For all the talk of potential roster moves the Boston Celtics could make at the NBA trade deadline, here's one addition that won't cost them a thing and may help more than any other deal: The return of a healthy Marquis Daniels.
Having missed more than half of the 2009-10 season because of a torn ligament in his left thumb, the addition of Daniels should inject new life into the Celtics' second unit. It's easy to forget now, particularly given the spate of injuries Boston has endured recently, but much of the preseason hype surrounding the Celtics centered on how loaded their second unit was with the addition of Daniels and Rasheed Wallace.
While Daniels was averaging only 5.7 points and 2.1 assists per game in 19 appearances before his injury, Celtics coach Doc Rivers doesn't believe his value can be quantified solely in statistics.
"He gives us another ball handler out on the floor, not necessarily a point, but he will be at the point at times," said Rivers. "He guards the best guy on the opposing team at the 2 and 3 spot, so that gives both Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen] a rest. He's another rebounder and another post [presence]. Other than that, I don't know what more we can ask from him.
"He's an intangibles guy and that's what we need. We have star guys, we need intangible guys to fit around those guys. He's a great teammate and that's what he wants to be. He's not trying to be a star. He's trying to be a star at the intangibles, trying to dominate his role. We saw that early on and he really accepts it."
Rivers said he was flooded with calls from opposing coaches when the Celtics inked Daniels to the bargain-basement $1.9 million biannual exemption this past offseason. He's not sure the average fan understands the true value of Daniels, but knows those around the NBA do.
"It's amazing when we signed him how many coaches called and said, 'How'd you pull that off?'" said Rivers.
It's a cozy agreement for both sides. Daniels signed at low money for a chance to win a championship and showcase his value on one of the top teams in the league. The Celtics get a do-it-all presence off the bench at a discount rate considering the Pacers declined a $7 million option to bring Daniels back. Daniels stands to rocket back to that value with a strong second half and postseason in Boston.
The Celtics are hoping Daniels can return to game action as early as Feb. 10 at New Orleans, the final game before a six-day All-Star break. Rivers thought it would be good for Daniels to shake some rust that day and be ready to go when the Celtics open a four-game road trip out west to start the second half. But the Celtics have stressed that they won't rush him back before he's ready.
On Tuesday, Daniels participated in his first passing drills since having his hard cast removed last week and has been getting in additional shooting and conditioning.
"Once I get out there, I'm going to be going full speed," said Daniels.
When assessing Daniels' importance, consider this: The Celtics finished with more bench points than their opponent in 11 of the 19 games he appeared in before surgery. What's more, eight of those came before Nov. 14, when Daniels believes he first injured his thumb against the Indiana Pacers.
Since Dec. 4, the last game Daniels appeared in, the Celtics' bench has been outscored 12 times in 22 games, including seven times in the past nine contests. What's more, Eddie House is struggling mightily as he's been forced to help fill a ball-handling role without Daniels, who would also help set up more open looks for House.
Asked what it takes for a player to accept a utility role, Rivers lumped Daniels with some pretty elite company, including James Posey, who played such an integral role in bringing banner No. 17 to Boston two seasons ago.
"There's a group of guys who understood who they were pretty early in their career and have made a great career out of [being a role player]," said Rivers, pointing first to Houston's Shane Battier. "They've made themselves almost irreplaceable. You need them on your team -- a James Posey -- you can go down the list. All the good teams have one. The more you can get, the better you are -- [Miami's Udonis] Haslem -- I'm going to keep naming them."