Commentary

Celtics may finally need reinforcements

Updated: February 9, 2011, 9:40 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Even before his team throttled the Los Angeles Lakers late last month -- extracting a tiny measure of revenge for a Game 7 loss last June -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers leaned against a wall outside the visitors locker room at Staples Center and expressed great satisfaction about what the Celtics had been able to accomplish in the face of a litany of injuries.

At the same time, Rivers expressed a need for his regular bench players to play together before the postseason, something that, because of the injuries, had been impossible to that point but seemed like it might be on the horizon.

Rivers couldn't have imagined that things were about to go from bad to worse.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers, Glen Davis
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonDoc Rivers is looking for more consistent play from his bench, including Glen Davis, despite the Celtics' numerous injuries.

That afternoon in Los Angeles, the Celtics operated with a 12-man active roster, which has been a rarity. Rookie Avery Bradley was on the inactive list but was on assignment with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, meaning Boston technically had 13 members of its 15-man roster healthy.

What's more, Jermaine O'Neal was in the middle of a four-week rehab for lingering left knee soreness and Delonte West was entering the final stages of his recovery from a fractured right wrist. Both were tentatively pegged for late February returns.

Just eight days later, the Celtics trekked to Charlotte as undermanned as they've been all season. They ran out of gas late, dropped the back end of a back-to-back for the seventh time this season and were left openly wondering whether a move to bolster the roster was inevitable given the spate of injuries.

"Like I told our guys, there's nothing you can do about it," Rivers said, sighing, before Monday's game. "You've got to go out and play. That's just where we're at right now."

Here's what has happened since that game in Los Angeles:

Shaquille O'Neal returned to the shelf with an inflamed Achilles, the latest in a series of maladies.

Semih Erden sat out Monday's game with a lingering right adductor strain that appears related to the groin injury he's battled at times this season; he said he's uncertain how long he'll be out.

• Jermaine O'Neal underwent surgery on his left knee when his rehab did little good, sidelining him for six to eight weeks and leaving the Celtics hoping for a late March/early April return at best.

Marquis Daniels suffered a bruised spinal cord and will miss at least a month as the Celtics evaluate whether he'll be able to return to the court after a frightening incident that saw him taken off the Garden floor on a stretcher.

On Monday in Charlotte, Rivers said the team will take a wait-and-see approach with Daniels before deciding whether a roster move is necessary, but he admitted a long-term absence likely would force the perimeter-thin Celtics to add a swingman.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who had stressed for the first three-plus months of the season how much he liked his 15-man roster, echoed Rivers' sentiment Tuesday.

"We may be looking at the trade deadline to make a move,'' Ainge said. "And not just for the short term. We'll see how Marquis does. I like our team. But the Marquis situation could give us something to think about at the perimeter. We'll just have to see where he is."

With Kendrick Perkins returning from offseason ACL surgery late last month, the Celtics have their starting five back in place. But Daniels had been the rock of the bench, appearing in all but one game this season. Without him, a second unit desperate for stability finds itself in as much flux as ever.

Boston's bench scored just 15 points in Monday's loss to Charlotte. Over the past seven games, the unit is averaging a mere 22.6 points per game, and opponents' subs are outscoring it by more than seven points per game during that span.

Ray Allen, who lashed out at the reserves at halftime of a recent win in Sacramento, continues to stress that the team needs more from the backups, regardless of injuries.

"We've been put in a unique situation this year and no one is going to feel sorry for us," Allen said. "It's the cards we were dealt at this moment. We have to be better. [Glen Davis] has to be better; Nate [Robinson] has to be better; Von [Wafer] has to be better. Guys on the bench have to be better."

Allen admitted the starters might have to log increased minutes in order to provide some stability, but that's not ideal considering Rivers has stated a desire to preserve his veterans for the postseason.

In order to do that, Boston needs consistent play from its bench. Ultimately, that need might force the team to explore a move more aggressively than it might have imagined just a week ago.

But tweaking the roster would be no simple task. Adding someone to the roster would require removing a contract, and all 15 are currently guaranteed.

A trade negates that hurdle, but there simply are not a lot of desireable contracts on this team -- at least in terms of players the Celtics would want to part with or whose contracts would attract much in return.

So for now, the Celtics find themselves in wait-and-see mode, which is pretty much where they've been since the season started, thanks to injuries. Every time they seem on the cusp of getting back to full strength -- like that day in Los Angeles -- something crops up to provide another detour.

"You've got to keep rolling; there's nothing you can do about it," Rivers said. "I try not to live in the past, the what ifs. We can't worry about it. We've got to keep playing."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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