By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
88 Signifies the Second Coming of Antoine Walker
BOSTON, MA—I don’t care about the opinions of the naysayers. Danny Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ executive director of basketball operations, knows what he’s doing. Just a few hours before the NBA trade deadline, Ainge pulled the trigger and reacquired power forward Antoine Walker from the Atlanta Hawks. Walker was drafted #6 overall in the 1996 NBA Draft out of Kentucky, and was traded away by Ainge to Dallas along with Tony Delk in October 2003 for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills, and the Mavericks’ first round pick of 2004, who turned out to be Delonte West.
I still go on record and write that I wasn’t in favor of trading ‘Toine in the first place. Yes, Walker throws up too many shots from beyond the arc. Yes, he isn’t the most athletic power forward in the game. Yes, he likes to handle the ball a little more than we’d all like to see. But there is one thing that he has that the Celtics haven’t had since he departed to the D a season and a half ago.
I’ll remind you of the greatest NBA playoff comeback of all time: Celtics battle back from a 26-point deficit to defeat Atlantic Division rival New Jersey Nets 94-90 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. And who was at the helm of the comeback?
Andtwine Walker! That’s who.
And it didn’t take Danny Ainge too long to realize that as great a player as Paul Pierce is, he ain’t no leader. Pierce is a scorer who can do it in bunches. But the Truth needs ‘Toine to lead the Celtics into and throughout the playoffs – especially since the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Chris Webber from the Sacramento Kings. Currently, Boston is in the middle of the pack for total rebounds – a stat that more than suggests the Cs need help in the trenches. Ainge had no other choice than to counter Philly GM Billy King’s move with a move equally as intriguing.
Mark Blount and Raef LaFrentz were just not getting it done on the glass. At 7’0 and in the first year of a six-year contract worth approximately $41 million ($4.9 million this year), Blount is only averaging 5.4 rebounds and 28.4 minutes per game. LaFrentz is in the fourth year of a seven-year deal that will pay him $69 million ($9.7 million from the Celtics this year). Raef is giving the Celts 7.3 rebounds and 28.7 minutes per game. A good portion of the Celtics rebounds are coming from their shooting guard Paul Pierce, who has had to shoulder 6.8 per game.
That’s all going to change now that Antoine Walker is back in town. I’m not guaranteeing an Eastern Conference championship but the Cs might make some noise in the Semifinals. Before the trade deadline, they would’ve gotten ousted in the first round of the playoffs.
Unfortunate for Antoine, League rules state that a player cannot inherit another current player’s number once the season starts. With that in mind, Walker can not be Employee Number 8 this year. For now, the jersey is being occupied by Al “The Emerald” Jefferson.
From the business side, Ainge has nothing to lose. Antoine’s contract comes off the books at the end of the season, which means the nine-year veteran would become an unrestricted free agent. Ainge now claims the major factor for trading Walker in the first place was because Antoine thought his “perennial all-star” status had earned him the right to seek a maximum contract. Two missed all-star games later, even Walker has realized that no team is going to give him that kind of money. A playoff contender may offer him their mid-level exception, which would equate to around $5 million, but if he wants the big dollars he’ll have to suffer in the doldrums of Atlanta or Charlotte or New Orleans. And I don’t think they will even give him anything over $10.5 million. However, the Celtics have Bird’s Rights on Andtwine’s contract, which would mean that they could re-sign him to whatever they desire without having it effect the salary cap. The Celts could even get the hometown discount and sign Walker for about $7 million. But you now that ain’t happnin’. $9.8 million is more realistic and more reasonable. And when all the dust settles, Walker will put up better numbers than LaFrentz, but he may be making dollars that are comparable to Raef’s paycheck. Have you ever been put in that situation? When you know you’re doing a better job than your colleague but they’re getting paid just as much as you? On the flip side, the Chicago native could be with the Celtics long enough for the 17th banner to be raised to the rafters.
And if Ainge can’t come to terms with Walker in the offseason then the Celtics will have a lot of money to spend in the summer for free agents.
To get ‘Toine back in the Gang Green, the Celts gave up their 2005 first round draft pick, Gary Payton, Tom Gugliotta, and Michael Stewart.
Yogi Stewart doesn’t deserve another word past this sentence.
Googs is a former all-star but that was years ago. I’m of the opinion that Ainge signed Gugliotta as a “good-lookin’-out” favor, on the strength of their relationship when they were with the Phoenix Suns.
As far as the pick is concerned, do we need the Celtics to get any younger? We already have a boatload of young extremely talented, and young very talented players in Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Marcus Banks, Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins, and Justin Reed (Yup, Justin can ball too).
I’m sure all of the parties involved will never admit it, but Ainge and the Atlanta brass knew before the deal was approved that Gary Payton was not going to sign with the Hawks. He went on record saying that he’s been pleasantly surprised with Boston and wouldn’t mind finishing the season with the Cs. There was even talk of a contract extension. But if he were to get traded, he requested a playoff contender in the Western Conference. He couldn’t have gotten any further from that than the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have no desire to hold on to the 36-year-old future Hall-of-Famer either. So there must have been a wink-wink agreement that would have the Hawks buying out Payton’s contract. A buy out would mean that Payton would be unrestrictedly free to sign with any NBA team that would have him. Yes, reader, even the Celtics. And if that happens, Ainge gets my vote for Executive of the Year.
If Payton comes to terms with the West Coast team that he desires (or the Miami Heat) then the next question is; Who will handle the ball for the Celtics? Marcus Banks? Naw, still can’t trust the sophomore out of UNLV. He didn’t even make the Got Milk Rookie Challenge. Delonte West? He can handle the ball nicely but he’s still a rookie, and he’s been hurt for most of the season. I like him better than Banks but can you trust Delonte to have the ball in the closing minutes of Game 3 in the first round of the playoffs? If not Delonte then who?