Let’s be clear: This is a great deal for the Celtics. They are getting a league average player with major post-season experience, and they’re getting him for the minimum salary (about $1.1 million for West) and the same amount in luxury tax payments. While the Grizzlies ownership is nickel-and-diming the team’s first-round draft picks to save Rudy Gay’s beer money, the C’s ownership is throwing $2.2 million at a player with a shaky mental health history—even though the team already had 14 players under contract and one back-up (Von Wafer) playing the same position as West.
This is a good period to be a Celtics fan. Don’t forget that.
Again: This is a great deal, and it’s a great deal because the C’s aren’t giving up any basketball assets to make it happen. And that, to me, is the story of this off-season.
With only the mid-level exception and some pseudo-Bird Rights, the Celtics have signed Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Wafer, West, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, all without giving up a single basketball asset. The Celtics are the deepest team in the NBA, 1-15.
Perhaps they could have nabbed Rudy Fernandez in exchange for a first-round pick and Avery Bradley. I have no idea. But West is better than Fernandez, and they got him for nothing. First-round picks, even middling ones, are going to be crucial for this team as the core leaves the NBA, and upgrading the bench without sacrificing one of those picks is a strong outcome.
Back to West, in bullet point form:
• The competition for back-up guard minutes is going to be intense. A team can only dress 12 players for each game, so Wafer, Luke Harangody, Semih Erden and Avery Bradley (and, if things go badly, West), will be spending tons of time in street clothes or (for the young guys) the D League.
West is basically a two guard, though he’s capable of playing the point for a possession or two if Rajon is tired and Nate Robinson is being stupid. But Wafer and West are like insurance policies for each other. They are both unpredictable in very different ways, and we should not be shocked if one of them fails to make it through the season or withdraws into an unproductive shell.
Both could also be major post-season rotation players capable of creating points when the C’s offense sputters. It’s better to have two wild cards than one, right? It definitely is in UNO.
• The pressure is on Marquis Daniels. He is the only back-up small forward on the roster, unless you count Harangody, and I’m very, very, very skeptical that we’re ever going to see Harangody at the three in a meaningful game. Daniels has played more than 62 regular-season games just once in seven NBA seasons.
• West is a versatile offensive player, the sort of player who can make tough shots and create points during those dreaded offensive droughts that killed Boston last season. Check out his shot location stats on Hoopdata: He gets to the rim, he has a mid-range game and he’s an above-average shooter on threes and long twos. He can create off the dribble, and he’s an excellent passer.
He can be turnover prone, and with the exception of his career year in ’09, he has been mediocre at finishing shots at the rim. But after years of watching TA dribble the ball off his foot, it will be nice to see key back-up minutes go to a competent offensive player.
• West is a rugged defender. He’s a classic “under-sized” two at 6’4”, but every objective measure we have suggests he’s an asset on defense. The Cavs gave up significantly fewer points with West on the floor in each of the last three seasons, according to Basketball Value’s plus/minus numbers. Playing with LeBron and Anderson Varejao obviously helps in that regard. Basketball Prospectus shows us that West’s direct counterparts—the guys he guarded—produced at well below their average levels when they faced him.
He’s not Tony Allen, but West will do fine against shooting guards in the C’s defensive system. He’s about 30 pounds lighter than TA, so he won’t be able to defend LeBron (and other strong small forwards) should the C’s and Heat ever meet in the post-season. That would mean more work for Pierce and Daniels.
Look: I get how this could end badly. West will already miss the first 10 games of the season due to a suspension, and last season proved that his moods could impact his play and the way he interacts with his teammates. But he was a model teammate as recently as 2009, and he could just as easily thrive in a veteran-heavy locker room filled with players who know and like him.
And it’s a risk-free deal, as long as you’re not the one signing the luxury tax checks. And I’m not, at least not directly. So sign me up.