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|Instead of trying to beat the Celtics, Marbury could be driving toward joining them.|
Is it really worth all this drama for a backup point guard?
In evaluating what Stephon Marbury might bring to the Celtics, that's the crux of the question. Boston already has a championship-caliber team -- it showed as much a year ago -- and it was one that overachieved mainly thanks to its superior chemistry. So bringing in the league's most noted chemistry-killer seems almost masochistic.
That's especially true when the team already has a very solid backup point guard. Eddie House may not make anyone forget Bob Cousy, but he spaces the floor with his shooting, scraps like crazy and takes a lot of the scoring pressure off the other bench players. His season PER of 15.36 is above the league average, and his 18.9 points per 40 minutes is nearly on par with that of Boston's three All-Stars.
That makes the answer seem easy. In Boston's case, you would quickly conclude that it's not worth the drama just for a backup point guard.
And there's the twist. Because the same logic should lead to the further conclusion that the Celtics see Marbury as more than just a backup point guard.
Let's start with the fact that although House is many things, a smooth ball handler is not among them. Dogged ball pressure drives him crazy, forcing him to use precious shot-clock seconds just getting the rock across half court; this weakness is well-known to Boston's playoff opponents and could work against the Celtics without another player available as a safety valve.
Second, Tony Allen is out for the rest of the regular season after undergoing thumb surgery. He was Boston's top wing reserve and, erratic though he was, put up passable numbers for a rotation player while playing excellent defense. His absence has left Boston relying on the likes of Gabe Pruitt and Brian Scalabrine to fill in behind Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
Combine those two items, and Marbury on the Celtics begins to make more sense. The Celtics need another ball handler to help House on some nights, and they need somebody who can serve 15-20 minutes as a wing reserve when Pierce or Ray Allen is out of the game.
Marbury makes sense on both fronts. Obviously, he's a capable ball handler who can get the Celtics into their offense. And although he's only 6-2, he's one of the league's strongest guards and has defended opposing 2s often throughout his career.
Whether this would work depends on a lot of factors -- whether Marbury is willing to take on a subordinate role, whether he's willing to commit at the defensive end for the first time in his career and whether he can avoid alienating his own locker room.
But much of it depends on a question we simply don't know the answer to: How much does this guy have left, anyway?
Marbury hasn't played in more than a year. He missed most of last season with ankle problems, and was Tinsleyed by the Knicks before he ever played a game this season. The only prolonged exposure we've had to him was in the preseason, when, by all accounts, he appeared to be in great shape and played reasonably well.
If that's still true, he can help Boston with his ability to score off the drive and passable long-range shooting. Even during the last two miserable years in New York, his PER was around the league average, and although outside shooting wasn't his forte as a younger player, he made 35.7 percent and 37.8 percent on 3-pointers the past two seasons.
Marbury doesn't need to be Starbury to help the Celtics considerably. If he just puts up numbers similar to the ones he put up in New York the past two seasons and defends with reasonable effort, he'll be a massive improvement on the Pruitt-Scalabrine combo; it's possible he could be an upgrade on Tony Allen for the playoffs, too.
There's a reason this might actually work, and it's the one difference between this stop and every other place he's been in his career: Marbury needs Boston a lot more than Boston needs Marbury. If Marbury starts wallowing in negativity or playing keepaway from his teammates, the Celtics can just cut him. There are no cap implications, no long-term dollars at stake. Just a short, sweet sayonara.
The costs of such a move would be virtually nonexistent for Boston -- the team would be right back where it is now. But they'd be massive for Marbury. He's playing for his next NBA contract right now; basically, he's playing to continue his career. If the Celtics can't stomach him, it's doubtful other teams will want to take the same risk this summer; alternatively, if he's reasonably happy and productive, he likely will lure a few offers and continue his career for at least another year or two. As such, his motivation should be fairly large to be professional, compete and avoid upsetting anybody.
We don't know how this would turn out, of course. Perhaps he is too entitled, too unpleasant and/or too erratic to change his ways now. But in this case, Boston appears to have little to lose and quite a bit to gain.
No, it isn't worth all this drama just for a backup point guard. But for a quality reserve who can fix the team's most glaring bench weakness, and one who has every incentive in the world to shut his mouth and act like a normal person for once? In that case, it just might be worth it.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.