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Delonte's Got Next by Rifleman

Rifleman offers big props and potentially big responsibility to one of the "Youngins", Delonte West....

After a rookie year spent logging more time on the IR than on the court, after inconsistent efforts in 13 minutes a game producing a stat line of 4.5 points, 1.7 boards and 1.3 assists, after a playoff effort where his deference to the veterans made him almost invisible on the floor, I'd like to see Delonte West made co-captain of the Boston Celtics.

Yeah, I know that sounds a little crazy for a kid who will turn 22 next month and has shown a greater proclivity for wrist fracturing than for vocal leadership. Yeah, I know that if all the foreign prospects had not pulled out of last year's draft, then maybe Delonte is not even the best player available at the 24th pick and likely gets taken in the second round. Still, at the risk of exhibiting the kind of unchecked optimism that only West's mother should be allowed, I say this kid is the future of the Boston Celtics.

First, I am assuming that Gary Payton will be put out to pasture on a west coast contender and that playing time at the point guard spot will be available. I am also assuming a strong possibility that Delonte's superior ball handling and jump shot will give him some of Tony Allen's time at shooting guard. Even if Danny brings Maccabi's maestro Sarunas Jasikevicius aboard, I think it likely that Delonte's minutes will be doubled next year. He is going to be a major contributor. Will anyone outside the more obsessive Celtic fan notice his game? I think so; in fact I think this will be a breakout year for Delonte.

The Case for Captain West:
1) Delonte's a winner. There are players who know how to score or rack up assists. There are players who know how to defend. Then there are guys who just know how to win. They do everything, and they do what is needed when it is needed. They get on the ground and fight guys for the ball, they rebound, they steal, and they force eight second violations. When Delonte stepped in for Gary this year after the trade, he was flawless and we won. St. Joe's won at an unprecedented clip with Delonte in their backcourt, and he was flawless in the shadow of Jameer Nelson. It's no fluke. Delonte knows the game and makes the right decisions more often than most players, not just rookies.

2) Delonte is the definition of team player. We need a captain who is an extension of the coaching staff on the floor, but also has the respect of the other players. He is not out there doing his own thing like Payton and Pierce were at times. He has the kind of personality to allow him to be a leader without having to undermine other players or break down their confidence.

3) Delonte's confident. Here's a kid who grew up in D.C. but didn't get a look from Georgetown, Maryland, or GW. He wasn't fazed. He went to the best program that offered him a scholarship and made the country notice his game. At the beginning of his junior season at St. Joe's , he assessed his situation like this, "I feel I'm one of the top guards in the country, it's just that I'm underrated." Then, he went out and had a season that proved he was one of the top guards in the country, and very underrated.

4) Sexy Chocolate. That he described his game this way to a bank of Boston reporters tells you all you need to know about this kid's sense of humor. We can certainly use more of that in the post game interviews. Let Paul sneak out to his Hummer unaccosted. Please, for the sake of entertainment value alone, let no one but Delonte have the microphone in their face when the final buzzer sounds. Trust me, if the Celtics PR department got to pick the co-captain, Delonte would already have been appointed. This team's image needs this kid's personality out front.

5) Character, character, character. This kid is as solid as a rookie NBA player can possibly be. He's not a priest by any means, but how nice is it that he takes Tony Allen to Easter communion. He seemed almost like a big brother to the other rookies, a stable presence, while Ricky and Paul fill the role of the wild uncle who corrupts you if your lucky enough to hang out with him. Delonte talks about the temptations and expectations of being in the NBA, how everyone back home expects a piece of your good fortune and how you have to protect yourself by surrounding yourself with the right people. He is wiser and more grounded than you are supposed to be at 21. He's one of the guys, but I don't think we are going to need bail money on hand when Delonte goes out. He is the example that this young team needs.

6) Delonte is the future. Delonte has game, but I am more impressed with the work ethic and effort level than the talent. Delonte will make himself better every summer before he comes back for camp. He is going to break out this year, but that will only be the start. Give me a guy who prepares himself for the game mentally and physically over a guy with "upside" and commitment phobia. A lot of people say Delonte will be nothing but an average, solid combo guard during his career. When you consider the defensive skill, the rebounding, the intangibles, then I think Delonte will be about as average as Dennis Johnson circa the mid-eighties.

So there, a case Delonte's mother would love. We are lucky to have him to anchor our youth movement; he's one of those "character guys" that Danny talks about. Ultimately, it will be Delonte's polished game, delivery to the post, and outside daggers that will make him valuable with games on the line.
Look for this kid to have a say this year, to be a lot more aggressive and vocal. With the injuries last year he just didn't find his proper place. This year, give him major minutes and watch him bloom, and make him a co-captain to give the team a leader who represents the future of the franchise. Oh, and did you get those cookies I sent you, Delonte? Don't let that Mark Blount eat them all before you get one this time. Love, Mom.

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