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Sunday, July 14, 2013
MarShon Brooks brings some intrigue

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

On Monday, the Boston Celtics will formally introduce the players acquired from the Brooklyn Nets as part of the nine-player blockbuster that was made official last week. But the Celtics ought to put three empty chairs beside them to remind everyone of the three first-round picks (2014, '16, '18) that the team also received.

Even for Boston fans who understand the forward thinking behind the deal that saw the team bid farewell to franchise icons Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, it's hard to get overly excited about the return haul -- or at least the currently known portion of it.

MarShon Brooks
After a solid rookie season, MarShon Brooks' numbers dropped dramatically in 2012-13.

That's not particularly fair to the incoming players who will be introduced on Monday, but, let's be honest, it is entirely possible that none of the five will still be in Boston when the Celtics emerge from the murky transition process that they are now knee-deep into.

Kris Humphries, who fell out of Brooklyn's rotation in March, could be Boston's highest-paid player next season at $12 million, and he won't be mentioned without a reference to "expiring contract."

Gerald Wallace is a soon-to-be 31-year-old former All-Star coming off his worst season in a decade and is owed $30.3 million over the next three years. If he's still around, there's a good chance it's because no one else would take him.

Keith Bogans is a gritty veteran who will bring "3 and D," provide toughness and be a quality veteran presence in the locker room while playing for his eighth team in 11 NBA seasons. That's not a bad minimum-contract type guy to have, but Bogans is expected to make upward of $5 million next season while cashing in on a little something called base-year compensation that drove his value skyward as a sign-and-trade asset to make this swap work. Put another way: Bogans is expected to make more next season than he has made in his past four seasons combined. Why exactly would Boston pay that ransom? Only the first year of his deal will be guaranteed, meaning he can continue his journeyman ways next summer.

Kris Joseph is back in Boston, six months after his first stint ended. The team's second-round pick in the 2011 draft, Joseph was cut before his contract became fully guaranteed in January. He landed on his feet back in the D-League and eventually clawed his way from Springfield to Brooklyn. He's on a nonguaranteed deal and Boston's overcrowded roster could make it tough for him to stick.

All of which makes MarShon Brooks perhaps the most intriguing player in Boston's return haul. The early iteration of this deal had veteran rebound machine Reggie Evans coming to Boston, but Brooks was later swapped in his place. Now the 24-year-old swingman will get a chance with the team that originally drafted him (Boston picked Brooks at No. 25 for Brooklyn in 2011, then swapped picks with Brooklyn, bringing back JaJuan Johnson).

Not surprisingly, many Celtics fans lamented the Johnson-Brooks swap, particularly as the latter averaged 12.6 points over 29.4 minutes per game his first season and landed on the NBA's All-Rookie second team. Johnson played 300 unremarkable minutes in Boston, was traded away last summer and toiled in the D-League all of last season. While Boston brass stressed that they were simply making the pick for Brooklyn and had not considered Brooks at No. 25, the sight of him in that Celtics cap on draft night left fans wondering what could have been.

Now we'll find out.

Brooks is coming off a forgettable 2012-13 season in which his stats plummeted to 5.4 points over 12.5 minutes per game. Brooklyn fans labeled him a ball hog who went isolation too often (mind you, this is a fan base that watches Joe Johnson on a nightly basis) and would suggest that Brooks is an inefficient scorer who brings little else to the table.

The advanced stats back up their claim. Brooks averaged 0.88 points per play last season, ranking in the 44th percentile, according to Synergy Sports data. And the downturn in minutes can't be blamed; he averaged 0.858 points per play and was in the 43rd percentile in his rookie campaign. Defensively, he allowed 0.921 points per play (23rd percentile). He doesn't rebound well and his turnovers can be unsightly.

But Boston offers a fresh start for a player with dazzling offensive talents (sorry, to steal your favorite adjective, Mr. Prokhorov). The four-year standout at Providence is coming home with a chance to show that he can be a future asset. Down in Brooklyn, the #FreeMarShon hashtag became a familiar Twitter presence for those who believed Brooks deserved more court time while hoping he would blossom.

On a young Boston squad looking for building blocks, he'll get that chance to succeed. The Celtics have been looking for a bench spark the past few seasons (outgoing Jason Terry was among those who fizzled in the role) and, before the 2012-13 season, some wondered if Brooks could emerge as that spark plug for the Nets.

It didn't happen. He'll get a second chance in Boston and, unlike the others in this deal, he has a true chance to stick. Brooks will make a mere $1.2 million this coming season and the Celtics will hold a team option at $2.2 million for the 2014-15 season. If nothing else, he'll get a chance to make a case for sticking around.

Then again, maybe Humphries finds his 2011-12 form in a contract year and becomes an asset for Boston (even if that's just as bait in a future trade). Maybe Crash Wallace's style endears him here and he emerges as a leader of a young team, easing the weight of his contract. Maybe Bogans does all the little things and plays with the sort of toughness that make fans forget his elevated salary. Maybe Joseph blossoms this time around.

But the most likely scenario involving Boston cashing in on one of these players lies with Brooks. Unless you count those three empty chairs the Celtics ought to bring out.