NBA Handicapping: Bettor's Look at Stephon Marbury Addition
by Trevor Whenham - 03/06/2009
Different teams handle the pressure of trying to repeat a championship in different ways. Some handle the increased pressure with grace and ease, while others panic and ensure that they don't get back for a second shot. Up until this point the Celtics have managed it pretty well - their key players have stayed in place and kept their heads from growing so big that they explode. Things were going smooth. Too smooth for GM Danny Ainge, apparently. Despite having the second best record in the Eastern Conference, Ainge decided to bring basketball's version or Terrell Owens into the dressing room. Stephon Marbury is talented - or at least he was. He also is uniquely able to disrupt a team and alienate himself from those around him. My first reaction upon hearing that Marbury would be wearing green and white was less than positive. Was I just being overly critical and negative? Probably not, but here's a look:
His skills - Marbury seems like he has been in the league a million years, but he only just turned 32. That shouldn't be old for a point guard - there are certainly several who are older - but he has been on a steady decline for the last few seasons. At his peak he was good for more than 20 points and nine assists a game. Last year he averaged 13.9 and 4.7 in the games he played. He hasn't been completely healthy in four seasons, so that has had an effect, but even when he is playing he seems to have lost a step, and he certainly hasn't been mentally committed to success for a while now. The fact that he isn't the player he once was isn't a problem by itself, though. He isn't being brought into town because the Celtics need a star at the point - they already have one of those. They just need a guy that can play when Rajon Rondo isn't, or who can be used to mix things up a bit. If he's healthy and comfortable with the system then he could probably do what is needed of him. In his first few games, though, he hasn't exactly been brilliant.
His role - Marbury was brought in to primarily to play point, but he is going to be used in two different positions. He'll play for Rondo when the starter needs a breather or is in foul trouble, but he's also likely to play a bit of shooting guard as well. As other teams have shown, having two guys capable of playing point at the same time can, in limited bursts, create matchup nightmares for teams who can't keep up. It's a good idea in theory. The problem is that Marbury, a guy who must be covered in three inches of rust because he has been out of action for so long, has to get comfortable with the system from not one but two different perspectives. Reports out of Boston this week are that Marbury is at least three weeks away from being comfortable with the system. That's okay if it's accurate - he'll be ready for the playoffs, and that's what is important - but there is a good chance that he won't end up being an effective contributor, or that he won't be able to make the team any better.
His history - Marbury has distant connections to the stars of the Celtics. On draft day he was chosen right before Ray Allen, and then was traded for him. Later, he was briefly Kevin Garnett's teammate with the T-Wolves. Since those early days, though, Marbury has shown a knack for getting himself in trouble. He worked his way out of Minnesota by fighting wit the coaching staff over his role in the offense. He couldn't lead the Nets to playoffs despite being an all-star and was traded to Phoenix as his disgruntlement was growing. The Suns weren't exactly sad to see him go when they traded him to the Knicks, either. In New York he managed to get Larry Brown fired, but he became perhaps the least popular athlete in New York as a result. It turned out Brown wasn't the problem, because Marbury had even more troubles with Isiah Thomas. That led to pouting, a fight on a plane, threats of blackmail, and all sorts of ridiculousness. The change to Mike D'Antoni this year didn't change anything because the relationship was broken and Marbury was too much of a baby to get over it. Given his track record, it's hard to believe that Marbury can be a good citizen for the long term in Boston. I guess, though, that the long term isn't what the team is interested in.
The Celtics' risk - The team didn't have to take a big monetary risk to bring Marbury in, and they aren't committed for the long term. The stakes are still high, though. The Celtics were so successful last year in part because of how selfless their impressive collection of stars were. Marbury is a lot of things, but selfless is not one of them. He's saying all the right things, but the fact remains that there won't be a lot of room for Marbury and his massive ego on this team, and he will be far from the center of attention. If he can't adjust to that then the team could encounter some seriously disruptive problems down the stretch. The odds may be low of that happening, but given what he is likely to contribute, Marbury hardly seems worth the risk.