The NBA trading deadline arrived yesterday with a flurry of deals and nowhere was the impact felt more than in the Eastern Conference. After the Philadelphia 76ers obtained five-time all-star Chris Webber late Wednesday, the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks responded with deals of their own.
The struggling Knicks, one of the league's biggest spenders on player salaries, dipped into their wallets again, acquiring Malik Rose and two conditional first-round draft picks from the San Antonio Spurs for center Nazr Mohammed and guard Jamison Brewer. The Knicks also acquired forward Maurice Taylor from the Houston Rockets, giving up forward-center Vin Baker and guard Moochie Norris.
Forward Antoine Walker is headed back to Boston, where he played for seven seasons before being traded first to Dallas and then, last summer, to Atlanta.
(John Bazemore -- AP)
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There were 10 trades involving 29 players yesterday, none as curious as Boston's acquisition of Antoine Walker, a former Celtic who was believed to be at odds with Boston's executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge. The Celtics nonetheless sent guard Gary Payton, forward Tom Gugliotta, center Michael Stewart and a first-round draft choice to the Atlanta Hawks to get Walker back.
The Washington Wizards stood pat even though President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said he received more calls regarding his roster than last season.
"We feel good about our team. We feel good about the direction we're headed," Grunfeld said by phone. "You never say never, but I think we're comfortable with the players we have -- we're basically two-deep at every position. We're a young team, but we're a team that has shown, when we play to our ability, we can compete with most teams in the league. And we still have room for growth."
Although the Eastern Conference landscape shifted some with Webber moving to Philadelphia and Walker returning to Boston, Grunfeld didn't want to think about how it affected his team. "There were some major players changing places; probably more big names traded places at this deadline than you normally see," he said. "We're not really that concerned with everyone else. We're more concerned with keeping our house in order. We're concerned with trying to improve as the season goes along."
Walker wore Celtics green for seven years prior to his October 2003 trade to the Dallas Mavericks, who traded him to the Hawks last August. Prior to joining the Celtics, Ainge worked as a TV analyst and had criticized Walker's performance on the air. Following his exile to Dallas, Walker blasted Ainge.
"They had just gone through this divorce," said one player agent. "I can't figure out this trade."
Averaging 20.4 points this season, Walker strengthens Boston's offense and re-forms the front-court duo of Walker and all-star Paul Pierce that helped lead the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals in 2002. Boston, which is a half-game ahead of Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division, hopes the acquisition of Walker helps it keep pace with the 76ers, who obtained Webber late Wednesday night in a six-player swap.
"They're going to probably win the Atlantic now," Cleveland's LeBron James said. "It's going to make them one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. I know [Allen] Iverson is very happy about it. I'm going to call him and tell him he got an early Christmas present."
Philadelphia also got forwards Rodney Rogers and Jamal Mashburn from the New Orleans Hornets for forward Glenn Robinson. Rogers is the key player in the deal because Mashburn and Robinson are injured. Rogers is averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds.
The Knicks, who are at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, boosted their scoring punch with the 6-foot-7 Rose and the 6-9 Taylor and built for the future by negotiating for the two first-round picks. But Knicks President Isiah Thomas, already carrying a $104 million payroll, added $30 million in future salaries.
The Wizards' Grunfeld hopes that getting forward-center Kwame Brown and guard Larry Hughes back from injuries will equal a blockbuster deal. "We're getting Larry and Kwame back for the stretch run," he said. "And we just wanted to continue to build with these players and see how everything comes together for us. I'm a big believer that you have to have continuity, some consistency, and you have to let the team grow together. You just can't always bring in new faces and get rid of some of your own faces. When you think you have a solid nucleus and a solid core, you have to let the core become a team and that only happens over time. It doesn't happen overnight. We're still a developing team, a team that's growing and a team that continues to improve."
Brown will be a restricted free agent after this season and Hughes will be unrestricted, but Grunfeld is confident that the Wizards will be able to retain them. "Obviously, we like both players. We think they can both be part of our long-range plans and that will be addressed at the appropriate time, which is in the offseason," Grunfeld said. "Right now our focus is to play as well as we can and make our playoff push."
In other trades yesterday, New Orleans dealt former all-star and often-injured guard Baron Davis to Golden State for guard Speedy Claxton and forward Dale Davis. And Milwaukee Bucks forward Keith Van Horn was sent to the Dallas Mavericks for two players and cash.
Dallas gets a reliable scorer and a seasoned backup for forward Dirk Nowitzki. Van Horn is averaging 10.4 points and five rebounds. The Bucks get Calvin Booth, the expiring contract of Alan Henderson and cash.
By letting go of Van Horn, Milwaukee frees $12 million in salary, money that the team needs to retain guard Michael Redd, who becomes a free agent next summer. Redd is expected to be hotly pursued.