The Celtics walked a small forward tightrope to begin last season, betting that Marquis Daniels — who suffered from a spinal condition and had played more than 60 games only twice in his seven-year NBA career to date — could become a reliable understudy to Paul Pierce. The Celtics entered the season knowing that a Daniels injury would shove Plan A down the stairs. When Daniels fell motionless to the floor in February, the team took drastic measures to fill its crater-sized small forward hole. Daniels got traded to Sacramento for a gallon of milk — err, a 2017 conditional second-round pick. Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson were shipped away. Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic arrived. The Celtics were never the same.
The Daniels injury can’t be entirely blamed for Boston’s finish, nor can The Trade. But on the day Daniels injured himself, Boston stood 38-12. After the injury, the Celtics crawled to an 18-14 finish. Rajon Rondo believes losing Kendrick Perkins altered his team more than it should have. One could easily argue that the very philosophy which made Boston so singular in the first place — “Ubuntu” — ultimately caused the team to unravel when its fifth finger was sent packing to Oklahoma City. Whether you believe that argument or not, agree on this: despite an injury history that shouted, “Don’t, under any circumstances, use me as your only backup,” the Celtics risked too many of their chips on Daniels.
Now, Daniels (thank God) has resumed workouts. He hopes to return to the NBA next season, and anyone with a beating heart should root for his return to good health and a spot in the league. Both outcomes, according to his agent, seem likely. Because Daniels underwent surgery to repair his spine, he might even return to better health than before the injury. If so, he should find suitors among NBA organizations.
The Celtics could be among the interested teams. When asked what Daniels felt about that possible return coming with the Celtics, Daniels’ agent Mark Bartelstein had only good things to say.
“Marquis loved Boston, [coach] Doc [Rivers], and his teammates,” Bartelstein told ESPN Boston. “Those guys all visited him after his surgery and that meant a lot to him.”
Signing Daniels would not be Boston’s worst option, at least as long as his health is not a hindrance. You could make the case they should sign him. During his time with Boston, he was one of the NBA’s best cutters, never complained about playing time, took advantage of certain mismatches (read: Kyle Korver) when the situation dictated it, ranked in the 96th percentile among all NBA defenders in points allowed per play (according to Synergy Sports via Chris Forsberg), and always played with an even temperament (which is code for two things: 1 — he played with all the emotions of a zombie, and 2 — he was not Tony Allen in the turnover department). He was not an electric scorer like Nate Robinson could be on his best days (okay, so those days were rare in Boston), but Daniels shot a good percentage from the field and understood his limitations. He played team basketball.
But the Celtics should have learned their Marquis Daniels lesson by now — signing him can pay off, but signing him as the only option is not smart. Daniels will get injured next season. That’s not a threat or a prediction, but a fact. He will miss games because he always has. When he does, it’s important to have another option on the bench, as opposed to having no other small forward and believing that Daniels’s injury forces a complete midseason renovation of the NBA’s best team. (I’m not bitter anymore. No, really. Okay, maybe just a little. Okay, I actually still have nightmares.)
No matter whether the Celtics sign Daniels, they should add other (preferably reliable) small forwards. In a perfect world, the other small forwards will remain healthy, and they will be big enough to defend Lebron James but quick enough to switch onto point guards, and they will light nets on fire with flames that fall down from heaven. If you remember, the Celtics made fewer three-pointers than all but four teams last season. Adding three-point shooting needs to be a goal.
And adding Marquis Daniels should be a peripheral move, if the Celtics choose it’s a move they want to make.