Thursday, September 30, 2010
Delonte finds peace on the parquet
By Peter May ESPNBoston.com
NEWPORT, R.I. -- He was the last person off the floor on the very first day of practice with his new/old team. There was shot after shot after shot before the final ball bounced away. By then, almost all of Delonte West's teammates were already on the team bus, or posing for photos for a throng of Salve Regina University admirers.
West finished his work, took a towel and a seat, alone, in the bleachers. It was almost as if he wanted to stay where he was, that he wished the workout could go on forever.
West feels at home when his personal boundaries are lines on a court and his every movement is a function of charts, whistles or exhortations. That is where he is at peace and it has been ever since he joined the NBA in 2004.
Delonte West learned to lean on Shaq when the two were teammates in Cleveland last season.
It's in the world outside those lines, and his actions in that unmonitored space, where he finds trouble. When you are caught speeding on a motorcycle, carrying two loaded handguns, a loaded shotgun and a large Bowie knife, the law steps in and the NBA tends to take notice. West was arrested in an incident in September 2009 on weapons charges, to which he pleaded guilty in July and received eight months of home detention, though the flexible sentence does allow him to play this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, for whom West had played for more than two seasons, and for whom he had started 64 games in their 66-win season in 2008-09, traded him to Minnesota less than a month after LeBron James defected to Miami. This was the same player who, arguably, had been the Cavs' best non-LeBron player in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs.
The Timberwolves had him for a week and released him, paying him $500,000 on the way out the door. Had they kept West, they would have owed him more than $4 million. They never had that intention.
West has no questions about his own ability or talent. As he put it: "I feel like I am one of the better players in the league, one of the more underrated players. But it's good if I don't have a big name. Then I can surprise people. I've shown in my time in Boston and Cleveland that I am definitely one of the guys who can help you win games."
But two teams who need players to help them win games this season both took a pass on West. He said the trade from Cleveland and the subsequent release from Minnesota had nothing to do with basketball -- and everything to do with his arrest on the aforementioned weapons charges in Maryland.
"That's what happens when you make bad decisions off the court," he said. "It should be a lesson to a lot of younger players because that's how it is. You're judged by the decisions you make. It's up to me to prove that maybe everything you read isn't true. It's a day-at-a-time process. That's what it is. It's on me to prove I am a good person and a great guy, and if that's true, it shouldn't be that hard. I feel blessed to have this opportunity and I want to make the best of it."
Unlike the Timberwolves, Cavaliers or any other team apparently, the Celtics weren't hesitant about West. Yes, they had questions. Yes, they knew they wouldn't have him for the first 10 games of the season after David Stern lowered the boom following West pleading guilty to the weapons charges. But it was more about fitting in and accepting a role, something West said he is eager and willing to do. "Everyone is so selfless here, they'll sacrifice for the team," West said. "That's the type of player I am, so I'll fit in here."
The Celtics know West as well as anyone, having had him for three years before trading him to Seattle in the deal that brought Ray Allen to Boston. Doc Rivers, West's first coach, is still here. He said he welcomed the addition of another "agitator" -- he was not using the term in a pejorative way -- and added that West was the most competitive player he had ever coached, a striking statement given that the maniacal Kevin Garnett has been with Rivers the past three years.
Danny Ainge, who drafted West and used to take him to the movies, is still here. The ownership group is still here. Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, former Boston teammates, are still here.
And just as important, Shaquille O'Neal adds further support. West learned to lean on the Big Minimum -- and there's a lot of leaning room there -- when the two were teammates in Cleveland last season.
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In time, West may prove to be just as valuable an acquisition as either Shaq or Jermaine O'Neal, particularly given that the team has been weak at the backup wing position over the past few years. He can back up Rondo, and Ainge envisions him sharing the backcourt with Nate Robinson, a dynamic duo if there ever was one.
Spouting the company line as only he can, Garnett said of West: "Let me tell you something, man. I know Delonte had his issues -- whatever, however -- I'm just glad we got him, man. There are situations in your life that you have difficulties. We've all had difficulties and he's no different. But we back him 1,000 percent, whatever he needs. I love playing with the guy. He's grit. He's not going to cave or back down. It's all fight in his blood."
West has a second chance in his second tour with his first NBA team. He can't afford a misstep and he knows it. As long as he can keep the conversation confined to basketball, which he fully intends to do, the second time around will be better -- and potentially much more rewarding -- than the first.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.