WALTHAM Marquis Daniels is sporting a new jersey number (50) this season. And the man who's wearing it? He's changed as well.
The last time we saw Daniels on the court was 10 months ago
"Feb. 6," Daniels said. "I'm not going to forget that day."
That day he was being carried off the TD Garden floor on a stretcher, his neck immobilized, with most in attendance believing that would be the last time Daniels would play in the NBA, let alone a Celtics uniform.
Not only is he back with the C's, but the surgery he had following the injury has Daniels in the best health of his career.
"I feel stronger," Daniels told CSNNE.com. "I feel like I can go to the basket a lot stronger, and just take more contact as opposed to last year or years before where I was like, trying to shy away from it. Now I'm just getting loose and trying to just play my game."
But before he could return, Daniels knew he would need to take a hit -- probably to the head or back -- before he would truly feel comfortable back on the floor.
Playing with some college players at Auburn a couple months ago, Daniels was driving to the basket when he and another player bumped heads. After the head-to-head collision, a slow but steady stream of blood began to flow from a fresh gash.
And Daniels could not have been any happier.
"I'm bleeding, but my neck's OK," Daniels recalls thinking at the time. "Usually I'd be down."
But on this day, Daniels' feet never left the ground.
"I was just bleeding. I had a headache. But other than that," he said. "I was OK."
The contact was caused by Daniels being aggressive, something he says he's more capable of doing now as he begins his third stint with the Celtics. He owes it all to surgery that he says widened his spinal canal. He also had some bones shaved and screws inserted. It was the kind of invasive procedure that was an absolute must for him to continue playing in the NBA.
But even after the successful surgery, Daniels wasn't totally convinced his NBA career would resume.
"After surgery, I was in a lot of pain," he said. "It was some doubts in my mind: 'This could be it.' "
But as he got stronger and returned to working out, Daniels realized it wasn't a matter of if he would return -- but with what team.
His agent Mark Bartelstein told CSNNE.com that there were a handful of teams that Daniels was seriously considering. "But the Celtics were the team he wanted to be with from the beginning," Bartelstein said.
Daniels echoed those sentiments this week.
"I always told him (Bartelstein), Boston was my first option," Daniels said. "Team spirit, family unity and the tradition, the way everyone treats me here. I thought it was better for me. Considering everything else, I know the system, I'm comfortable here and the guys are comfortable having me here."
And now, in what may be the last run for the Celtics' Big Three, Daniels hopes to do his part to help them go out on a championship note.
"If we can all stay away from the injury bug . . ." said Daniels.
As an eight-year veteran who has played less than 70 games in all but one NBA season (74 games, 2007-2008 with Indiana), no Celtics player knows the value of having good health, better than Daniels.