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One vote for Marbury

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  January 5, 2009 12:01 PM

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The best thing about winning is that you get to choose. You get to decide who comes and who goes. You get to look at a guy like Stephon Marbury and negotiate exclusively on your terms.

Which is precisely why the Celtics should do it.

Once the possessors of a 27-2 record, the Celtics slipped up again last night in a 100-88 loss to the Marbury-free New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Despite the Celtics' recent struggles entering the game, it might have been the first time all year that they have given us any reason to worry.

The Knicks are now 13-19 in the bottom-heavy Eastern Conference, and there is simply no way the Celtics should lose to a team like New York, particularly following a stretch in which they had lost three of their last five.

Make that four of the last six.

Fittingly, this brings us to Marbury, a Knick in body if not spirit. The 2008-09 NBA season is nearly half over and Marbury has yet to appear in a game thanks to his never-ending stalemate with New York management. Sometime in the next several weeks, Marbury and the Knicks will likely negotiate a buyout of his contract, leaving him to join a potential title contender the way that Sam Cassell did almost a year ago.

Between now and then, a lot obviously has to happen in order for Marbury to end up with the Celtics. Despite weekend speculation that Marbury was headed to Boston, one NBA source recently said that was terribly premature. Even if the Knicks buy out Marbury, there is the question of whether Marbury would trigger a small-scale bidding war that could turn off potential suitors.

For now, the one thing we know is the Celtics players seem willing to take on Marbury and his, er, questionable reputation, suggesting the they would be willing to put up with his rep for selfishness if it means they could win another title. Admittedly, we live in an age in which no news becomes some news -- wouldn't it be more relevant if someone on the Celtics publicly objected to Marbury's presence? -- but at least the picture has come into better focus.

"I think it's about making the team better,'' Celtics forward and leader Kevin Garnett told reporters last night, echoing remarks recently made by both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. "I'm not opposed to Steph, I feel like he's got a lot of basketball left in him. I know his IQ is very, very high. He is one of the best point guards out there. I wouldn't be opposed to it.

"If Steph came to this team, I'm all for that. . . . If anybody came to this team and made it better, I would be all for that.''

With regard to Marbury's potential to be a distraction, let's look at recent history. All things considered, Corey Dillon worked out just fine with the Patriots. So has Randy Moss. And there were some whispers and concerns last season that Cassell could become a disruption if he did not end up playing a major role down the stretch, fears that never materialized as the Celtics rumbled to their 17th NBA championship.

During the offseason, in fact, the Celtics re-signed Cassell almost exclusively for the springtime. So far this year, Cassell has played in as many games as Marbury: zero. The obvious difference is that the Celtics regard Cassell as a positive influence who can both serve as Garnett's confidant and Rajon Rondo's mentor, though the club certainly would not have re-signed him if he had been otherwise.

The point is this: Marbury would be here for a few months, during which he would have to be on his best behavior. What happens after that is up to the Celtics and, to a degree, Marbury, depending on how behaved during his months in green. Fairly or not, Marbury currently seems to have a great deal in common with, say, Allen Iverson, which is to say that many regard him as too selfish to win the championship that might validate his career.

In Boston, Marbury could change all that. He need look no further than Garnett, Pierce, and Allen to learn what a title can do for an image.

Want another (and admittedly simplistic) way to look at a potential Marbury acquisition? Think of it as Manny Ramirez in reverse. Hostage to Ramirez's behavior and whims over a period of seven-and-a-half seasons, the Red Sox dumped the discontented slugger at the July 31 trading deadline. While there was some debate about the merit of that decision in Boston, the people in Los Angeles regarded it as a virtual no-brainer. For two months, they got committed, motivated and supremely talented player performing at the highest level, one of the primary reasons an extremely mediocre Dodgers club reached the National League Championship Series.

For the Dodgers, the real decision with Ramirez began after the season, when it came time to determine whether he was worthy of a long-term commitment. At the moment, Ramirez remains unsigned. Clearly, the Dodgers have their doubts.

With regard to Marbury, the basketball is the easy part. The money could be another matter entirely and might be another element that could potentially dissuade the Celtics from a deal. First, because the Celtics are over the salary cap, they effectively would be required to pay the equivalent of Marbury's salary in luxury tax; that means he might actually cost them double what he might cost someone else. Beyond that, the Celtics clearly have the need for a backup big in the mold of P.J. Brown, and there is a point with every team where resources become an issue.

In that way, Marbury is hardly the proverbial slam dunk.

But if you're worried about disrupting a Celtics express that now seems to be sputtering, maybe we should all acknowledge at this stage that Marbury could do far more good than he could do harm.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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