His world turned upside down after being dealt to the New York Knicks as part of a five-player swap at last week’s NBA trade deadline, Bill Walker's return to Boston Tuesday provided a bit of short-lived normalcy.
New York Knicks
The Knicks got into town in the early hours Tuesday morning after a loss to Milwaukee, but Walker spent the night at the Boston-area residence he’s called home since being traded to the Celtics after the 2008 NBA Draft.
Walker slept in his own bed and caught up on a couple weeks worth of DVR before making the familiar journey to the arena. That’s when things got weird.
“I haven’t been in this locker room before,” Walker said before Tuesday's game, glancing around the dimly lit visitor’s locker room. “That’s different.”
Also different was the blue and orange No. 5 jersey hanging in Walker’s locker stall. Which begged the question of whether it was an homage to a former teammate across the hall.
“No, I know a certain person wears that number and I look up to that person -- nothing but respect to Mr. Garnett, but that’s just the number that was available,” said Walker.
When a reporter joked the Celtics gave away his previously owned No. 12 jersey pretty quickly -- Marcus Landry, acquired along with Nate Robinson for Walker, J.R. Giddens, and Eddie House, inherited both the jersey number and Walker’s locker stall -- Walker feigned mock incredulousness and deadpanned, “Yeah, they did.”
A new number represents a new start for Walker, who appeared in 37 games over a season-plus with the Celtics. As disappointing as it was to be traded from a championship-caliber team -- the complete opposite feeling of how he likely felt after the Washington Wizards selected him with the 47th pick in the 2008 draft and quickly flipped him to Boston for cash considerations -- Walker likes the opportunity he’ll be afforded in the Big Apple.
Walker scored seven points and grabbed two rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench Tuesday, his first action since joining the Knicks.
“You want to get out [on the court], because the only way to really learn the game is if you’re allowed to make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes,” said Walker. “At the same time, playing for a good team and having the chance to win an NBA championship, that’s what we all play for.”
With a veteran roster and a tight rotation, Boston couldn’t give Walker the minutes he yearned for and, even when they did, a single mistake relegated him back to the bench. Even Celtics president of basketball operations admitted it's hard for young players to get a fair chance on quality teams.
"It’s a problem throughout the league," Ainge said on his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio (850 AM). "There’s a lot of guys that can play that just don’t get the opportunity to play. I’m anxious to see how Billy is going to play. There just wasn’t minutes for him, same with J.R. When they went down to the [NBA Development League] they did excellent and they performed. Now we have another kid, Marcus Landry, and he looked good in practice [Wednesday]. He’s another kid that just needs opportunities to play, and they are all a little bit different.
"They are all guys that will be free agents this summer, so we are evaluating them regularly. There is no reason why guys couldn’t come back here and play. Billy and J.R. possibly could. I’m anxious to see what these guys can do over the course of their careers. We liked them when they were here, they did everything right."
Walker enjoyed his time in Boston, but does believe the next three months could be huge for his personal development.
"I think I’m more suited for the up and down game," said Walker. "But I’m glad I spent time with Boston, just learning how to do things the right way. As you [saw Tuesday], it's simple things you mess up that can cost you a game. I learned so many lessons just being over there, listening to those guys and how they prepare for a game so that doesn’t happen. So they win games like that. It was a great learning experience, but I’m ready to move forward and progress."