Thursday, February 24, 2005
WalkerGate Scandal has him Dazed and Confused by Gabe Kahn 
Gabe Kahn of the Metro newspaper (Boston area commuter paper) wanted to share with us a few thoughts from the Danny Ainge press conference. Enjoy.

Few things that happen in the NBA surprise me. When Gary Payton was first traded to the Celtics in the off-season, I knew exactly why the move was made. When Vince Carter was traded to the Nets for next to nothing, I disagreed, but understood the thinking of the Toronto brass. When Chris Webber was traded to the Sixers for three overpaid power forwards, I believed that the Kings could have gotten more for the man who made Sacramento a basketball power, but the reasoning for the trade was clear to me.

When I found out that Antoine Walker had been traded back to the Celtics my jaw dropped and I'm still trying to figure out exactly how and why it happened.

Initially, I laughed it off as an erroneous report, of which there are many these days (who else heard ESPN tell the world that Shaq was out for the season, on Wednesday?). When my source with the team called to tell me that it was god's honest truth, an incredible thing happened, something that's only happened a couple times before in the history of the world. I was speechless.

Now, just following Danny Ainge's press conference to officially announce the trade, I'm still shaking my head. Gary Payton, Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart and the worse of the Celtics' 2 draft picks, either this year or next, will go to the Hawks in return for Walker. Antoine. The player everyone was led to believe Ainge hated. According to Danny, that, and many other perceptions we might have, is simply not true.

"I know that some people thought, including Antoine, that it was personal, it's always been about business and providing the best team," Ainge held. Referring to the players he acquired from the Walker trade, Ainge said "I think that we were able to get some things that we really needed via trading Antoine, such as Delonte West and Tony Allen, players that we got as assets in Raef LaFrentz and now we’re able to get Antoine back."

Alright, so now the Celtics have LaFrentz, Allen and West and Walker, at least until his contract expires at the end of this season. That makes sense. Ainge sold some stock at its peak and then bought it back later when the price had gone down considerably.

And the price does appear on the surface to be at an all time low. If the rumors mill, which is absolutely refusing to die even after the trade deadline has come and gone, is accurate, Payton might even come back to Beantown after he works out a buyout with Atlanta. If true, this deal boils down to just a first round draft pick for 27 games with Walker. That's a phenomenal price for someone averaging 20 points and nine rebounds a game.

"I think he can help our team and the price is right and the risk is right, and I think it's good for us without giving away future assets to try to get Antoine," explained Ainge. "We really felt like the players that we were giving up were players that weren’t contributing a great deal.”

Fine, fine, but doesn't Antoine have some resentment towards Ainge and maybe even the entire Celtics' organization? He did, after all, call Ainge a "snake" in the days following the trade. Again, according to the Executive Director of Basketball operations, that's not how it is.

"I talked to Antoine and told him it was a much more enjoyable conversation than the last time I talked with him on the phone," Ainge said, referring to his call to the former employee #8 informing him of his impending trade to Dallas. "He was really excited to come back to Boston. He wanted to hurry and get a flight and meet the team in Utah with the hopes that he can play tomorrow night, so he was very very enthusiastic to join the team."

So 'Toine never minded being told to pack his bags?

Well, not entirely. "Antoine, I’m sure, had been very hurt. He had been in Boston and given a lot to Boston, [but] it's a business decision." Ainge said Walker's feelings at the time in the trade should largely be disregarded because when Ainge was a broadcaster "I pretty much [knew] when to go to a player and get him to say just about anything in the heat of the moment and states of emotion."

Good then, it's all one big happy family again. But won't this stunt the development of some of the young players on the team, like Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins? Ainge addressed those issues as well.

"Jefferson and Perk have shown great signs, but they've also shown signs of getting abused on the experience side of it. I think Antoine can help teach our young big players how to play as well just by watching him know the little tricks of the game, just as Gary's been able to do with our young point guards."

According to Ainge, the Celtics are aware that even with Antoine, they are still not world-beaters. At the same time, that doesn't mean they're just going to roll over and die. Ainge believes that "It's dangerous to develop everyone at the same time," especially given the desires of captain Paul Pierce to compete every night. "We know that we're not a championship team right now, but that doesn't mean that we don't want to be a playoff team and that we don't want to get some upsets in the playoffs."

Wait a second, though. There's still one thing I can't understand: Didn't Danny believe that Antoine wasn't right for this new fast breaking system and that he was a negative force in the locker room?

"I've always felt Antoine could be a running player," Ainge said. "We don't expect him to be perfect but we expect him to teach some of our young guys and to be a positive influence in the locker room and to help us with his experience and his skills."

So, Danny, is Antoine part of the new, you know, Vision?

“We have the next 26 games [27 if Walker plays in Utah] and hopefully a great amount of playoff games for us to determine, for Antoine to determine if it's a good fit and if he can conform to the style of play that we want to play.

"I'm keeping all doors open. During the off-season, that's something we'll approach in the summer."

Me? I'm still on the fence with this head shaker. But talk to Danny. He seems to have it all figured out.

# posted by Jeff @ 2/24/2005 11:58:00 PM - Message Board

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