Our Thanksgiving Day mailbag got a rush of last-minute questions Wednesday evening as Celtics reserve guard Delonte West crashed to the floor, breaking a wrist and sidelining him indefinitely.
On the eve of a holiday in which many in the Celtics' locker room expressed thanks for the health of their family and friends, Boston has been dealt a tough blow, losing what many considered the glue of their second unit just one week after West returned to the court following a 10-game suspension to start the season.
His teammates were heartbroken for West, who endured so much this offseason while dealing with weapons charges that led to his suspension and then working hard to make up for time spent away from the basketball court, only to have this setback.
"He must be so frustrated, I can't imagine," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I can't speak to it, actually, it's nothing I've ever gone through. But to sit out that long, like sitting out from an injury, then come back and get injured again, it would be extremely frustrating.
"[West] was great. He had a lot of good things happening for him. He goes through the whole [locker room scuffle] incident with Von [Wafer] and doubted himself. He had become a terrific teammate during that little stretch then, bam, [he's injured]. You gotta keep rolling, though, that's part of it. That's life. It's tough sometimes, but you gotta keep walking forward and that's what we've got to do."
Needless to say, the stream of questions (and exclamations) that flowed into the mailbag Wednesday looked something like this:
Q: No no no noooooooooooooo! What are the Celtics going to do now without Delonte West?
A: Early indications are the team will gut it out with what it has
It was nice to see Wafer step up and provide five good minutes to start the fourth quarter, and that little exhibit might have proved to Rivers that he's bought into Boston's defense-first system and earn him some trust. That might help him get trotted out with more regularity moving forward.
But in the grand scheme of things, the Celtics have been through this before. They managed the first 10 games of the season without West, and now the Celtics must find a way to navigate until he's healthy again.
Q: What kind of timetable are we looking at with West's return? -- Tommy (Hampton Beach, N.H.)
A: The slight silver lining is that the injury occurred to his right wrist, West's non-shooting hand. As Shaquille O'Neal suggested after the game, that fact alone might have the gritty West attempting a comeback within a week. But O'Neal, who's privy to a lot more information than reporters, estimated a three-month absence and pegged West's return after the All-Star break. That seems fair, considering West broke the same right wrist in January 2009 and missed roughly two months, and 16 total games, as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rivers didn't seem nearly as optimistic and suggested he simply wanted to get West healthy for the playoffs, so it will likely depend on the severity of the break, which we may not know until after surgery is completed.
Q: I know Avery Bradley has not been healthy this year, but do you see a log jam at the guard spot now that he's on the floor? How is Doc going to get minutes for Rajon Rondo, Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Von Wafer, and Bradley? -- Jason (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
A: Like all potential log jams on this team, they seem to un-jam themselves on their own, usually via injury. Just days after Jason sent this query, suddenly Bradley is poised to be thrust into a bigger role due to West's broken wrist. When Rondo is healthy, the Celtics can lean heavily on a three-guard rotation of Rondo, Robinson and Ray Allen (whose minutes will likely remain high as he logs time with the second unit in West's absence). Then the Celtics will sprinkle in Wafer and Bradley, situationally. They need to get Bradley some more minutes and Rivers joked how he's only really had three full practice sessions because of his own left ankle injury, so he might just get tossed in the fire now. While the Celtics would have preferred to bring him along slowly, Bradley was the 19th overall pick and the Celtics surely expect him to be able to play and contribute as he gets his feet wet.
Q: Some people are saying that Shaq is a better fit in the starting 5 than Kendrick Perkins. What do you think? Personally, I'm very on the fence with this idea. As much as I absolutely love and appreciate Perkins' defense, I can't help but be in awe of Shaq's post game. The guy is unstoppable in a lot of situations. What do you think? Is Perkins the clear starter when healthy again? -- Gavin (Scarborough, Maine)
A: Gavin even sent his question before Shaq posted back-to-back double-doubles, including his monster 25-point, 11-rebound effort in Wednesday's win over the Nets. Here's the thing I always tell people: Why can't the Celtics have both? Perkins is the starter and he's the defensive rock Boston needs in the middle of its lineup to start games. But then the Celtics can roll Shaq onto the floor, say six minutes in, and attack in the post, reaping many of the same benefits, while also giving the second unit a much-needed go-to presence when shots aren't falling. I understand the fascination when Shaq is in old-school dominant mode, but let's not discount the fact that 1) Perkins provides your best defensive lineup, and 2) To echo Rivers' much-repeated sentiment, the normal starting 5 has brought the Celtics to two NBA Finals in three years. You don't mess with what works.
Q: It doesn't seem like Jermaine O'Neal will ever be 100 percent this season and Semih Erden appears to have a somewhat serious shoulder injury that he's playing through. With the injury history/minutes limitations of Shaq, how big of a concern is the center position going forward, at least until Kendrick Perkins is healthy again? -- JMoney (Boston)
A: Rivers admitted earlier this month that his team is essentially hanging on, just hoping it can tough it out until Perkins returns. Not exactly the situation you want in November. Here's the thing: If both Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal can get healthy again by, say, the All-Star break, then all of a sudden you've actually created a bit of a log jam up front (as we noted above, another injury could un-jam that quickly). It'd be tough to spread out minutes to both O'Neals, Glen Davis, Perkins, and Erden. So the Celtics could roll the dice at that point and send Erden in for surgery to repair his shoulder issue (which is believed to be a labrum). The risk there: What happens if one of the others is injured before the postseason and suddenly the team needs an Erden-like fill-in? That's why Erden might have to tough out the entire season with that injury. The scary situation is if Shaq or Erden are injured before Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal can return, then the Celtics might be forced to examine options, including ones outside the organization.
Q: The Celtics make me sick. -- Roberto (New York City)
A: Roberto! We've missed your pessimism. I think your comment rolled in at the exact same moment Paul Pierce's last-second jumper found iron in Toronto. Hey, it happens. I'm not justifying the Celtics' effort that day and clearly they fumbled away a win (particularly by not showing up defensively for the second quarter). But hopefully Monday's bounce-back effort -- along with Wednesday's gritty win -- gave you renewed hope. Don't fret, I don't think this year will be nearly as roller-coastery as last season, so no need to stock up on Dramamine quite yet. But if the injury bug starts biting again, buckle up.
Q: Can Miami beat Boston in a seven-game series? -- Hassan (Las Vegas)
A: A little early to be crossing this bridge, but, hey, you're from Vegas and for all I know you've been standing in line at a sportsbook waiting to make a bet on one of these teams winning the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be much help. Both teams are going to look remarkably different by season's end and you can essentially throw these first two regular-season games out the window (and the other two left to be played) if/when these teams see each other in the postseason. Of course, Miami can beat Boston in a seven-game series, and vice versa. It's going to come down to which team is healthiest and which team is peaking at the right time. Boston has an early edge as the Heat scour South Beach for the answer to their early struggles.
Q: Forgive me that this doesn't really have anything to do with basketball, but it seems like you have one of the coolest jobs in the world. You travel around the country and watch the Boston Celtics play basketball. -- Jennifer (St. Louis, Mo.)
A: I can't help but admit it's a pretty sweet gig. It's nice to remind myself of that when, like any job, you get caught up in the drudgery. The only downside, for me anyway, is the travel makes it hard to be away from home with the recent addition of a little one to our family. Fortunately, technology bridges the gap between home and outposts like Oklahoma City and Memphis. But when I realize I get paid to do what most folks do to get away from their own work, it certainly reminds me how fortunate most of us sportswriters are. In fact, Thanksgiving seems like the perfect opportunity to savor what journalists like me do and thank every person who visits ESPN Boston and the Celtics coverage for making us a part of your day. It wouldn't be possible without you.
Happy Turkey Day, everyone!
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.