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That Other Former Celtic (and Point Guard) In Miami

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A Daily Babble Production

With the drafting of Michael Beasley and the improved health of Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion, the Miami Heat are planning to take a big jump back toward respectability from last seaon's embarrassing NBA-worst 15-win campaign.  This means that the other two starting slots in their lineup have been and will be subject to more than a bit of scrutiny.

Prior to the Jamaal Magloire signing, we made sure to get the occasional poke in at the pivot, which was previously inhabited by former Celtic Mark Blount, a charter member of the "Kill It For the Second Half of a Contract Year and Mail It In From There On Out" All-Stars.  We've also done plenty of babbling about the point guard spot, giving plenty of love to the pre-ejection-from-rookie-camp Mario Chalmers and wondering about the potential for Damon Jones to return or even Stephon Marbury to hop aboard.

Yet somehow through of all the Heat msuing, it seems we've glossed right over one more man who is already in the midst of the mix at the point in Miami, a man who has green connections to boot: Marcus Banks.

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Celtics fans don't take too kindly to thinking about the 2003-04 campaign.  It was a torturous year that saw the trade for Ricky Davis in the midst of a season-high five-game winning streak, the resignation of Jim O'Brien, the ensuing 1-12 start for John Carroll, plenty of implications from first-year executive Danny Ainge that he preferred a high draft pick to making the playoffs (instead, the team won 36 games, got the eighth seed and didn't come within single-digits of the Pacers in any of the four games that series lasted) and a lot of really bad basketball.  Awfully bad.  Unwatchably bad.

While most of the memories from that season have become at least a bit faded, a few still stand out vividly.  The night of November 17, 2003, is one of them.  It was in retrospect one of the first instances of foreshadowing of just what sort of season it was going to be.  The Guru and I traveled into Madison Square Garden to see the then-5-4 Celts visit the hated Knicks, and the first half was one filled with enjoyment.  Vin Baker was beastly, and the Celtics held a 54-38 lead going into the half despite point guard Mike James' inability to hit the broad side of a barn (he went 1-for-9 for the game).  Long story short, the second half was catastrophic as the Celts completely melted, the Knicks stormed all the way back, the vaunted Michael Doleac hit the ultimate winning shot and Paul Pierce missed a desperation heave at the buzzer.  Knicks 89, Celtics 86,  Son of The Guru miserable, The Guru not much happier. 

But what did come out of that frustrating night at the Garden was our first chance in person to take a look at a certain rookie point guard, and for one night, we couldn't have been more excited about the youngster from UNLV.  He played just 20 minutes, but Marcus Banks looked electric while he was on the floor.  He sped through Knicks defenders for easy penetration into the lane that led to a couple of acrobatic lay-ups and six assists.  The defensive end was even more encouraging.  Banks pressured the Knicks' ball-handlers throughout his time on the floor, contested every shot and always seemed to be a step ahead of his man.  The highlight of the night was the neophyte rising up to block a shot on the right wing, sprinting to the baseline and diving out of bounds while successfully saving the ball back to a teammate.  We knew he needed to put in plenty of work on his shooting, but for a kid in the first month of his NBA career, it was an encouraging showing.

Sadly, there haven't been too many more of those showings over the course of Banks' first five seasons in the league.  His youthful energy excited us in his first season, but it was all downhill from there.  Banks' poor shooting, his decision-making troubles at the point and his generally surly demeanor earned him a prime spot in Doc Rivers' doghouse at various times over the next two seasons.  By early 2006, he was on his way to Minnesota along with Blount, Davis and Justin Reed in the deal that brought Wally Szczerbiak to the Celtics.  In 40 games with Minnesota, Banks wasn't great by any stretch, but he looked improved enough (12 points and 4.7 assists per game, 47.9 percent field-goal shooting, 36.4 percent three-point shooting) to earn himself a raise and a contract through 2011 to back up Steve Nash in Phoenix. 

But it took the Suns just a season and a half to realize that Banks still couldn't shoot, still hadn't mastered running an offense in the pros, didn't seem all that interested in learning it and wasn't staying in great condition.  So he was sent packing again, this time to Miami in what has come to be known to very few as the Great Marcus Banks Trade also involving lesser-knowns such as Shawn Marion and Shaquille O'Neal.

Now, Banks is heading into his sixth season in the league, and he recently told the Miami Herald that he believes he is ready to run his own team.  He is undoubtedly going to be in the mix at the point along with Mario Chalmers and Chris Quinn, and he had a nice showing in a very small sampling down the stretch for Miami: 12 games played (2 starts), 21.6 minutes, 9.5 points and 3.0 assists per game (15.8 and 5.0 per 36 minutes), 51.2 percent field-goal shooting, 40.5 percent three-point shooting, 63.1 percent true shooting.  That said, it's hard to get too crazy over a part-time showing over 12 games, and it's worth remembering that with the exception of those games, this guy has had the same problems for his entire career: bad shooting, bad on-court decisions, bad attitude, lack of focus.

But thinking back to those days in the autumn of 2003 provides a reminder of just how much potential Marcus Banks once had and may still possess.   That lightning speed, the ease with which he handled the ball and those flashes of brilliance 26 years old, this guy still has the time left if he can just get his head on straight and put the work in for a bit.  It's been a disappointing first five seasons for Marcus Banks, and he may run out of opportunities sooner or later.  But he has quite a chance in front of him in Miami this fall, and perhaps he will surprise the masses and find a way to make the most of it.