For Delonte West, the long road back to basketball has featured karate YouTube clips, rice buckets and a recent setback which kept him out of Boston’s last game against New Jersey. Finally, three months after breaking his right wrist, West should return to the court tonight as a Boston Celtic.
Five games. That’s the extent of West’s season so far, after a ten-game suspension and the aforementioned injury kept him out of 49 games. He performed reasonably well during his brief stint, but the Celtics expect more from him the second time around. The Celtics expect him to provide the C’s up-and-down bench with stability, to play both guard positions equally well, and to become the C’s defensive stopper off the bench.
Maybe , just maybe, the Celtics expect too much. But West is a versatile talent, one who could really change the complexion of Boston’s bench — really, the complexion of Boston’s entire team, and, thus, the complexion of the 2011 NBA season. That’s a lot of weight to put on one man’s shoulders, especially a man who has played only five games this season and may not start a single game this year. But Delonte West, in this role, has that kind of potential.
Maybe he’ll make Nate Robinson better. Maybe he’ll keep the Celtics from falling victim to bad teams. Maybe he’ll energize the second unit on certain nights — like this past Wednesday against New Jersey — when they seem intent on causing an ‘L.’ Maybe he’ll keep Rajon Rondo’s legs from overheating. Maybe he’ll leap tall towers in a single bound, or cure cancer. I expect so much from Delonte West, and I suspect Doc Rivers also does. But maybe, just maybe, the expectations are too high.
I feel that most of Boston believes West will singlehandedly re-brand the second unit, and that belief is not necessarily fair. West has become a victim of “The Ryan Gomes Effect,” when a Boston fan favorite moves to another NBA city and suddenly becomes everything the Celtics need. If Gomes ever returned to Boston, people would celebrate in the streets. Even though he’s only a decent role player, and has never really been anything more than that.
I’m not saying West is only a decent role player, or that he’s no better than Ryan Gomes. West is good, and he’s tough, and he can make plays (both for himself and for others), and he’s worth the substantial risk the Celtics took to sign him. He’s exactly what the Celtics need, in so many ways. He shoots well, defends well, handles the ball well, can take pressure off Boston’s other reserves, and, most importantly, he’s not Nate Robinson. In theory, adding West is perfect.
I only wonder if that theory will prove true, or whether West — even if he plays well and stays healthy — will fail to live up to the lofty expectations. Boston’s bench could really use the Delonte West we fans envision in our minds, the game-changer who will instantly transform Boston’s “pretty good, every once in a while” bench into a deadly, consistent weapon which turns close losses into wins and wins into blowouts. But maybe, just maybe, reality won’t be such a pot of gold.