While the Celtics were making their rounds around the NBA the last few weeks, beating a smattering of the league's best teams and roaring to the top of the basketball world at 8-2, Delonte West was forced to watch from home.
You might imagine that was frustrating for him. But you'd be wrong.
"No, it was great," West said. "I was like a fan. I was cheering, annoying my neighbors, banging on the walls a few times."
West has been suspended since the Celtics' season began on Oct. 26, due to the weapons charges leveled against him a year ago. Per league rules, he had to be out of the arena two hours before every game — but in his punishment, he saw a silver lining. He got to watch his boys on TV.
"This team is fun to watch," he said. "I find myself just as a fan of the game, rooting for my guys, cheering, calling everybody I know, saying, 'The game is on! We've got to watch the Celtics!' It's great, and it's even better that I see those guys on TV and I can think to myself, 'I'm a part of that.' And then I come in for practice and I see these guys, and it makes me appreciate being in the NBA all over again."
West will officially be back in the NBA come Wednesday. With the Celtics' first 10 games in their rear-view mirror and West's suspension off the books, the 27-year-old combo guard will be back in the locker room with his team, ready to make a contribution when the C's take the floor at the TD Garden against the Wizards.
He's not just looking forward to the game itself — he cares even more about the bonding experiences before and after, back in the locker room with his teammates.
"You want to be out there for the start of the season when chemistry is being built," West said. "I think the worst part of this whole suspension thing was missing locker room time — pregame speeches, getting in the flow with the team. You really miss a lot. That's where all the chemistry is built. Ten games goes by in two weeks, but it was a long two weeks for me."
The Celtics suddenly have a jam-packed group of guards at their disposal. West is back, and he'll likely see a lot of time on the second unit alongside Nate Robinson, Avery Bradley is quickly recovering and will soon be ready to play, and Von Wafer is still sticking around, although not playing much.
C's coach Doc Rivers has plenty of options at his disposal. But he plans to let West take the floor and show what he's made of.
"Just throw him in, see what his lungs can take, and see what he knows without taking us out of rhythm," Rivers said. "Then go from there. You never know. You can't have a schedule for that, because he may come in and get it pretty well, but he may come in and mess the whole team up with their rhythm, and you'll have to get him out. You've got to win the game, you know. But I think he'll be OK."
Whether West plays big minutes right away is uncertain; the C's might ease him back to action more slowly. But to West, it doesn't make a difference.
"I'm just ready to go," he said. "I want to help this team out the best way I can. If that's Wednesday night or not, it doesn't matter. I'm just happy to have this suspension behind me and be able to play if my number's called. I've prepared myself well to go out there and try to help the best I can, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. We've got a very good team, we're playing well, and Doc's a great coach. So if it doesn't require for me to jump in, and he wants to stick with the guys we have, then that's fine too. I'm just happy to have the suspension behind me."
You're looking at an older, wiser, more mature, more selfless Delonte West. That's the guy that can make a contribution for the Celtics this season.
He was a different guy three years ago, when the Celtics had him last. But he's now 27 years old and has been through the grind with three different teams — four if you count the Minnesota Timberwolves, who picked him up briefly this summer. The C's will see a more refined Delonte starting Wednesday night, when he makes his first appearance back in green.
"He's older," Rivers said. "But so are you. So is everyone else. I think we've all matured a little bit, especially in terms of team play on the floor. But he's still the same as far as being one of the most competitive people I've ever coached. I hope he never loses that. That's what makes him him."
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