Since the Boston Celtics won their championship title in 2008 one thing has been missing from their make up. They spent most of last year trying to recapture it but amid the Garnett injury its unlikely anything would have been good enough. Nevertheless, the oft-discussed intangibles that guard James Posey brought to the C’s during that magical 2007-08 season were missed last year. At first it was thought that rookie Bill Walker and/or Tony Allen would be enough to do the trick but after Walker’s undeveloped game was exposed and Allen was limited to just 46 games due mostly to injury, it was clear the help would have to come from beyond.
Players were tried and tested and trotted through in hopes of making that difference. It ended with the unsuccessful addition of Stephon Marbury at season’s end and he was on the roster when the C’s were ousted in the second round versus the Orlando Magic. This after a legendary first-round scare against the Chicago Bulls. So this summer the organization went after serious upgrades to the roster in an attempt to cover all the bases.
Rasheed Wallace was brought in as a bigger and better P.J. Brown. Last season the Celtics failed to woo the retired 15-year veteran out of his Louisiana digs for one last go-round and were stuck with Mikki Moore. Where there was once Marbury there is now Marquis Daniels.
Daniels might be the one nobody else saw coming.
In a summer of blockbuster trades and signings Daniels’ situation quietly dragged as the Indiana Pacers and Celtics tried to orchestrate a sign-and-trade that would give him more money and years and net the Pacers something in return. Instead, after number crunching failed to yield such a deal (with no third team willing to enter the mix), Daniels signed on with the Celtics for $1.9M, the full biannual exception. Can you say, “steal of the summer”? His game is rarely reflected in the box score, though he has been known to fill a few. However, even when his numbers are unimpressive his minutes suffer very little because he is a hole-plugger, ready to cut speed to repair and prevent damage. That approach also helps to spread the wealth.
“He is such a factor,” exclaims Rivers when asked how Daniels fits in Boston. “He’s a great passer, he’s a great cutter… and he has an unbelievably high basketball I.Q. and that fits our team. Eddie (House) is going to have a big year this year, in my opinion, because he is playing with Marquis.”
Daniels is a quiet interview. In fact, his whole aura is quiet. His moves are cool and deliberate. He floats in and out of the locker room like a ghost and when he slides into his locker stall he is at once accommodating, but not effusive. Tattoos mask much of his upper body and twists with slight contort as he looks up and calls over a questioner with a nod. He draws you in with his muted tone, his eyes match the drawl. The way Daniels tells it the financial end played a distant second to the bigger picture.
“Just coming and being with some winners,” Daniels told SWAY Sports of the decision to play for the Celtics for less. “It’s a great organization with players that I see are still hungry and still want it. I feel like I can come in.”
With the Pacers last season Daniels averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game on 45% shooting over 54 games, 43 as a starter. In the two previous seasons with the Pacers he started just five games total. With the Dallas Mavericks he was also a team favorite, but the organization preferred Josh Howard for the long term. The progression from Dallas bit part to Pacers star is impressive and his two-way game has developed nicely, contributing in most ways on the court like a hardwood handyman. Yet here is Daniels, nearing the prime of his career and stepping back into a reserve role.
“I saw the struggles that they had when they beat Chicago in that 7-game series (and) that took a lot out of them,” continues Daniels. “I thought maybe I could come here and help out, give these guys some spare minutes here and there so they’ll be fresher down the stretch.”
It can be intimidating for a young player to step into the realm of the Celtics and the smell of championship swagger that still sits in the air. The collective basketball I.Q. hangs alongside it, threatening to rain down on any unequipped soul who dares to lag behind. There is little time for in game tutelage. In that sense the Celtics, and any other elite team, have to be selective in who they add alongside their trio of future-Hall-of-Famers. In that sense Daniels and Wallace are ready-made. C.O.D. Rivers has already tinkered with a preseason unit that includes Daniels playing alongside Allen, Garnett, Pierce and Wallace (one he removed quickly when he saw it started working so well. Look for it to be a regular season weapon).
“There’s a lot of things that contribute to that,” says Allen of the intelligence factor. “If you think about it from myself to Rasheed, Kevin, Paul… we’re all older and (now) our young guys are older. There’s a lot of experience there. Even Glen (Davis) who played on the championship team in ’08, he understands the situations now and Doc doesn’t have to explain the whole situation to him.”
Catching on has never been a problem for Daniels, though that attribute will be put to the ultimate test in the most demanding role of his career. Over the first week or so of this NBA season he appears to be on “feel” mode, preferring to picks his spots and be more selective than he had to be in Indiana. His ability to quickly read defenses and react has been big and having smart players means less time spent slowing down, more time for game flow and longer stretches of good ball. In Boston it comes with the responsibility of carrying your own beside a trio, perhaps even a foursome, of legends-in-the-making. For Daniels, the chance to play in that heightened atmosphere was a big part of the draw.
“It helps out a lot to come to a team where everybody has a great knowledge of the game,” says Daniels. “It’s not very often you can come on a team and everybody knows their role, knows their position, knows what they need to do and when they need to do it.”
While Daniels’ approach is refreshing he, like Wallace, was brought in to help restore order in Boston and bring home another championship to Beantown. The much-applauded Celtics’ summer will be for naught if he doesn’t help the team past Cleveland, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers. The ghost dog will have to be at his worker bee best, sure to be left alone behind the bigger Celtics personalities of the current brigade. It is a fitting reality because Daniels didn’t go to Boston for the money or the fame but he will have plenty of both if the C’s can recapture the NBA championship title.
“Everybody came in with very high expectations,” explains Daniels. The fingers on his left hand press into his right palm with every other word. “We’re going through every practice and every situation and preparing for where we need to be.”
Daniels politely ends the interview by offering forward a closed fist. Pounds are exchanged and the journalist walks away – halfway across the locker room in fact – before stopping in his tracks. An important question left unasked perhaps? Like, why does Daniels think his game remains still so under-the-radar and stuff? The inquiring mind turns back for the cause but can only smile at what he finds… an empty stall and Daniels nowhere to be found.