Daniels put in his time

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 13, 2009

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Theoretically, the bond first formed on the bench in Dallas. But lines were initially drawn long before. Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels met each other in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when Howard was a stud at Wake Forest and Daniels was sort of his carbon copy at Auburn.

They talked as much trash to each other as possible. In the process of preparing for the draft, they saw each other at more than a dozen workouts. They quickly became friends. Howard was drafted in the first round; Daniels went undrafted.

But Don Nelson was a fan of Daniels’s game, so they both ended up with the Mavericks. A year later, the Mavericks took Devin Harris with the fifth pick in the 2004 draft. At the time, with the Mavericks adjusting to life without Steve Nash, there was a parade of interchangeable guards, with Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier balancing things out in the front court. Howard, Harris, and Daniels were all on the second squad.

“From Summer League on we lived right around the court from each other,’’ Harris said. “We spent a lot of time together.’’

That was when they came together as friends, but it’s also where their career paths would start to split. A bad break for Daniels (left ankle sprain) would turn out to be a big break for Howard, who became a starter and eventually one of the Mavericks’ stars. Harris thrived under coach Avery Johnson, but when team owner Mark Cuban parted ways with Johnson in 2008, he did the same with his point guard, dealing Harris to New Jersey for Jason Kidd. Daniels battled a rap of inconsistency in Dallas before reinventing himself as a reliable rotation guy in Indiana, and this offseason coming to Boston to fill the role of veteran guard.

But it was that time on the bench in Dallas that helped mold Howard, Daniels, and Harris. They all played a role, one way or another, in the Mavericks’ run to the 2006 Finals.

“We pushed each other really hard,’’ Harris said. “My rookie year, I learned a lot from [Daniels]. We were on the Finals team together and we both kind of went through some adversity, kind of going through the rotations of playing and not playing. We would find ourselves on that second team a lot. We just tried to make that team as best as we could as far as pushing the starters and allowing ourselves to get back into the regular rotation.’’

There were always murmurs that Daniels and Johnson never had the best relationship, something Daniels acknowledged when the Mavericks traded him to Indiana. “I got to do a lot of different things on the floor under Nellie,’’ Daniels said at the time. “When Avery came in, things changed. I didn’t get a chance to do as much.’’

Playing under Johnson was a different experience for everyone involved, but you learned something from it, according to Harris.

“He was hard on us,’’ Harris said. “Hard in a good way. Obviously, I stuck around and ’Quis sort of vacated the premises, but it’s just some people can play under different coaches and some can’t. I attribute a lot of my ability to run the pick-and-roll to him. He used to incorporate how he used to do it. Not just settling, but being in that attack mode.’’

Off the court, their friendship is still the same as it was six years ago. Howard was in Daniels’s wedding party. And when Harris was in Boston Sunday for an exhibition game, Daniels jokingly asked, “How’s Lamar doing?’’ playing on Harris’s middle name.

Harris sees a chance for Daniels to develop a similar kind of chemistry with Eddie House in Boston.

“We had a really good understanding of each other,’’ said Harris. “I understood what he does well. He understood what I do well. We kind of just fed off one another. His passing ability - he’s able to see the floor - and his size, it’s going to really allow Eddie to see the floor and do the same things.

“He’s got a real high basketball IQ. He’s got the ability to play a lot of positions at his size. He can play the 1, 2, or the 3. He’s really versatile. He understands the game really well, and I think he fits into their system and what they do really well.’’

He also knows more than any other player how easily Daniels can fit into a locker room.

“He’s always been a good teammate,’’ Harris said. “He’s the type of teammate that will hang out with you off the court, kind of get to know you, and help you flourish more on the court.’’

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