- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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"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."
-- Doc Rivers on Marquis Daniels (Jan. 27, 2010)
The NBA trade deadline fast approaching, Celtics coach Doc Rivers opined in late January that Boston might be making the best addition of any contender and it didn't have to give up a thing.
The Celtics were anticipating the return of Marquis Daniels, the veteran swingman who missed 28 games after tearing a ligament in his left thumb. Boston posted a lackluster 16-12 record without him (this after starting the season 16-4 with him) and Rivers thought Daniels' return would solidify an inconsistent second unit.
Around the same time, Rivers even suggested that, of all Boston's injured players to that point, including Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Daniels might be the most important to Boston's success moving forward based on the multiple roles he could fill with the reserves.
Daniels posted his best month in a Celtics uniform after returning from injury Feb. 7, averaging 9.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in nine games. But over the next month, he would tumble out of Rivers' rotation and became an afterthought through the playoffs, ceding his role to Tony Allen, who re-emerged as the team's best backup defender and the go-to guy to spell Pierce and Ray Allen.
It's safe to say things didn't work out for Daniels and the Celtics during the 2009-10 season. A partnership that started with so much potential after Daniels signed for the bargain basement bi-annual exception ($1.99 million) ended with both sides wondering what went wrong.
"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]," Rivers said in January, 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."
So are the Celtics a better team with Marquis Daniels?
It seemed a clean break would do both sides well this offseason. But suddenly the Celtics need Daniels, and maybe Daniels needs to prove that last season didn't reflect the type of player he can be.
With the departure of Tony Allen to Memphis, the Celtics have a monster void at the wing position and free agency has offered little in terms of serviceable replacements, particularly those who will come for the veteran minimum that Boston has to offer.
But then there's Daniels. While he's part of that unrestricted free agent group, the Celtics can offer him slightly more than most based on the non-Bird Rights they boast. Much like Nate Robinson, Boston can bring back Daniels at up to 120 percent of his 2009-10 salary, or roughly $2.4 million.
Boston essentially finds itself in a very similar situation to that with Robinson. The team's first inclination was probably to examine the market and see if it could find an upgrade. But there's something to be said for a known commodity.
That's a double-edged sword, as the Celtics know what they're getting in Daniels: an oft-injured player who has missed fewer than 20 games in a season just one time (playing 74 games for Indiana in 2007-08). Of 574 possible regular-season games since he's come into the league, Daniels has sat out a whopping 172 of them.
But if he was able to stay healthy and restore his confidence (and that of his coach in him), the upside is phenomenal. Remember that for the first quarter of last season, Daniels was regarded as the sort of lockdown bench defender that Allen re-emerged as by season's end.
What's more, Rivers often gushed about Daniels' abilities as a cutter on offense, noting that few players have the ability to get to the basket like him. Go back and watch the Feb. 21 game in Denver, when Daniels connected on 7 of 8 shots for 15 points over 18 minutes while chipping in six rebounds, two assists and a block. It's a taste of what could have been.
But here's the key in any return scenario: The Celtics absolutely must define Daniels' role. At no point did he appear to have a clear-cut definition last season. Regarded early on as a backup to Rajon Rondo -- almost out of necessity and a lack of true ball handlers -- the thumb injury quickly derailed that and Daniels never found a niche upon return.
Now Boston has a role: Daniels is the new Tony Allen, or the new James Posey. Tell him his priority is defending the other team's best player to spell Pierce and/or Allen, and let the offense come to him.
There's no guarantee we won't simply see a repeat of last season. But it might be worth the risk at a position dangerously thin right now, particularly as the Matt Barnes of the world seek greener pastures than the Green can offer.
The one wild card here is whether the Celtics believe they can pry a swingman from another team using Rasheed Wallace's contract (assuming he plans to follow through and retire) as trade bait. Ironically, Rivers mentioned Battier in January, and with the Houston Rockets drifting over the luxury tax with all their offseason moves, they could be a willing trade partner.
The question there is how interested the Rockets would be in moving Battier, who is in the final year of his deal and will provide cap relief of his own after this season (one for which the Rockets certainly look like they're gearing up for a run).
The Celtics do have to be cautious of simply bringing back the same team from last season and hoping that those who underperformed display more consistency. While the rest of the East loads up, Boston can't just sit idly by and expect similar results.
But when you examine the possibilities, particularly as more names start falling off the board, you can't help but wonder if Daniels is worth another roll of the dice.
Boston has its star guys; it needs intangible guys. As Rivers noted in January, Daniels is one of the best in the league when healthy. Are both sides willing to take a shot at redemption?
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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