Part of the preseason buzz surrounding the Celtics last season stemmed from a revamped bench, where the addition of Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels was supposed to make Boston the deepest team in the league.
It didn't quite pan out. Wallace labored through a dreadful regular season and Daniels tore ligaments in his left thumb, then disappeared from the rotation. What's more, Glen Davis fractured his right thumb in an off-the-court incident right before the start of the regular season and spent most of the year playing catch-up.
Even Eddie House, a key contributor off the bench during Boston's 2007-08 title run, struggled before getting shipped out of town with the Celtics desperately seeking a spark at the trade deadline. You can make the case that Tony Allen was the only bench player to meet (or exceed) expectations, overcoming familiar injury woes to be the most consistent Celtics reserve last season.
Allen bolted for greener pastures in Memphis this summer, but hope springs eternal with the Boston bench, thanks in large part to this year's offseason additions of Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal, two former All-Star centers pegged for reserve duty once Kendrick Perkins recovers from knee surgery.
So we asked our panel of 18 writers from eight of our favorite Celtics blogs who they thought would emerge as Boston's Sixth Man of the Year during the 2010-11 season. Davis emerged as the top vote-getter, while his Shrek & Donkey counterpart, Nate Robinson, and Shaq (another green monster) also garnered heavy consideration.
A solid second unit -- or at least a singular force off the bench -- is important to any contender. In fact, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award has been synonymous with team success, so much so that you'd have to go back to the 1993-94 season to find the last player to win the award and not have his team qualify for the postseason (Charlotte's Dell Curry won the award after averaging a career-high 16.3 points per game as the injury-riddled Hornets labored through a 41-41 campaign).
The Celtics haven't had a true competitor for the sixth man award in recent memory. House and James Posey accrued small vote totals in recent years, but no Boston player received votes in the 2009-10, 2006-07 or 2005-06 seasons.
Ironically, Boston claimed three of the first four sixth man of the year awards after its inception during the 1982-83 season. Kevin McHale won it twice (1984, 1985) and Bill Walton won it once (1986).
Is there a Bill Walton on this year's squad?
Here's my take: The Celtics are hopeful that, with a strong finish to last season (and a clean slate to start the new year), Davis will take his game to new heights, even in a revamped frontcourt. He's my pick for the Celtics' sixth man.
"Big Baby" averaged 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while filling Kevin Garnett's starting role during the 2008-09 playoffs, but his off-the-court antics cost him the first 28 games of last season and it took him time to figure out his role as an energy player.
Even with the additions of the O'Neals and rookie center Semih Erden, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has gone out of his way to suggest Davis will break back through this season. Davis put in the hard work this summer, spending extended time in Las Vegas training in mixed martial arts at UFC headquarters.
With low-risk, high-reward offseason signings like Von Wafer, Delonte West and even Daniels (if he can rebound and remain healthy), it seems almost impossible that Boston's bench could be as inconsistent as it was last season. Also keep an eye on Shaq. While the Diesel could wiggle his way into a starting role before the 2010-11 season tips off, his ability to generate instant offense with the second unit could make him a favorite to emerge as Boston's sixth man.
Our panel sounds off below:
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Glen Davis)
This was a tough call given the multitude of candidates next year's bench will have to offer, but I'm giving the nod to Big Baby for a variety of reasons. Davis has the most experience in the C's system, he is in a contract year and he will benefit from entering this year problem free (as opposed to the embarrassing punching incident that marred the start of last year's campaign). With an older and injury-prone front line, Big Baby will be leaned upon heavily to keep his elders' minutes down, so the opportunity will be there and he proved throughout last year's campaign he can be counted on to provide a scoring punch when the team needs it. Nate Robinson may bring more flair to the table, but when all is said and done Davis will be your most consistent performer off the bench.
John Karalis, Red's Army (Nate Robinson)
Robinson is the most explosive guy on that bench. He's the guy most likely to come in and hit three or four straight shots. And because he's spent at least some time in Boston already, he's got a head start on others. Robinson will drop a few 20-point games this season. He might even produce a 30-point effort here and there. You never know.
Chuck McKenney, Red's Army (Nate Robinson)
The energy Robinson brings off the bench, combined with the explosive scoring, is something this team desperately needs. Having a half season with the team under his belt will certainly help.
Jimmy Toscano, CelticsBlog (Glen Davis)
The sixth man of the year is none other than Glen "Big Baby," "Uno Uno,"
"Sweet Feet," "The 11th Hour," "Shrek" Davis. I've always been a big fan of Davis. I just love the energy he brings to the game and the effort he gives the entire time he's out there. I'm also assuming that Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal split enough starts that neither one will be considered a certified "bench" guy like Davis will be. When he's in the game he does a lot of little things that bench players should do.
He's the best on the team (per 48 minutes) at taking charges, he's great on the offensive glass and he pumps up the crowd. He can provide that offensive spark that was often needed (and missing) last season.
Greg Payne, CelticsBlog (Entire bench)
I didn't label one single player as the team's MVP, and I'll do the same with the team's sixth man. Bench help at each and every position will be critical for the Celtics this season. Glen Davis needs to come through so that Kevin Garnett can rest. Marquis Daniels needs to stay healthy so that Paul Pierce can rest. The same goes for Von Wafer and Ray Allen, as well Nate Robinson and Rajon Rondo. I can't see one specific bench player distinguishing himself from his counterparts, but that all relates back to the team aspect that the Celtics have thrived upon these past three seasons. Each and every player matters, and bench players are no exception.
Tommy King, Celtics Town (Glen Davis)
Glen Davis played very well in Garnett's absence two seasons ago, and was primed for a good season last year before stupidly punching his friend and injuring his thumb. Now, with the addition of Shaq, Davis will play more at the high post and on the perimeter, where he feels more comfortable. Davis will utilize his high energy, strong face-up game and steady 15-foot jump shot to provide a spark off the bench.
Brandon Paul, Gino's Jungle (Nate Robinson)
After last year's playoffs, I really started to like what Robinson could bring off the bench for this team. He can play at the 1 or 2 spot and provide much-needed rest for the legs of Rondo and Allen. He can create his own scoring, while also adapting to the team principles. With more time in the system under his belt, you can expect a very productive Robinson off the bench.
Lee Herman, North Station Sports (Glen Davis)
That is a really tough question since there wasn't a clear-cut sixth man last year until Tony Allen rose up and grabbed it. I'm really tempted to say Shaq, but will it count if he plays for three months as a starter? The only other proven guy on the pine is Glen Davis. Baby will be a force to contend with heading into his free-agency year and as long as he can avoid getting 24 percent of his shots blocked back into his grill piece, I think he could be the sixth man for Boston.
Nick Gelso, North Station Sports (Jermaine O'Neal)
I believe the season will have to be judged in two segments; with Perkins and without. Either way, I feel Shaq is our starting center. Our first option off the bench (through most of the regular season) will be Jermaine O'Neal. I would have to say O'Neal as sixth man. Of course, we all had Rasheed Wallace pegged for that honor last season and it went to TA. Who would have ever guessed that?
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Shaquille O'Neal)
Shaquille O'Neal could be the first NBA player to win MVP and sixth man awards in his career if his numbers are as impressive as they could be. Few players can defend a man Shaq's size in today's NBA, and the talent surrounding him will make it next to impossible to double The Big Shamrock. I suspect Shaq will enter the starting lineup at times if (or when) Jermaine O'Neal gets bitten by the injury bug. But, ultimately, Shaq will be a plus player for the Celtics off the bench and provide an entertaining bench that will keep reporters' notebooks filled, particularly with Nate Robinson and Glen Davis. Ayo Baby! On My Mama!
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.