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Monday, October 20, 2003

Celtics Trade Walker

In a non-surprise, the Celtics have traded Antoine Walker to the Dallas Mavericks, along with Tony Delk, in exchange for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills and the Mavs' 2004 first-round draft choice.

Walker was on the block since Danny Ainge arrived as the top basketball operations man for the Celtics. Ainge wanted the Celtics to play a style that didn't fit with Walker, and Ainge had said last year as a TV analyst that he didn't like Antoine's game. The writing was on the wall.

I'm a little sad to see Antoine go because he's been around for seven years and he's been a big part of turning the franchise around. His rookie year (1996-97) he was the Celtics best player on a team that won only 11 games. The Celtics didn't get the top pick that June, having to settle for the #3 and #6 selections, which Rick Pitino botched, as he did many other personnel moves (Little Ricky complained that his plan had been to get Tim Duncan). Fortunately, the Celtics got lucky in 1998 when Paul Pierce fell to them at #10. After a few growing years in which the roster meshed and Pitino left town, the C's finally busted through and made the playoffs in 2002 behind co-captains Pierce and Walker, reaching the East Finals versus New Jersey. The most memorable moment of Antoine's Celtics career will undoubtedly be his emotional speech to his teammates before the fourth quarter of Game 3 of that series, which inspired the greatest comeback in the history of the NBA playoffs. I'll miss the wiggle too.

LaFrentz has a lot of promise but he was disappointing down in Dallas last year. The Celtics are gambling that he'll respond if given more minutes and touches. It will be interesting to see exactly how the Celtics rotations shake out now--will LaFrentz start at center or power forward? The answer may depend on how well Tony Battie has recovered from offseason knee surgery and how much the team gets out of Vin Baker. Welsch, a versatile 6-7 ballhandler, will probably end up getting some minutes at point guard since the Celtics have four small forwards and Pierce at the 2. With Delk gone, Boston has even less experience at point guard than before--they're relying on Mike James, Welsch, and first-round pick Marcus Banks. Mills is widely regarded as a salary cap write-off since he comes off the books at the end of the year, so don't expect to see him in a Celtics uniform ever. The Dallas pick will be at the end of the first round too, so don't expect much from it for next year.

I must say I'm rather puzzled by what the Mavs are doing. They may as well move LaFrentz and Welsch if they aren't going to be used, but Antoine Walker doesn't fill a need for them either. They already have Dirk Nowitzki, Antawn Jamison, Eduardo Najera and Danny Fortson at forward. They must be planning to play Dirk more at center, which is a problematic defensive strategy. Walker may have a hard time adjusting to fewer minutes and shots in Dallas. Delk is a decent fit for the Mavs as he gives them a guard who can score off the bench. He's no Van Exel, but he'll do. In any case, the Mavs should be damn interesting to watch and see how Don Nelson makes up his lineups.