Mailbag: Questions on West and more

With the Celtics enjoying a three-day respite at the start of the week, on the heels of a four-game, eight-day road trip, it's been a light week for the team (and our letter carrier).

So as we wait for Friday's visit from the Oklahoma City Thunder, let's sort through the mail and roll out a mini-mailbag, answering questions on Boston's rookie class, fears about injured big men and Delonte West's return from suspension.

Q: My question is about Avery Bradely -- Is he a 1, 2, or 3? Where does he fit into the second (or third) unit, and how much time will he see on the floor? In the past we have watched our draft picks play very limited roles and only a few minutes here and there. I know it is unrealistic to expect him to have a huge impact on a team with an All- Star lineup, but he needs experience. Just look at what happened with Bill Walker. This team needs to start thinking post Big 3 era. -- Jesse (Providence, R.I.)

A: A lot of mailbaggers wondered about Bradley this week, particularly after he deemed himself healthy enough to return to the active roster (ironically, after playing shorthanded much of the season, the Celtics have 12 healthy bodies in front of him). As for how he projects, even Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted this week that he doesn't exactly know, based on limited time on the court. What the Celtics do know is that he can play defense at a high level, and they will build from there. The obvious need for Boston is at the 2, where Ray Allen can only stick around for so long (the 35-year-old re-signed for two years this offseason). Bradley's perimeter shooting isn't a strength right now, but he can score, and the Celtics are hopeful they can develop that more. Remember, too, he's still only 19 years old.

Q: Do you think Delonte West will last? Do you think the C's will keep him if he faces more off-the-court troubles? I like his passion and his ability to pick it up in crunch time, I just hope he figures out this will be his best chance at a title and keeps himself in line.
-- Scott (Harrisburg, Pa.)

A: I think West does indeed last, and I think, in the long run, he's incredibly important to Boston's overall success. Beyond the scuffle with Von Wafer during his 10-game suspension, I get the impression that West has been a very good teammate and his on-court dedication is obvious. I think the suspension did humble him a bit and remind him of the opportunity he has (and how fragile it can be if he were to slip up again). He has a fantastic support system here, and I think it will help him thrive. We may look back and say Boston's final of 11 offseason signings might have been the most important.

Q: Thoughts on when rookie Luke Harangody might finally hit the court? Also, given the big man tag-teaming, any idea if Celtics will look around for other big? Who is still out there? -- Emmanem (Singapore)

A: With Jermaine O'Neal sidelined for 2-3 weeks (and maybe longer) because of lingering left knee soreness, the Celtics do remain dangerously thin up front. I think that could open up opportunities for Harangody, especially in lopsided games (like in Wednesday's win over the Wizards). And the more floor time he sees, the more comfortable the coaching staff will become with trotting him out there. If the Celtics can get through this stretch and get a healthy J.O. back, I think Harangody could be shuttled north to Maine to gain some game experience. As for bringing in another big man, Rivers said it's not on the agenda now. The Celtics won't bring in a body to cover a small lull, but if O'Neal is suddenly out for more like 2-3 months, Boston almost undoubtedly has to bring someone in, given the health woes already being faced by Shaquille O'Neal (right knee) and Semih Erden (left shoulder).

Q: What is Kendrick Perkins' timetable? Most articles seem to imply that he'll just come right back in at his pre-surgery level. That's unrealistic, I believe. -- David (Carrboro, N.C.)

A: Peter May caught up with Perkins last week, and it appears a mid- to late-January return is his current projection. That still seems a bit optimistic (only two months away), and, as our letter-sender pointed out, there's the notion that Perkins will hit the floor in pre-injury form. It's going to take time to ease him back in and ramp him up. I'd caution against expecting too much until March. After all, the Celtics don't need to be clicking on all cylinders until mid-April.

Q: Whats the earliest a team has ever clinched a playoff spot? I would think with the weak Atlantic Division, the Celtics could possibly be in line to break that record if they continued their current pace. -- Christian (Framingham, Mass.)

A: Without running it through the wizards at ESPN Stats and Info, I'd haphazardly guess the 72-win Bulls from 1995-96 must have clinched pretty early. That said, Indiana did win a respectable 52 games that season to finish in second place in the Central Division, 20 games back, so the Bulls needed some time to clinch the division crown. At the current pace, the Celtics would finish somewhere around 35 games ahead of the second-place Nets. Back in 2007-08, Boston won 66 games and finished 25 games ahead of the second-place Raptors, clinching a playoff berth on March 5.

Q: I have been a Boston Celtics fan ever since Ray Allen joined the team. I know Paul Pierce is the closer, and KG is the heart and soul of the team, but do you think Ray Allen is the key for boston to winning it all? I noticed in the playoffs last year, almost every time he played bad, they lost. That's including Game 7 of the Finals. -- Akeem (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

A: It's hard to argue against that when Allen is playing well the Celtics are a tough team to beat. Just look at this stretch of games to start the season. Allen has been fantastic and Boston, not surprisingly, has overcome injury woes to maintain the best record in the Eastern Conference. Heck, even when Allen struggles he demands attention from opposing defenders because you absolutely cannot leave him alone. It's good to see him operating with more consistency than he showed at the start of last season, and whether that was a result of potential trade rumors or something else the Celtics would gladly take this type of production throughout the year.

Q: Now that Delonte West is back in the line up, how explosive can Nate Robinson become seeing that he can shift to playing off the ball as opposed to having ball handling duties? -- Kareem (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

A: Robinson put together some strong performances right before West returned, so I'm interested to see how long it takes him to get comfortable again. It might take some time, but the glimpses we saw in the preseason do suggest that the combination of the two has potential to allow both to thrive. The one thing you might actually see, though, is Robinson's point total dip a bit. You have to remember that he must share the point output with West now (though you would expect the bench contributions to perk up overall). I want to see Robinson thrive beyond the arc and get to the rim with space opened up by West's ability to drive and distribute.

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