The sad irony is that no one had more to be thankful for this holiday season than Delonte West.
West overcame the greatest challenge of his career to return to the Celtics last Wednesday, making his season debut in a home win over the Washington Wizards. He had been back with the team for only three games, and this Wednesday against the New Jersey Nets was his fourth. He'd been through a criminal investigation, a mental health struggle, a sex scandal, a period of unemployment, a suspension, and then a locker-room fight with one of his own teammates. He was finally back.
He had spent the last week preaching how grateful he was to be back with the Celtics, to have a second chance to do what he loves.
That's when disaster struck.
The prognosis on West, who went down with a broken wrist late in the first half of the Celtics' win Wednesday night over the New Jersey Nets, is not good. He won't be returning anytime soon.
"It's broken for sure," coach Doc Rivers said of West's wrist. "We don't know anything more than that. It's a compound fracture, most likely. It's going to be a long time, let's just put it that way."
Opinions vary on how long exactly the Celtics will be without West. A common estimate thrown around the C's locker room was two months. Shaquille O'Neal, after giving the obligatory "I'm no doctor, but…" caveat, estimated three months. Rivers, when asked, said his goal was to have West healthy and ready for the playoffs — in other words, he has five months to get back to 100 percent.
Five months is a lot. It would be painful for anyone, but especially so for West, who's spent the last 14 months battling his off-the-court demons. This is just another blow in what's already been an incredible fight.
"He must be so frustrated, I can't even imagine," Rivers said. "I can't speak to it. It's like nothing I've ever gone through. It must be extremely frustrating."
"It's tough mentally to deal with injury," Paul Pierce said. "I can't imagine how he feels right now. I know he's frustrated, because he's had a long road to getting back on the court, and for him to be sitting again, it's going to be tough on him. But it's up to the players just to keep him involved mentally, make him still feel like a part of the team. I think that's a the most important thing when guys get hurt — just keeping them around, keeping them a part of the team."
West's injury couldn't have come at a worse time for the Celtics. Rajon Rondo is still sidelined with a hamstring injury — and Rivers said West's situation made him less inclined, not more, to bring Rondo back. He can't risk losing another guard.
Avery Bradley is making a very slow recovery from his ankle injury. He's still had only three full-length practices in his NBA career. Nate Robinson has had flashy scoring numbers from time to time, but he's also been maddeningly streaky. Von Wafer is there when the Celtics need him, but he's played very little and still shows rust.
Quite simply, the C's are short on quality guards. A month ago, they never could have seen this predicament coming.
The outlook isn't good for West this season. He won't be back until well into 2011. But there are three slight silver linings:
1. The injury wasn't to West's shooting arm — West is a lefty, and he broke his right wrist. His rehab process will be much quicker, since he can work on shooting and do other non-contact drills in practice before he's 100 percent.
2. He's been here before. West broke that same right wrist back in 2009, and he managed to miss only 16 games with the ailment. He went down on Jan. 15 in a Cavaliers loss to the Chicago Bulls, and he quickly returned on Feb. 22.
3. West is quite possibly the hardest worker on the Celtics' roster. It sounds like a cliche, but it's the honest-to-God truth — West is the first Celtic in the practice gym every morning and the last to leave every afternoon. He cares about rehabilitating himself more than you can imagine. Whatever West has to do to get back on the court, he'll do it, and he won't think twice.
You couldn't ask for a sadder story at this point in the season than seeing Delonte West sidelined again. But West will work harder than ever to return, and in the end, this episode will only make him stronger.
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