ensemble cast, a collective effort, a group of professionals all working together toward one common goal. And West now has a chance to be a part of that.
If he’s lucky, the collection of wise old veterans around him will help shape him into a better player and a stronger person. Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal will all have wisdom to impart, and they can all help welcome West into a team-oriented basketball culture.
West’s role on the Celtics won’t be what it once was. He won’t be starting in Boston any time soon — he’ll come off the bench playing spot minutes backing up Ray Allen, serving as a compromise between the instant offense of Nate Robinson and the defense-first rookie Avery Bradley. As backup combo guards go, West is a jack of all trades.
Since West’s contract is non-guaranteed, we can’t be sure that he’ll make the team out of camp. He’ll have to earn his position on the Celtics by playing hard — Von Wafer, Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette are all on non-guaranteed deals as well, and West will have to compete with all of them to earn a job.
Delonte West has had plenty of ups and downs in his career. But he’s still got plenty left to offer, and Danny Ainge has proven that he still has faith in West to be a winner. It’s now up to West to prove him right.