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Boston's second unit had just put together its finest combined effort of the season, helping the Celtics kick off a four-game road trip with a solid triumph over Oklahoma City, and Ray Allen, who often has pulled double duty as both starting and reserve shooting guard to start the season, wondered out loud if Delonte West's impending return might temporarily disrupt the chemistry being forged.
Don't misinterpret the comment. Allen knows the Celtics face a problem any team would like to have. It's not unlike a playoff-bound baseball squad having to juggle its rotation to accommodate a trade-deadline deal for a top-tier starting pitcher.
|After working with teammates such as Shaquille O'Neal through the preseason, Delonte West had to stay away from the Celtics during his 10-game suspension, which ended Saturday night.|
The Celtics figure to be a better team with West in the mix, there's no disputing that. Even after producing an 8-2 mark during West's 10-game suspension for offseason gun charges, Boston players gushed with excitement while pondering his integration into the bench rotation.
"It's great because he gives our second unit even more of a lift," Allen said Saturday night in Memphis after his late-game sharpshooting helped the Celtics top the Grizzlies, wrapping up a 3-1 trip.
"It's a great position to be in. We were able to weather the storm for the first 10 games and I know he's champing at the bit -- he's ready to go. You get another player who solidifies that backup unit and can give you more of a scoring pop. He played well [in the preseason], so we're looking forward to it."
The Celtics couldn't ask for a better situation in which to work West into the rotation. The team has three days off before hosting the Wizards on Wednesday night at the TD Garden. After a day of rest Sunday, the Celtics will have two full days of practice to allow the second unit some additional reps with West, who stayed home on the recent trip.
While West hasn't been able to compete with his teammates since the season tipped off on Oct. 26, Kevin Garnett isn't worried about West's reacclimation.
"I think it will be different for [the media and fans] because you haven't seen us full throttle since the preseason," said Garnett. "Practice, that's our time, where we really become a team."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers deemed West in full health, having worked through the glutes/back issue that sidelined him for part of the eight-game exhibition slate. But Rivers does anticipate some bumps with West's return and says he doesn't quite know how it will affect his team.
"It'll be nice. It's good to have a body and another guy who kind of knows what we're doing," said Rivers. "But it will be interesting. We have a really good rhythm right now, so we'll bring him back and that will upset our rhythm a little bit."
Yet again, it's a boat worth rocking.
"Obviously, Delonte is going to help us, but I don't know exactly how yet," Rivers said. "We're playing pretty well now. We have a pretty good rhythm and [West is] going to change our rhythm a little bit. So we're going to have to get used to that. Having said that, I'd rather have that than not. We'll see. I think Delonte will help Nate [Robinson] the most, but we'll wait and see. He'll help us."
After some early-season struggles, Robinson is playing inspired ball. He produced perhaps his finest offensive outing Saturday, connecting on 6 of 8 shots for 15 points over 12:34 against the Grizzlies. But it's clear Robinson benefits from not being the sole ball handler with the reserve unit (which is why the Celtics toyed with a Rajon Rondo-Robinson backcourt during the trip).
West figures to share ballhandling duties with Robinson, opening up offensive opportunities in a variety of sets. Rivers joked that each player is half a point guard, so together they add up to one true backup behind Rondo.
West's return also should have a trickle-down effect on the starters, particularly Paul Pierce, Allen and Rondo. West's scoring punch could defray Boston's need to lean on its starters, helping to drive down minutes that rose a bit through the first 10 games (and weren't helped by three overtime games during that span). Boston now will have a full-fledged second unit, meaning guys like Allen and Pierce won't have to pull double duty.
And while each of Boston's bench players thrived at one point or another during the first 10 games, the unit lacked consistency; West's steady output should bring some stability.
In a way, that's scary news for the Celtics' opposition. Boston boasts a glitzy 8-2 record -- and Shaquille O'Neal offers it should be 10-0 after letting road games against Cleveland and Dallas slip away -- and now it is adding a player who may well have been the second-most talented player behind LeBron James for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season.
We'll get the chance see if the "Bench Mob" -- West, Robinson, Glen Davis, Semih Erden and Marquis Daniels -- can flourish and help Boston shore up the minor inconsistencies that made the 8-2 start a little more difficult than the record would suggest.
Before the Celtics left on their road trip, West expressed great excitement in getting back on the court. He talked about how he came to the Celtics' practice facility to watch the games, getting in a workout and then putting himself into game situations to mentally prepare for his return.
As a team that prides itself on chemistry, the Celtics need a good reason to mess with it, particularly given their fast start. But they know how valuable West can be in accomplishing their ultimate goal, even if they miss a few beats on the way to developing an even tighter rhythm as West joins the band.Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.